Teams to watch
1. River Ridge: With back-to-back region final appearances, the Royal Knights have their eyes set on another deep postseason run. Coach Ernie Beck has one of the most talented squads he has coached and returns nearly all of last season’s team.
2. Gulf: The Buccaneers feature five seniors, three juniors, a sophomore and two freshmen, so depth will be key as they look to claim consecutive district championships for the first time. Given the experience and talent returning, Gulf will be River Ridge’s toughest district foe.
3. Mitchell: An early postseason exit last spring has fueled Mitchell heading into this season and the Mustangs are favored in the new Class 6A-District 10. They return talent and depth to help make the preseason predictions a reality, especially with their defense and bats at the plate.
4. Academy at the Lakes: Coming off a state semifinal berth, the Wildcats feature arguably the county’s top player and should have no problems making the playoffs from their three-team district.
5. Fivay: The Falcons have an uphill road playing in the tough 5A-8, but Fivay features one of the county’s top pitchers.
Players to watch
SS — Lauren Evans, Academy at the Lakes, Sr.: The main cog in the Wildcats’ past two state semifinalists teams, the USF signee batted .610 with 31 runs, 25 hits and 19 RBIs last year.
P/IF — Morgan Tolle, River Ridge, Sr.: The James Madison-signee is primed for a big season after batting .558 with nine homers and a 1.607 slugging percentage last year.
P — Skyler Boyton, Academy at the Lakes, Jr.: A great bat to complement Evans by adding a .464 avg., 21 runs and 13 RBIs.
P — Makenzie Goluba, River Ridge, Jr.: Perhaps the county’s top ace by going 23-2 with a 0.54 ERA, only 28 runs allowed and 146 strikeouts, all while batting .483 with 43 hits and 39 runs.
C — Kassidy Neptune, Mitchell, Sr.: A breakout season last year by batting .493 with 29 runs, 33 hits, 26 RBIs and four homers.
P — Madison Morlan, Gulf, Sr.: Helped lead the Buccaneers to their first postseason berth since 2005 with a 1.16 ERA, 13 complete games through 145 innings and 135 strikeouts.
C — Kenzi Maguire, River Ridge, Jr.: One of the county’s best hitters last season with a .479 average, 48 runs, 46 hits, 38 RBIs and five homers.
P — Jill McElderry, Fivay, Sr.: Led Pasco County in strikeouts last year with 226 that went along with a 10-10 record and 18 complete games through 126 innings pitched.
OF — Madisyn Palmer, River Ridge, Jr.: Showed her ability to get on base and score runs with 49 runs, 44 hits, nine RBIs, five doubles and a .489 average.
C — Nikki Sedivy, Gulf, Sr.: A vital piece to Gulf’s district championship by hitting four homers and a .400 average.
P — Jordan Fowler, Mitchell, Sr.: Became the Mustangs’ ace with a 13-3 record, a 2.19 ERA and 103 strikeouts.
OF — Sarah Brown, Hudson, So.: Heading the Cobras’ improving squad with a .444 average, 32 hits and 29 runs.
IF/OF — Kourtney Gracie, Anclote, So.: Big expectations after huge freshman year that included a .554 average, 41 hits and 23 RBIs in 26 games.
1B/OF — Lindsey Hupp, Zephyrhills, Jr.: A big part of the Bulldogs’ 20-8 team last season, thanks to a .407 average, 33 hits and 28 RBIs.
Correspondent Andy Villamarzo covers prep softball in Pasco County. He can be reached at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Avillamarzo.