HomeTeam 25: Softball rankings for Tampa Bay

Palm Harbor University pitcher Savanna Bennett high-fives Palm Harbor third baseman Jalynn Ford during the Class 9A softball title game last season.  (Times file, 2017)
Palm Harbor University pitcher Savanna Bennett high-fives Palm Harbor third baseman Jalynn Ford during the Class 9A softball title game last season. (Times file, 2017)
Published February 26

1. Land O'Lakes (4-0)

Up next: Tuesday at Anclote; Thursday at River Ridge; Friday vs. Sunlake

The buzz: The Gators have won 16 straight games, a streak that dates to early April of last year. Last week, Land O'Lakes beat Wesley Chapel 5-1 and had a forfeit win against Cypress Creek.  Marigrace Castoria was 3-for-3 against the Wildcats, including a double that brought home the first run of the game. Callie Turner threw a two-hitter with 13 strikeouts. This is a big week for the Gators with games against Class 6A, District 7 rival River Ridge and against undefeated Sunlake.

2. Sunlake (5-0)

Up next: Tuesday at Mitchell; Friday at Land O'Lakes

The buzz: The Seahawks have been dominant, winning their first five games by a combined 53-3. The biggest one was a 13-2 victory over Class 7A, District 9 rival Osceola. Sunlake had 17 hits, including four from Mariah Melendez and three each from Kendra Falby and Paige Maseda. Riley Baxter also hit a homer. This week, the Seahawks will be tested. On Tuesday, they face Mitchell in a rematch of a 15-inning thriller the Mustangs won in last year's district final. Three days later, Sunlake goes up against Class 6A defending state champion Land O'Lakes.

3. Alonso (7-0)

Up next: Tuesday at Hillsborough; Thursday vs. Newsome

The buzz: The Ravens have dedicated their season to Sherman Johnson, a longtime assistant coach who died in November after a four-year battle with cancer. It has been a powerful motivator. Alonso won last week's inaugural Angela Slater Kickoff Classic, beating Plant City 2-0 in the championship game. Jodi Handler threw a complete-game shutout and recorded 12 strikeouts to help the Ravens remain undefeated.

4. Palm Harbor University (4-1)

Up next: Wednesday at Tarpon Springs; Thursday at Sarasota Riverview

The buzz: In their only game last week, the Hurricanes beat Countryside in a game that was called after five innings because of the mercy rule. Savanna Bennett had the big hit, a three-run homer in the bottom of the fifth. PHU has scored more than 10 runs in all four victories. That offensive production has helped the Hurricanes move up to the top spot in the Class 9A state poll. Wednesday's game against Tarpon Springs could go a long way toward deciding a spot in the conference championship game.

5. Academy at the Lakes (4-0)

Up next: Thursday at Admiral Farragut; Saturday at Academy of the Holy Names

The buzz: The Wildcats got revenge from last season's region final by beating defending Class 2A state champion Canterbury 2-0. Brooke Blankenship had a solo homer and drove in Hannah Church for the other run. Alexis Kilfoyl threw a two-hit shutout with 13 strikeouts. AATL has allowed just one run in the first four games. Both games this week are against playoff teams from last season.

6. Springstead (4-0)

Up next: Tuesday vs. Citrus; Thursday at Lecanto

The buzz: Mariah Galhouse, a transfer from Pinellas Park, has been a big addition for the Eagles. The junior pitcher/infielder is hitting .800 (12-of-15) and is 2-0 on the mound. She has helped Springstead remain perfect on the season after wins over Central (11-0) and Crystal River (2-0) last week. The Eagles have outscored their first four opponents by a combined 34-1.

7. River Ridge (4-0)

Up next: Tuesday at Zephyrhills; Wednesday vs. Hudson; Thursday vs. Land O'Lakes

The buzz: The Royal Knights went 3-0 last week, beating Anclote, Fivay and Wesley Chapel by a combined 36-5. The game against the Wildcats was a father-daughter showdown. Wesley Chapel's William Hoopes, who took over the team this year, coached against his daughter, River Ridge outfielder Jessica Bryson, for the the first time. Bryson got the better result, going 3-for-4 in the win. The Royal Knights are hoping for any kind of offense in Thursday's game against Land O'Lakes. Last season, Gators ace Callie Turner threw a no-hitter, striking out 21 River Ridge batters.

