The Lady ’Canes Invitational gives area softball teams a rare opportunity to play in a local tournament. The 16-team field has teams from Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties and includes three of the four teams that played in last year’s semifinals — Palm Harbor University, Plant and River Ridge. Here is a breakdown of the tournament:
Best first-round games
East Lake vs. Tampa Catholic, 6 p.m. Friday: The Eagles (7-3), under new coach Kristie Delk, have won three straight. The strong start has been due mostly to an offense that is averaging seven runs per game. Hannah Roberts leads East Lake with a .440 average and nine RBIs. The Crusaders (6-3) also are strong offensively with a .401 team batting average.
Dunedin vs. Jefferson, 8 p.m. Friday: Two teams on the rise square off and will meet the East Lake-Tampa Catholic winner in the quarterfinals. The Falcons (8-3) have beaten East Lake and handed district foe Gulf its only loss this season. Dunedin ace Aubrey Ehlers has kept games close. The Dragons (6-2) generate offense with their speed and have 11 players with at least one stolen base this season.
Countryside: With four seniors who have signed with colleges, the Cougars (9-3) have a veteran team that can make a run. Two of Countryside’s three losses were by a run, including an early matchup against PHU, a team the Cougars could see in the semifinals.
Palm Harbor University: The host Hurricanes (8-2), who finished third last year, have no problem scoring — they average 10 runs per game. That has helped compensate for a defense that had to replace nearly its entire infield. To get to the final, PHU would likely have to get past either Countryside or Plant in the semifinals.
Plant: The defending tournament champion has struggled a bit this season to a 4-4 record. Two of those losses, though, were been a run. The problem has been on offense, where the Panthers have just two players — Emily Rubin and Kasey Wishart — with 14 or more plate appearances hitting above .400.
River Ridge: The Royal Knights, who lost in last year’s final to Plant, are ranked No. 3 in Class 5A. River Ridge started the season 9-0 before losing 1-0 to district foe Fivay on Tuesday. The bracket is tough, starting with a first-round matchup against Lakewood, followed by possible matchups against Seminole, East Lake and Dunedin.
Makenzie Goluba, River Ridge: The workhorse is 8-1 and has a 0.55 ERA with 49 strikeouts.
Alyssa Queen, Countryside: The Pinellas County pitcher of the year has a 1.12 ERA and is backed by a defense that has allowed just one run in the past four games.
Mariah Watts, Lakewood: The Wisconsin signee is 4-1 with an ERA of 0.00. Her strikeout total is down (49) because she is splitting time with freshman Allison Campbell.
Kaylyn Carson, Tampa Catholic: The table setter leads the team with a .538 average and has scored 10 runs.
Logyn Lilley, Palm Harbor University: The second baseman is hitting .618 with 23 RBIs and four home runs.
Kenzi Maguire, River Ridge: The catalyst for the offense leads the team with a .600 batting average and has 17 RBIs and five triples.
Lady ’Canes Invitational
Where: Eddie C. Moore Complex, Clearwater
Friday: River Ridge vs. Lakewood, 4; Seminole vs. Tarpon Springs, 4; Countryside vs. Sunlake, 4; East Lake vs. Tampa Catholic, 6; East Bay vs. Northeast, 6; PHU vs. Pinellas Park, 6; Plant vs. Osceola, 8; Dunedin vs. Jefferson, 8
Saturday: Loser’s bracket games, 10 a.m., noon, 8 p.m.; quarterfinals, 10 a.m.; semifinals, 2; final, 8