MORE from our HomeTeam writers.
Player of the year: Bianka Bell, Sr., Chamberlain
Why we picked her: Arguably the most powerful hitter in Hillsborough County fast-pitch history, Bell was a leadoff hit — or homer — waiting to happen for the Class 7A state champs. The younger sister of two SEC players, she hit .720 with 11 home runs and 35 RBIs, striking out once in 104 plate appearances. Her defense, meantime, was as flawless (four errors at shortstop) as her bat was formidable. Making her numbers more astounding was the fact she played the last month of the season with a right eye essentially swollen shut. During an early-April tournament in Kissimmee, Bell sustained a concussion on a hard slide into home when the catcher’s sweeping tag hit her in the helmet, which smashed into the eye. As if to prove she was better than most hitters with one eye closed, she went 10-for-15 with four home runs in the postseason.
Proudest accomplishment: Her astronomical batting average. After playing nearly her entire junior season with a torn left meniscus, Bell hit safely in 25 of 28 games this season, amassing a .648 on-base percentage. Those who wouldn’t give her anything to hit — she was walked or hit by a pitch 14 times — essentially were surrendering a double; Bell had 14 stolen bases.
Future plans: Bell has signed with LSU, becoming the third of Joe and Anne Bell’s four kids to play softball in the SEC. Sisters Brittany and Briana play at Mississippi State.
Did you know? Each game day, Bell rose at 3:27 a.m., a time which has no hidden significance. After showering and dressing, she’d have breakfast (always accompanied by orange Gatorade), do homework, watch TV and perhaps take a little nap before heading to school. …Bell herself acknowledges being scared at the harm her powerful swing could inflict. She especially cringed her first at-bat in the region final at Okeechobee, a liner that nearly grazed the third baseman’s head. “I froze in the box for a second,” she said.
Pitcher of the year: Paige Davis, Jr., Durant
Why we picked her: Affectionately known as “Peanut,” Davis’ first season as the Cougars’ full-time starter was a microcosm of her team’s surreal spring. After early success (victories in 11 of her first 12 starts), she encountered a turbulent stretch (17 earned runs in three playoff games), but complemented her rise ball with resilience and flourished at the end. Rocked initially in the playoffs, she allowed four earned runs in Durant’s final three games, shutting out Orlando Timber Creek in the Class 8A region finals and tossing a five-hitter against Miami Palmetto in the state title game. “I just relaxed, trusted my defense and started hitting my spots more,” she said. Her final pitching numbers: 22-4, 2.44 ERA, 34 walks in 181 innings.
Proudest accomplishment: After struggling at the plate most of the season, Davis went 5-for-15 with two home runs and eight RBIs in five playoff games. The highlight: a three-run, walkoff homer in an eight-inning, 8-7 region quarterfinal victory against East Lake.
Future plans: Davis, whose family is steeped in law enforcement, would like to become some type of forensic specialist. Two of her uncles have served as majors with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.
Did you know? The youngest of four children, Davis is the second state champion in her family. Brother T.J., a former Cougars wrestler, was the Class 2A champion at 152 pounds in 2010. … Davis and county player of the year Bianka Bell first encountered each other as 9-10 age-group all-stars on the Pinecrest and Bloomingdale Little League teams, respectively. Bell’s team prevailed in a contest coached by both players’ fathers.
P Rachel Dwyer, Jr., Chamberlain: State tourney aside, Dwyer (1.43 ERA) was steady all year
P Jaclyn Amato, Jr., Leto: Falcons don’t sniff district title without her 1.18 ERA, 152 strikeouts
P Emily Gaitan, Jr., Riverview: Tossed two-hitter in district final to beat Plant City
P Erika Shick, Sr., Alonso: University of Tampa signee one-hit Chamberlain, Sickles, Bloomingdale
C Kassidy Kujawa, Jr., Wharton: Her 24 extra-base hits included seven homers
INF Ellen Scott, Sr., Chamberlain: Drexel signee collected five homers, team-best 42 RBIs
INF Jessica Warren, So., Alonso: Hit nine HRs, committed only three errors at shortstop
INF Kristen Wyckoff, Jr., Plant City: USF commit hit .592 with 38 stolen bases
INF Taylor McCoy, Sr., Riverview: Led Sharks in BA (.473), HRs (five), RBIs (33), doubles (10)
OF Madi Gonzalez, Sr., Chamberlain: Four HRs in state tourney included game-winner in final
OF Jordan LaFave, Sr., Durant: Team-best .442 BA, hit walkoff HR in region semifinals
OF Makensie McAvoy, Sr., Plant City: Florida Gulf Coast signee hit .446 with 17 stolen bases
DH Lindsey Hagberg, Jr., Chamberlain: Chiefs catcher hit .495 with 32 RBIs
UT Savannah Bradley, Jr., Strawberry Crest: Hit .483, compiled a 1.83 ERA in 34 innings
P Kayla Maxwell, So., Academy of the Holy Names
P Jenny Weissman, Sr., Berkeley Prep
P Jordan Bowers, So., Strawberry Crest
P Sarah Miller, Sr., Robinson
C Alia Serafini, Jr., Steinbrenner
INF Monica Santos, Sr., Wharton
INF Brittany Johnson, Sr., Sickles
INF Christina Caisse, Sr., East Bay
INF K.K. Cenal, Sr., Jefferson
OF Christina Linton, Jr., Sickles
OF Nikki Giovenco, Sr., Durant
OF Allysa Caisse, Sr., East Bay
DH Christina Lodato, Sr., Academy of the Holy Names
UT Jordan Alexander, Sr., Bloomingdale
Academy of the Holy Names: Jackie Moreda; Armwood: Lauren Harris, Jada Spano; Berkeley Prep: Kristin Hoover, Cassi Mihokovich; Bloomingdale: Savanna Aversa, Elizabeth Jackson, Katie Marion, Leah Pemberton, Lace Smith; Cambridge Christian: Alea White; Chamberlain: Kelly Smith; East Bay: Taylor Baker, Madison Culver; Freedom: Grace Street, Ashley Wilson; Gaither: Morgan Litchfield, Kelsey McGough; Jefferson: Nicole Comstock, Natali Morgado; Lennard: Hailey Hafer; Leto: Keishla Alvarez, Alexis Gutcher; Middleton: Denise Jimenez, Gabi Trejo; Newsome: Caitie Lytle, Bree Schinella; Plant: Rachel Hampton, Samantha Lastres; Plant City: Shayna Harmon, Nan Lawson; Riverview: Meagan Brislin; Robinson: Alexis Jackson, Katelin Stephens, Katie Weachter; Seffner Christian: Cheyenne Wright; Sickles: Chelsea Armstrong; Steinbrenner: Taylor Morrow, Kellee Ramsey; Strawberry Crest: Mia Fung, Megan Reed, Trystan Reibsome, Cacey Simmons; Tampa Catholic: Krista Garcia; Tampa Prep: Kamryn Beach; Wharton: Makaleigh Dooley
Coach of the Year: Matt Carter, Durant
The Cougars’ well-chronicled triumph over adversity — between and beyond the baselines — likely never materializes without Carter’s strategy and steadying influence. After a three-game skid, Carter shuffled his entire infield and watched the Cougars win their final 10 games. Amid that streak, which included four come-from-behind wins in the final six games, he helped his team cope with the May 4 loss of team mom Antionette “Momma C” Cuellar to cancer. With Cuellar’s youngest daughter Olivia starting at shortstop, Durant won the Class 8A state crown 10 days later.