As district softball tournaments monopolize fields across Hillsborough County starting today, here are some of the most interesting matchups and players.
Best potential matchup
Bloomingdale-Alonso: The possible showdown for the 8A-7 title features two of the county's top teams with only six losses between them. The teams split their regular-season meetings by one run each. The Bulls feature an ace in Buffalo commit Lace Smith and have shut out six of their past eight opponents. But few teams boast the firepower of Alonso, which is led by Florida State recruit Jessica Warren (seven home runs, 23 RBIs).
Biggest wild card
Strawberry Crest: With Division I recruits such as Mia Fung (USF) and Megan Reed (Florida), the Chargers have, perhaps, the county's most talented team. That ability was obvious during an early 13-game win streak. Strawberry Crest has state potential, but it also has a treacherous road to get there. Likely semifinal opponent Durant hung around in Strawberry Crest's 5-4 win this month, and a possible district championship showdown with Plant City isn't easy, either.
On the biggest roll
Chamberlain: The Chiefs have come a long way since February losses to Jefferson and Plant. Chamberlain enters the 6A-9 tournament as the favorite with 14 wins in its past 15 games and holding hopes of a 17th playoff appearance since 1996. Ace Olivia Dwyer has turned into a workhorse with a 19-3 record and 1.45 ERA. Chamberlain, the 2012 state champion, has risen to No. 2 in the state.
Freedom: The Patriots made a surprising run to last year's Class 7A state final and returned much of that team, including Maine-bound outfielder Rachel Carlson (.469 batting average) and pitcher Grace Street (2.06 ERA). Freedom lost to its 7A-8 semifinal opponent, Steinbrenner, by six runs in February. But Mallory McManus led the Patriots to a 2-1 win two weeks ago. If Freedom can get by the Warriors, it has the potential to be a playoff spoiler.
Best chances to make history
Gaither, Steinbrenner: The Cowboys are the top seed in 7A-8 and on track for their best season in years. Behind slugger Elizabeth Mason (.550 average) and pitcher Sammi Grat, Gaither is off to a 14-5 start and is a favorite to make it to the postseason for the first time since 2010. … Junior Erica Serafini leads Steinbrenner's regulars with a .429 average, but five other girls are batting at least .500. That depth gives the Warriors a strong shot at the young program's first playoff appearance.
Scouting smaller schools
• The two-team 2A-7 matchup pits one of the county's most prolific pitchers, Cambridge Christian's Alea White and her 212 strikeouts, against one of the bay area's top sluggers, Academy at the Lakes senior Lauren Evans and her .682 batting average and 17 extra-base hits.
• Carrollwood Day seems to have Seffner Christian's number this season. Two of the Crusaders' three losses came against Carrollwood Day. The Patriots scored seven of the 22 earned runs allowed by Seffner Christian's Rachel Seifert and Madison Cates this spring. The teams could meet again in the 3A-7 title game.
• Keep an eye on Berkeley Prep's Kristin Hoover and McKenzie Ward. Hoover just finished a 7-for-9 stretch at the plate with three home runs, a triple and two doubles while Ward has struck out 29 batters in her past 19 innings.
• If Tampa Catholic and Academy of the Holy Names meet for a third time in the 4A-10 final, look for another big game from the Crusaders' Kaylyn Carsons. She was 2-for-4 in both games, and two of her four RBIs this season have come against the Jaguars.
Matt Baker can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @MattHomeTeam.