ST. PETERSBURG — The first thing you notice about Northside Christian pitcher Jessica Anderson as she stands on the mound is the shoes.
Eschewing the traditional Northside blue or black cleats, Anderson's are bright red, which, according to her, look better with her travel ball uniform.
"When she first got them, we were kicking dirt on them," catcher Kirstie Fisher jokes. "They were really red."
The next thing you see is that she's pretty good, as her 0.95 ERA — the county's third lowest — and 13-2 record can attest to.
What isn't so obvious, however, is that Anderson is just a seventh-grader, routinely pitching, and pitching well, against players four or five years older.
"She's not afraid," Northside coach Steve Fisher said. "She comes out here and goes up against juniors and seniors. It's just another batter for her."
It's also the norm for Northside, a team with just one senior and a slew of underclassmen, which includes Anderson and fellow seventh-grader Katheryn Brown, the team's leading batter with a .519 average. The Mustangs were young last year in reaching the region semifinals with only two seniors.
This year's team is even younger.
But, it's probably better.
"There's a difference in the mentality with this group of girls," said Fisher, in his third season at Northside's helm. "They're not going to back down from anybody. Having played 6A competition, 3A competition, I think, is huge. In years past we go up against good teams and it's like a deer in the headlights. This year, they're saying 'Bring it on.' "
It's that mentality that has Northside believing it has the talent to reach the state final four for the first time in school history.
"We made it to the regional semifinals last year, and I know the girls aren't going to be satisfied with that," Fisher said. "The bar has been set."
|Class 3A, District 11 at AHN|
|Tuesday: Tampa Catholic (4) vs. Lennard (5), 4:30; Clearwater Central Catholic (3) vs. Berkeley Prep (6), 7. Wednesday: Tampa Catholic-Lennard winner vs. St. Petersburg Catholic (1), 4:30; CCC-Berkeley Prep winner vs. Academy of the Holy Names (2), 7.
Thursday: final, 7
|With Chloe Saganowich on the mound, SPC hasn't given up more than four runs in any game this season. The Barons went 10-0 in district play. CCC boasts county batting leader Jenna Lee and her .575 average. If the Marauders can take care of business against Berkeley, they'll get Academy in the semifinals with a region spot on the line. They split the regular-season series.|
|Class 2A, District 9 at IRC|
|Tuesday: Bishop McLaughlin (2) vs. Indian Rocks Christian (3), 2; Tampa Prep (1) vs. Calvary Christian (4), 4. Friday: final, 4||Tampa Prep gave up just nine runs in six games to go undefeated against district competition. Indian Rocks lost twice to Bishop McLaughlin, but both games were close. Their semifinal game Tuesday will likely be for the district runnerup spot.|
|Class 2A, District 11 at Shorecrest|
|Tuesday: Shorecrest (2) vs. St. Stephen's (3), 4:30. Thursday: final, Shorecrest-St. Stephen's winner vs. Northside Christian (1) , 4:30||With only three teams in the district, Northside is guaranteed a region spot just by showing up. The Mustangs are the heavy favorite to win their second consecutive title. Shorecrest and St. Stephen's split during the regular season.|
|Class A, District 11 at Canterbury|
|Monday: Citrus Park Christian (4) vs. Oldsmar Christian (5), 4:30. Tuesday: Academy at the Lakes (2) vs. Lakeside Christian (3), 4:30; Citrus Park-Oldsmar winner vs. Canterbury (1), 6:30. Thursday: final, 4:30||Led by Jennifer Crosthwaite's 0.21 ERA, the lowest in the county, two-time defending champ Canterbury made it through the district schedule unscathed. In fact, the only time the Crusaders were challenged was in a one-run win Wednesday over Academy at the Lakes. Expect to see those teams in the final.|
|Class 6A, District 7 at Mitchell|
|Tuesday: Gaither (3) vs. St. Petersburg (6), 5; Mitchell (4) vs. Alonso (5), 7; Wednesday: Gaither-St. Petersburg winner vs. Sickles (2), 5; Mitchell-Alonso winner vs. Countryside (1), 7;
Friday: final, 7
|Every game in this bracket should be competitive, especially after St. Petersburg proved it can't be taken lightly with a late-season victory over 5A-9 heavyweight Osceola. Countryside took a huge blow when pitcher Alyssa Bache suffered a calf injury at a spring break tournament in Jupiter. She was seen on crutches for a couple of days after the tournament but will probably be available Wednesday.|
|Class 5A, District 9 at Eddie C. Moore softball complex in Clearwater|
|Monday: Palm Harbor University (4) vs. Clearwater (5), 5; Pinellas Park (2) vs. Largo (7), 7; Tarpon Springs (3) vs. Dunedin (6), 7. Tuesday: Pinellas Park-Largo winner vs. Tarpon Springs-Dunedin winner, 5 p.m.; PHU-Clearwater winner vs. East Lake (1); 7. Thursday: final, 7||The expected semifinal matchups — East Lake vs. PHU and Pinellas Park vs. Tarpon Springs — could be the two best games of any tournament. The team that wins this district will be the one that makes the fewest errors. The Hurricanes are going for five straight district championships.|
|Class 5A, District 11 at Osceola|
|Tuesday: Dixie Hollins (4) vs. Boca Ciega (5), 2:30; Lakewood (3) vs. Northeast (6), 5; Seminole (2) vs. Gibbs (7), 7:30; Wednesday: Seminole-Gibbs winner vs. Lakewood-Northeast winner, 5; Dixie Hollins-Boca Ciega winner vs. Osceola (1), 7;
Friday: final, 7
|Conventional wisdom predicts a Seminole-Osceola final, but it's not a guarantee. Osceola beat Seminole twice during the regular season but suffered a couple of head-scratching losses of late. Defending champ Seminole, behind the pitching of Emily Crawford (1.04 ERA) and a balanced lineup, is on a roll heading into districts. Dixie Hollins gets a boost with the return of Logan Ambrester from injury.|