8. Hernando (4-0)

Up next: Tuesday at Central; Friday vs. Gulf

The buzz: Ali Shenefield threw a three-hit shutout with 16 strikeouts in a 1-0 win over rival Nature Coast last week that kept the Leopards on top of the Class 5A, District 7 standings. Her strikeout total was just two fewer than she had in four games combined against the Sharks last season.  Taliyah Dowdell had a triple in the sixth inning that led to the game's only run. Hernando should be able to cruise until hosting its spring break tournament in three weeks.

9. Osceola (3-1)

Up next: Tuesday at Northeast; Wednesday vs. Canterbury; Friday vs. Clearwater

The buzz: The Warriors rebounded from a loss to Sunlake to knock off previously undefeated Mitchell 12-5 in eight innings. Trailing 5-0 through four innings, Osceola rallied to tie it in the seventh, then scored seven runs in the eighth. Rebecca Catarelli went 3-for-5, including a solo homer. Madison Murphy came on in relief in the fifth inning and threw four shutout innings.

10. Plant City (6-1)

Up next: Tuesday at Brandon; Friday at Durant

The buzz: Pitching and defense have been the Raiders' strengths . They helped Plant City get off to a 6-0 start and reach the final of the Angela Slater Kickoff Classic. Ashley Blessin has started all seven games and has a 0.44 ERA and 56 strikeouts.

11. Newsome (3-0)

Up next: Tuesday vs. Middleton; Friday at Alonso

The buzz: After a week off, the Wolves are back with two games, the biggest coming Friday against Class 9A, District 8 rival Alonso. The teams have knocked each other out of the playoffs or district tournament each of the past  two seasons. McKayla Timmons is 3-for-5 with a double, triple and five RBIs.

12. Mitchell (3-1)

Up next: Monday vs. Ridgewood; Tuesday vs. Sunlake; Thursday at Fivay

The buzz: After winning their first three games by a combined 39-7, the Mustangs lost to Class 7A, District 9 rival Osceola 12-5 in eight innings. That dropped Mitchell a game behind Sunlake and the Warriors in the district standings. In their other game this week, the Mustangs beat Gulf 12-2. Ashley Autuori and Katie Bright each homered against the Buccaneers. Tuesday's game against the Seahawks is important for Mitchell if it wants to stay in contention for one of the top two seeds in the district tournament.

13. Chamberlain (4-0)

Up next: Tuesday vs, Wharton; Thursday vs. Leto

The buzz: The Chiefs remain undefeated after beating Freedom 5-2 and Plant 13-3 last week. Gabby Vallee had seven strikeouts and Shannon Maloney pitched the seventh for the save in the win over the Patriots. Chamberlain showed it has some power, too, with Lani Trent hitting a pair of home runs in the win over the Panthers.

14. Steinbrenner (4-0)

Up next: Tuesday vs. Gaither; Thursday at King

The buzz: Mikayla Johnson, who has taken over the bulk of the pitching duties, is off to a strong start. The sophomore has pitched at least one inning in every game and has allowed just four runs thanks to a defense that makes few mistakes. Her best performance came last week when she threw a complete game shutout with five strikeouts in a 1-0 victory over Gaither.

15. Sickles (6-1)

Up next: Tuesday vs. Bloomingdale; Thursday vs. Steinbrenner

The buzz: Close games have become a theme for the Gryphons. Four of their first seven games have been decided by a run. Sickles has fared well in those games, going 3-1, the last coming against Robinson to take third at the Angela Slater Kickoff Classic. The Gryphons' lone loss was 5-4 in eight innings to the Ravens in the tournament.

16. Tarpon Springs (4-0)

Up next: Tuesday vs. Largo; Wednesday vs Palm Harbor University

The buzz: The Spongers are finding ways to win close games. They have won a pair of one-run games, the latest coming against St. Petersburg. Tied at 4 through five innings, Tarpon Springs scored the go-ahead run in the sixth to win 5-4 and remain unbeaten. A big test comes Wednesday against Palm Harbor University.

