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Softball Preview: Who to watch

Class 8A-District 7

SCHOOLS: Alonso, Bloomingdale, Newsome, Plant, Riverview, Wharton

OUTLOOK: Only one team in this district, Wharton, reached the region playoffs last season. Wharton returns ace Mak Dooley, who owned the lowest ERA in Hillsborough County for most of the 2013 season. Mandy Schuerman and Dave Jackson take over coaching duties at Bloomingdale, replacing Melissa Gentile, who is now head coach at Eastern Michigan University. Easing the coaching transition will be junior outfielder/second baseman Elizabeth Jackson, who has committed to Arkansas, and pitcher Lace Smith, a junior who is committed to Buffalo. The top hitter in this district should be Alonso’s Jessica Warren, who has signed with Florida State. Plant returns senior Megan Przeslawski, who will head to Norfolk State, and Danielle Scott, the returning top hitter from last year’s team. Riverview returns its ace, Kaitlyn McMillan, while Newsome’s Kylie Brown and Hannah Pridemore will try to lead the Wolves back to the postseason.

Class 7A-District 7

SCHOOLS: Brandon, Durant, East Bay, Plant City, Strawberry Crest, Tampa Bay Tech

OUTLOOK: Four of the six teams in this district reached the region playoffs last season. Strawberry Crest was the top-ranked team in the county last season but fell short of an expected state title after losing in the region semifinals. The Chargers, however, return the bulk of their team, namely 2013 Tribune player of the year Mia Fung, and all-county first-teamers Megan Reed, Cacey Simmons and Sammy Tyler, along with Sarah Rowley, who has committed to Pennsylvania. Catcher Madison Culver and pitcher Taylor Baker will guide East Bay, which won the 7A-District 8 title last year. Durant dropped down a classification after playing in 8A the past two years, which included winning the state title in 2012. The Cougars return a plethora of efficient hitters, including infielders Brooke Freeman and Payton Lewis. Sophomore Bayli Johns and freshman Sloan Hammons will split duties on the mound, made vacant by the graduation of Paige Davis. Maggie Feix takes over as head coach at Plant City, which advanced to the 2013 regions as district runner-up. Noelle Dietrich returns after a breakout sophomore season on the mound for the Raiders.

Class 7A-District 8

SCHOOLS: Freedom, Gaither, Steinbrenner, Sickles, Wiregrass Ranch

OUTLOOK: Freedom made program history by reaching the 7A state championship last season. The Patriots return two starting outfielders in Rachel Carlson (Maine) and Ashley Wilson (Elon), along with junior pitcher Grace Street (Rollins) and sophomore catcher Maddy Hall. Sickles senior infielder Chelsea Armstrong was one of the county’s top hitters last season.

Class 6A-District 9

SCHOOLS: Armwood, Blake, Chamberlain, Hillsborough, Jefferson, King, Lennard, Leto

OUTLOOK: Chamberlain lost in the 7A region semifinals to Freedom last year and graduated starting pitcher Rachel Dwyer. Leading the Chiefs will be Elizabeth Diaz, who has signed with Saint Leo, Jenna Brownell and UCLA-signee Izzy Odorica. Lennard made school history by winning the program’s first district championship. Blake also made program history by making its first trip to the regions and fell just short of reaching the region championship. The Yellow Jackets’ top player, pitcher Amanda Weathers, returns for her senior year.

Class 5A-District 9

SCHOOLS: Middleton, Robinson, Spoto

OUTLOOK: As a freshman, Robinson outfielder Brandea’ Rafferty put up impressive numbers for the Knights, who lost in the district semifinals last season. Middleton and Spoto won a combined five games last season.

Class 4A-District 10

SCHOOLS: Berkeley Prep, Sarasota Booker, Academy of the Holy Names, Tampa Catholic

OUTLOOK: Holy Names won the district championship over Tampa Catholic and reached the region semifinals last season. The team graduated leading hitters Ashton Hill and Christina Gerecke, but returns sophomore Anya Muyres, who led the team in RBIs in 2013. Tampa Catholic lost in the region quarterfinals and returns six starters, including pitcher Jennifer Rogers and shortstop Cristina Clauberg. Berkeley Prep will be led by Kristen Hoover, who has signed with California-Berkeley and was the county’s 2013 4A Player of the Year.

Class 3A-District 7

SCHOOLS: Bishop McLaughlin, Brooks- DeBartolo, Carrollwood, Seffner Christian, Tampa Prep

OUTLOOK: Carrollwood Day won the program’s first district title last year. Seffner Christian, the district runner-up to CDS in 2013, will be under the direction of first-year coach Gary Blessin, who will guide a young team that will start two eighth-graders at pitcher. The Crusaders do have veteran leadership in senior Tiffani Linville, who signed with Wesleyan College.

Class 2A-District 7

SCHOOLS: Academy at the Lakes, Cambridge

OUTLOOK: Academy at the Lakes reached the 2A state semifinals last season and lost to Canterbury, the eventual state champion. The Wildcats return a big piece of the team in shortstop Lauren Evans, who signed with South Florida. Cambridge Christian lost in the 2A region quarterfinals and returns pitcher Alea White, who also was the team’s top hitter.

Class 2A-District 8

SCHOOLS: Bayshore Christian, Canterbury, Hernando Christian, Keswick Christian, Lakeside Christian)

OUTLOOK: Canterbury won the 2A state championship last season with multiple underclassmen, including six eighth-graders. Five of those eighth-graders have returned and the Crusaders look poised for another run at a state title. Despite finishing 13-6, Hernando Christian did not make the regions after being upset by Lecanto Seven Rivers Christian in the district semifinals.

Nick Williams

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