Talk about a double switch.
For the last four seasons, opponents of the Wheatley softball team saw Samantha Hurtado bat almost exclusively righthanded in the No. 3 spot of the lineup with the main goal of driving in runs.
This season, the Wildcats senior shortstop is batting leadoff and mostly slap-hitting from the left side of the plate with the hope of getting on base and scoring runs.
“A year ago my travel team coach [Bill Havdoglous] said I should be slapping to use my speed on the bases,” said Hurtado, who has played with the Long Island Sudden Impact travel team for two years. “Then my [future] college coach [at Philadelphia University] said they had no slap hitters on the team, so I decided to focus on slapping.”
It was a bold move for Hurtado, who led Wheatley last season with a .463 batting average, .543 on-base percentage, 20 singles, 16 RBIs and seven doubles.
She spent months last offseason hitting off a tee, and in batting cages, working on the art of slap-hitting as a lefthander. She also started lifting weights to increase the strength on her 5-5 frame.
Still, the Wildcats’ captain had one more important thing to do: convince Wheatley coach Christina Cambria about the move. “I thought I’d keep her as our number three hitter,” said Cambria, in her eighth year as coach. “She’d been there for four years, hitting in the high .400s from the three spot. But she worked on slapping for 11 months as part of her college recruitment. I trusted her and it’s working well so far.”
Indeed. Hurtado is 9-for-20 (.450) at the plate as the Wildcats’ leadoff hitter with a .522 on-base percentage, six runs and six RBIs in five games this season. Additionally, the fifth-year varsity player is 7 of 8 in stolen-base attempts. She has played mostly shortstop, but also has pitched, caught and played outfield this season.
But as much as Hurtado does on the field, she does just as much, if not more, off it as the Wildcats only senior this season. “She helped me build my confidence as a player,” said junior first baseman Nikki Hetzel, in her second year on varsity, who never played JV. “I wasn’t very confident at first, but she encouraged me, which made me a better player. If it weren’t for her and her help, I wouldn’t be the player I am today.”
Hurtado has a 3.8 GPA, she said, and will attend Philadelphia University, which will combine with Thomas Jefferson University later this year, on a combined scholarship. Hurtado, who said she has been accepted into the school’s pre-med honors program, hopes to become an orthopedic surgeon.
“That’s always been my goal,” Hurtado said, “because it keeps me connected to helping athletes.”
Although Wheatley is 1-4 in Nassau Conference ABC-III it still has nine more regular season games to prepare for the Class B playoffs. Wheatley is one of the smallest schools that plays softball in Nassau, but Hurtado wouldn’t change her high school experience for anything.
“Sometimes I think about our school being so small, and feel we don’t get the recognition we deserve,” said Hurtado, who hopes to bat leadoff and play outfield in college. “Honestly, I love being on this team and teaching the younger girls how to play softball, as well as the values that I’ve learned.”