Thursday, September 20, 2018

HomeTeam 25: Softball rankings for Tampa Bay

1. Land O'Lakes (7-0)

Up next: Tuesday vs. Zephyrhills; Wednesday at Mitchell; Thursday at Wesley Chapel

The buzz: The Gators proved they belonged at the top with wins against River Ridge (1-0) and Sunlake (5-1) last week. Land O'Lakes has now won 19 straight games dating to last season. Ashley Smith had a double that drove in the only run against the Royal Knights. Brianna Lindner was 2-for-4 with two RBIs against the Seahawks.

RELATED: No. 1 Land O'Lakes tops No. 2 Sunlake

2. Palm Harbor University (6-1)

Up next: Tuesday vs. Alonso; Thursday vs. Pinellas Park; Friday at Clearwater

The buzz: The Hurricanes are averaging 10 runs per game during their strong start. They beat Tarpon Springs to remain unbeaten against Pinellas County foes and won their Class 9A, District 8 opener against Sarasota Riverview. Against the Rams, Savanna Bennett and Savanah Lepain combined on a two-hitter and Mia Buffano and Faith Allen each hit homers.

3. Academy at the Lakes (6-0)

Up next: Thursday vs. Foundation Christian Academy; Thursday at Seven Rivers Christian

The buzz: Last week was a big one for the Wildcats, who beat defending Class 3A region finalist Admiral Farragut 4-0 and defending Class 4A state semifinalist Academy of the Holy Names 11-0. Academy of the Lakes has allowed just one unearned run. Alexis Kilfoyl is tied for the state lead in ERA (0.00). Jessica Mott and Brooke Blankenship have each two homers this season.

4. Springstead (6-0)

Up next: Tuesday vs. Weeki Wachee; Friday at Citrus

The buzz: The Eagles have outscored opponents by a combined 53-3 in the first six games and already are alone in first place in Class 6A, District 6. Mariah Galhouse is fourth among area players in batting average (.714) and Kayla Cruz is sixth among area pitchers in ERA (0.54). The schedule has not exactly been daunting. The test will come next week when Springstead plays in Hernando's Leopard Slam tournament.

5. Sunlake (6-1)

Up next: Tuesday vs. Clearwater; Thursday at Dixie Hollins

The buzz: After starting 6-0, the Seahawks' perfect start ended with a loss to Land O'Lakes. The biggest win came last week against Mitchell that put Sunlake in sole possession of first place of Class 7A, District 9. During their six-game win streak, the Seahawks averaged nearly 11 runs per game. But the offense struggled against the Gators, scoring just one run.

6. Hernando (6-0)

Up next: Tuesday at Central; Friday vs. Gulf

The buzz: The Leopards have not been challenged much. Their closest game was a 1-0 win against rival Nature Coast two weeks ago. Hernando has reached double digits in runs in the other five wins and is averaging 12 runs per game. Ali Shenefield, the team's ace, is seventh among area pitchers in ERA (0.78) and sixth in strikeouts (60).

7. Newsome (5-0)

Up next: Tuesday vs. Riverview; Thursday vs. Wharton

The buzz: Locked in a scoreless game through seven innings, the Wolves exploded for four runs in the eighth to beat rival Alonso 4-0 in a key Class 9A, District 8 game. Lydia Castro, a freshman, went 3-for-4 with an RBI in the win. But the story has been Newsome's pitching and defense. The Wolves have allowed just one run all season.

8. River Ridge (6-1)

Up next: Monday at Cypress Creek; Tuesday at Pasco; Thursday at Anclote; Friday at Wiregrass Ranch

The buzz: It's hard to drop the Royal Knights much considering their only loss is 1-0 to top-ranked Land O'Lakes. Melanie Rogers has thrown two no-hitters and ranks third among area pitchers in ERA (0.19) and strikeouts (75). Madisen Vozdecky is tied for the area lead in RBIs with 16 and Bre Blankenship is tied for second with 15. This is a busy week for River Ridge with four games in five days.

9. Osceola (6-1)

Up next: Tuesday at Pinellas Park; Thursday vs. Lakewood; Friday vs. Mitchell

The buzz: With all nine starters returning and an influx of talented freshmen, the Warriors knew they had the pieces in place to score runs in bunches. Osceola has done just that, scoring double digits in runs in all six wins. Kayleice Hooks (.550 average), Jordyn Pentz (.526) and Jayla Brooks (.500) have been the big bats in the lineup.

RELATED: A more seasoned bunch takes the field for Osceola

10. Alonso (8-1)

Up next: Tuesday at Palm Harbor University

The buzz: After losing to Newsome in last season's Class 9A, District 8 semifinals, the Ravens were hoping for a different outcome in last week's rematch. It didn't happen. Alonso lost 4-0 in eight innings. Jodi Handler has been stellar on the mound, going 6-1 with a 0.57 ERA. The Ravens have another big district game Tuesday against defending 9A state finalist Palm Harbor University.

