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It was been seven seasons since Palm Harbor University went undefeated and captured its second straight state title in softball.
The Hurricanes have not exactly faded from view. They have advanced to the playoffs five of the past six seasons, but have not made the state semifinals during that span.
This season, things could change.
PHU has a team stocked with underclassmen eager to learn, as well as veterans willing to lead.
“I think we have the right balance,” coach Chuck Poetter said. “Last year, we were missing a little bit of that veteran leadership, mostly because we were so young. Now, a lot of these girls are seniors.”
The biggest reason the Hurricanes are a contender has to do with pitching. Taylor Sabol, a senior, is the ace and her losses last season came against teams in the state tournament. In fact, the Hurricanes had five losses in 2011, four against Class 6A Sarasota and 5A East Lake, which spent most of last season ranked No. 1 in their respective classes.
That’s not all. PHU also has strong hitters in Megan Copeland and Samantha McCloskey.
The only concern for the Hurricanes is injuries. Three starters have already gone down with season-ending injuries, including outfielder Moriah Connolly, a second-team, all-county selection last season.
“The injuries are tough, but we’ll be fine,” Poetter said. “We still have a lot in place.”
In order to make a run, PHU will have to get past East Lake, which made the state semifinals in Class 5A the past two seasons and now moves up to 8A along with the Hurricanes.
“Whenever we play East Lake, it’s a good tough game,” Poetter said. “But really every team in our district is tough. It’s going to be fun.”
Players to watch
Jessica Anderson, Northside Christian: Mustangs ace returns after leading team to playoffs last season.
Mallory Allen, Boca Ciega: Steady pitcher leads a veteran Pirates team capable of reaching the postseason.
Megan Copeland, Palm Harbor University: Leadoff hitter provides spark for Hurricanes on offense.
Jennifer Crosthwaite, Canterbury: Strong infielder will see some time on the mound to give Crusaders depth.
Hailee Keisling, Countryside: Recorded a hit in every game last season and will be key behind the plate.
Marisa Palumbo, East Lake: Despite graduating so many starters, the Eagles still have some offense with return of Palumbo.
Kaitlyn Romaine, Osceola: Pitcher is part of solid group of returners that nearly led Warriors to berth in conference game.
Taylor Sabol, Palm Harbor University: Consistent pitcher who faced some of the best teams in the state last season.
Jennie Sittloh, Seminole: Power pitcher also has some pop with her bat.
Sarah Schutz, East Lake: Returning senior will provide leadership to lots of newcomers in the lineup.
Mariah Watts, Lakewood: Strikeout specialist is one of the best young pitchers in south county.
For the fans
Regular season: A team may not play more than 25 games, including tournaments. The regular season ends April 14.
Playoffs: District tournaments are April 16-20. The 16 winners and 16 runners-up from each classification advance to regionals, which begin April 25. The final four teams from the eight classifications advance to the state tournament May 7-14 in Clermont.