17. Nature Coast (3-1)

Up next: Tuesday vs. Hudson; Wednesday at Dunnellon; Friday at Central

The buzz: The Sharks can hit — and score. They have reached double digits in runs in all three wins. But the offense faltered against rival Hernando. Nature Coast batters struck out 16 times and failed to score in a 1-0 loss. Alanis Berrios has been the big bat in the lineup, hitting a team-leading .538 with six RBIs.

18. Academy of the Holy Names (4-0)

Up next: Tuesday vs. Calvary Christian; Friday vs. Tampa Prep; Saturday vs. Academy at the Lakes

The buzz: The Jaguars have been dominant, winning their first four games by a combined 51-6. The biggest win came last week against Naples Palmetto Ridge. Ahead 3-1, AHN scored three runs each in the sixth and seventh innings to break the game open. Alyssa LoSauro is on a tear, hitting .750 (9-for-12) with five RBIs. The offense will be tested Saturday vs. Academy at the Lakes and Alabama-bound Alexis Kilfoyl.

19. Wharton (3-1)

Up next: Tuesday at Chamberlain; Thursday at Wiregrass Ranch

The buzz: In their only game last week, the Wildcats pounded Tampa Bay Tech 18-0. In its three wins, Wharton has outscored foes 34-4. Jordyn Gendron is hitting .636 (7-for-11) and Chloe Lee is batting .500 (4-for-8).

20. East Lake (4-2)

Up next: Tuesday at Countryside; Friday vs. Seminole

The buzz: The Eagles went 2-2 at the Angela Slater Kickoff Classic, beating Brandon and Strawberry Crest and losing to Robinson and Lake City Columbia. Each of the losses was decided by three runs or fewer. The offense is balanced with six players hitting .400 or better. East Lake still is undefeated in Class 8A, District 7 and could solidify its standing at the top with wins against Countryside and Seminole this week.

21. Tampa Catholic (5-1)

Up next: Tuesday at Brooks DeBartolo; Thursday vs. Berkeley Prep

The buzz: The Crusaders' perfect start ended with an 8-3 loss to Wiregrass Ranch. Tampa Catholic came back to beat Fort Myers Bishop Verot 1-0, handing the Vikings their first loss of the season. Backed by a stellar defense, Tampa Catholic senior Kendall Brackin threw a complete-game shutout against Fort Myers. She is part of a deep Crusaders staff that uses as many as four pitchers.

22. Robinson (4-4)

Up next: Tuesday at Lennard; Thursday vs. Jefferson

The buzz: The Knights have struggled to find consistency They started off strong at the Angela Slater Kickoff Classic, beating East Bay 15-0 and East Lake 13-12 in nine innings. But Robinson went on to lose to Plant City and Sickles. The Knights' four losses have all come against playoff teams from a year ago. Jordan Stephens, a freshman, leads the team in hitting with a .435 average.

23. Freedom (2-2)

Up next: Tuesday at Steinbrenner; Thursday vs. Strawberry Crest

The buzz: It has been an uneven season so far for the Patriots, who lose one game, then win the next. Part of that is due to a tough schedule that has included three playoff teams from last season. Ellis Erickson is providing most of the punch on offense with a .500 average (7-for-14) and five RBIs.

24. Strawberry Crest (4-3)

Up next: Tuesday vs. Durant; Thursday at Freedom

The buzz: The Chargers spilt their four games at the Angela Slater Kickoff Classic, beating Lake Gibson and Lake Wales and losing to East Lake and Plant City. Taylor Finney has been the team's most consistent hitter with a .500 average to go along with five RBIs.

25. Admiral Farragut (3-1)

Up next: Tuesday at Indian Rocks Christian; Thursday vs. Academy at the Lakes; Friday at Shorecrest

The buzz: The Blue Jackets are a serious state contender in Class 3A. Nearly everyone is back from last year's team that made it to the region final, including FSU commit Krystina Hartley. Since losing to Osceola in the season opener, Admiral Farragut has won three straight, outscoring opponents 28-1.

On the bubble: Jefferson (2-2), Riverview (3-4) Clearwater (2-0), Calvary Christian (3-0).

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