11. Plant City (8-1)

Up next: Tuesday vs. Lennard; Thursday at Riverview; Friday vs. Middleton

The buzz: The Raiders snapped out of a mild funk by beating 8-1 last week. Pitching and defense have carried the team, much like the past two seasons. Ashley Blessin is fourth in the area in ERA (0.46) and second in strikeouts (77). But the Raiders are averaging just four runs in their past six games and were shutout in a loss to Alonso two weeks ago.

12. Mitchell (3-1)

Up next: Monday at Wesley Chapel; Wednesday vs. Land O'Lakes; Friday at Osceola

The buzz: The defending Class 7A, District 9 champions have already lost to rivals Osceola and Sunlake and cannot afford to lose any more ground if they want a chance at securing one of the two seeds in the district tournament. Ashley Autuori is tied for first among area players in RBIs with 16 and tied for second in home runs with three. Friday's game at Osceola is a big one in the district standings.

13. Chamberlain (6-0)

Up next: Tuesday at King

The buzz: Former LSU standout Bianka Bell returned to her alma mater to help out with a yoga workout in preparation for last week's game against Wharton. The strategy worked. Lani Trent hit a solo homer and Gabrielle Vallee and Shannon Maloney combined on a shutout in a 1-0 win to keep the Chiefs undefeated.

14. Freedom (4-2)

Up next: Tuesday at Wharton; Thursday vs. Durant

The buzz: Since starting 1-2, the Patriots have won three straight, including wins against Steinbrenner (9-0) and Strawberry Crest (2-1). Ellis Erickson went 3-for-3 with an RBI and three runs scored in the win over the Warriors. Freedom will try to keep its streak going Tuesday against Class 8A, District 4 rival Wharton.

15. Tampa Catholic (7-1)

Up next: Tuesday vs. Calvary Christian; Thursday at Academy of the Holy Names

The buzz: The Crusaders opened play in Class 4A, District 4 with wins against Brooks DeBartolo (19-2) and Berkeley Prep (9-2). But the big district game is Friday against Academy of the Holy Names. Last season, the Crusaders went 2-3 against their rival, the last loss coming in the region final. Olivia Mendez leads Tampa Catholic in hitting with a .500 average.

16. Steinbrenner (6-1)

Up next: Thursday vs. Jefferson

The buzz: The Warriors got off to a rough start last week, losing 9-0 to Freedom. Still, Steinbrenner got the win it wanted, beating Class 8A, District 5 rival Sickles 5-3 in nine innings to gain an edge in the standings. Stephanie Balmer was 3-for-4 with two run scored against the Gryphons.

17. East Lake (6-2)

Up next: Monday at Largo; Thursday vs. Tarpon Springs

The buzz: The Eagles took advantage of a light schedule last week, beating Countryside and Seminole by a combined 31-1. East Lake has scored 90 runs in eight games thanks to a balanced lineup. A win Thursday against rival Tarpon Springs could set up a showdown with Palm Harbor University the following week to determine the North representative in the conference championship game.

18. Wharton (5-2)

Up next: Tuesday vs. Freedom; Thursday at Newsome

The buzz: After losing 1-0 to Chamberlain, the Wildcats rebounded to beat Wiregrass Ranch 4-3 and Spoto 15-0. Chloe Lee had a double, homer and two RBIs in the win over the Bulls.  Tuesday's game against Wharton is for first place in Class 8A, District 4.

19. Tarpon Springs (5-1)

Up next: Tuesday vs. Boca Ciega; Thursday at East Lake

The buzz: The Spongers unveiled their district champion and region final banners before their game against Palm Harbor University. Tarpon Springs was unable to get the win, dropping its first game of the season. On Tuesday, the Spongers will try to complete the regular-season sweep of Class 6A, District 9 rival Boca Ciega.

20. Academy of the Holy Names (6-1)

Up next: Wednesday vs. Berkeley Prep; Friday vs. Tampa Catholic

The buzz: The bad news is that the Jaguars' perfect start came to an end with an 11-0 loss to Academy at the Lakes. The good news is that Academy of the Holy Names still is undefeated in Class 4A, District 4. There are important games this week, the biggest coming Friday against rival Tampa Catholic for sole possession of first in the district standings.

21. Sickles (6-3)

Up next: Tuesday at Plant; Thursday vs. Armwood

The buzz: After starting 5-0, the Gryphons have lost three of four, the toughest coming against Class 8A, District 5 rival Steinbrenner last week. The three losses have been by a combined four runs, two coming in extra innings. Lauren Lightbody and Jolie Miracle are each hitting .438.

22. Robinson (6-4)

Up next: Tuesday vs. Spoto; Thursday vs. Hillsborough

The buzz: The offense put up big numbers in wins against Lennard (10-0) and Jefferson (11-7) to get the Knights above .500. Raleigh Lutz went 3-for-3, and Jordan Stephens and Claire White each had two RBIs in the win over the Longhorns. Julia Garcia had a big night at the plate against the Dragons, going 2-for-3 with three RBIs and two runs scored.

23. Nature Coast (5-2)

Up next: Tuesday at Cypress Creek; Wednesday vs. Fivay

The buzz: When the offense is clicking, the Sharks are tough to beat. After all, they have scored 10 or more runs in all five wins. The struggles come when the offense goes into a slump. In the two losses, Nature Coast has scored just one run. Alanis Berrios and Alyssa Kelly are each hitting .478.

24. Strawberry Crest (4-3)

Up next: Tuesday vs. Wiregrass Ranch; Thursday vs. East Bay

The buzz: After surviving a pair of extra-inning games, the Chargers' two-game win streak came to an end in a 2-1 loss to Class 8A, District 4 rival Freedom. Taylor Finney went 4-for-5 with a run scored in a 3-2, 10-inning win over Durant.

25. Admiral Farragut (5-2)

Up next: Tuesday vs. Indian Rocks Christian; Thursday at Bradenton Christian

The buzz: The Blue Jackets' four-game win streak ended with a loss to Academy at the Lakes. AFA bounced back with a 12-0 win against Shorecrest. Brielle Benefield threw her area-best third no-hitter of the season against the Chargers and was one walk away from a perfect game.

On the bubble: Bloomingdale (6-3), Armwood (3-2), Clearwater (4-1), Calvary Christian (3-2), Jefferson (4-3), Riverview (4-6).

Grab Bag: Forfeit games and risk your playoff chances

Grab Bag: Forfeit games and risk your playoff chances

When it comes to football playoffs, forfeit a game and you may as well forfeit your season.Northside Christian recently was fined $2,302 and slapped with a three-year postseason ban by the Florida High School Athletic Association after forfeiting a S...
Updated: 1 hour ago
HomeTeam 15: Football predictions (w/ video)

HomeTeam 15: Football predictions (w/ video)

Our staffers’ predictions for our spotlight games of the week:TonightCarrollwood Day at Admiral Farragut, 7Rodney Page: Carrollwood Day 20-14Bob Putnam: Admiral Farragut 28-21FridayHillsborough at Tampa Bay Tech, 7:30Rodney Page: Tampa Bay Tech 28-24...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Hillsborough coach Earl Garcia soon to surpass the mentor who once fired him

Hillsborough coach Earl Garcia soon to surpass the mentor who once fired him

TAMPA — After practice Monday, Hillsborough High School players formed a ragged line in the football fieldhouse. The man handing out the ice cream sandwiches kept making sure no one cut in line or got seconds before others got firsts."Yeah, a r...
Updated: 5 hours ago
For unbeaten Mitchell, practice really does make perfect

For unbeaten Mitchell, practice really does make perfect

TRINITY — When you graduate one of the best players in school history, chances are it will be be tough going, at least early on, the next season.So far, Mitchell High's football team is defying the odds without the services of all-everything at...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Coach Earl Garcia high on quarterback IQ of Charlie Dean

Coach Earl Garcia high on quarterback IQ of Charlie Dean

TAMPA — Charlie Dean has settled in at Hillsborough High, a place he says feels like home, with a coach, Earl Garcia, he totally respects.In many ways it feels like a relief.That's because Hillsborough is Dean's third school in three years, the...
Published: 09/19/18
No load too much to bear for close-knit East Bay players

No load too much to bear for close-knit East Bay players

GIBSONTON — The folks in East Bay's football program — from the coaches to the players to the faculty and the parents — are about as tight as a group can be.It's been that way for a long time, dating to the years under former head c...
Published: 09/19/18

Volleyball: PHU continues mastery of St. Petersburg with 3-0 win

ST. PETERSBURG — The much anticipated showdown between Class 8A, District 10 rivals Palm Harbor University and St. Petersburg ended up being a 25-21, 25-23, 25-20 sweep for the Hurricanes. It was the first loss of the season for the Green Devil...
Published: 09/18/18
HomeTeam 15: Volleyball power rankings, Week 5

HomeTeam 15: Volleyball power rankings, Week 5

A look at this week's top teams in Tampa Bay:Elite status1. Plant (12-0)Up next: Thursday at GaitherLast week's spot: No. 1Why they stayed put: If the Panthers thought they might be Class 8A state championship contenders, that was confirmed last week...
Published: 09/18/18
Marreese Speights’ nephew inherits his height, but puts it to use on the gridiron

Marreese Speights’ nephew inherits his height, but puts it to use on the gridiron

ST. PETERSBURG – Percy Speights is ready to battle. With knees slightly bent and elbows instinctively deployed, the 6-foot-4 sophomore stakes out his spot, pushing and pressing until his opponent is no longer a factor.It is hard labor for the d...
Published: 09/18/18
Road warriors truly define Palm Harbor University volleyball players

Road warriors truly define Palm Harbor University volleyball players

PALM HARBOR — The microphone was put away for the day, so Palm Harbor University volleyball coach Dexter Rogers had to shout. Luckily, the intimate crowd at Carwise Middle School was easily within earshot.It was senior night, and the Hurricanes...
Published: 09/18/18