This week: Wednesday at Central; Thursday at Dunnellon
Scoop: The Eagles return 11 of 12 players from last year's team that reached the region final. Kama Woodall, a North Carolina signee, is back as Springstead's ace. Behind the plate is catcher Paige Pfent, the Times' North Suncoast Player of the Year. The Eagles also got a boost with the addition of freshmen Jenna Ryan and Hannah Rizzuto. Springstead beat Academy of the Lakes and South Lake, both playoff team last season, by a combined 17-3 in the preseason.
2. Land O'Lakes
This week: Wednesday at Wiregrass Ranch; Friday vs. Dunnellon
Scoop: The Gators graduated three starters, including Shannon Saile, the Times' North Suncoast Pitcher of the Year. Still, Land O'Lakes has plenty of talent. Callie Turner, a Tennessee recruit, takes over as the ace. Tia Williams (four home runs, 32 RBIs) and Brianna Lindner (six homers, 29 RBIs) will be the big bats in the lineup. The Gators were impressive in the preseason, beating Sickles and Wharton by a combined 13-1.
3. Plant City
This week: Tuesday at Spoto; Thursday vs. Tampa Bay Tech
Scoop: Two key players, Ashley Blessin and Edmilly Molina, return from a team that set a school record with 24 wins last season. Blessin, the Times' Hillsborough County pitcher of the year, went 18-2 with a 1.13 ERA and 202 strikeouts last season. Molina, a Palm Beach Atlantic signee, is the big bat in the lineup. Last season, she hit .443 with 32 RBIs.
This week: Tuesday at Durant; Thursday at Riverview
Scoop: The core from last year's team that beat Gaither for the Class 7A, District 8 title is back. Hope Hernandez, a Troy signee, is a clutch hitter. Reganne McCarl brings power to the lineup. The pitching staff is deep, too, with Shannon Maloney and Gabrielle Vallee both returning. In the preseason, Chamberlain let a 4-1 lead slip away in a loss to defending state champion Bartow and beat Plant 14-1.
5. Academy of the Holy Names
This week: Thursday vs. Calvary Christian
Scoop: The top three hitters — Katie Hale (.554), Alexis Miniet (.552) and Haley Morrell (.494) — all return for the Jaguars. The offense, which averaged a whopping nine runs per game last season, should produce big numbers again. In the preseason, AHN scored a combined 19 runs in wins over Gaither and defending 9A state finalist Alonso.
This week: Thursday vs. King
Scoop: The Warriors might be the most underrated team in the area. Nearly everyone returns from last year's team that went 18-5 and won the Class 8A, District 5 title. Two seniors — Hannah Famiano (Eckerd) and Millie Iacovino (Florida Atlantic) — signed with colleges in November. All four pitchers are back, led by senior Emalee Jansen. Last week, Steinbrenner went 2-0 in the preseason.
This week: Tuesday vs. Chamberlain; Thursday at Strawberry Crest
Scoop: The Cougars took their lumps last season, going 11-15. Some of the power in the lineup is gone with the graduation of Selena Bezares and Madison Farrell (combined 10 home runs). Sloan Hammons, a Florida Atlantic signee, will be the leader on the mound and at the plate. Last week, Durant beat Auburndale and Lake Region in the preseason.
8. East Bay
This week: Tuesday at Blake; Saturday vs. Middleton
Scoop: Haley Murphy transferred from Riverview, giving the Indians the ace they needed. Last year, Murphy led the Sharks to the region final. She should get plenty of run support with East Bay, which averaged nearly six runs per game last season. Hannah Perez and Rachel Kingery, the top hitters in the lineup, both return.
This week: Tuesday vs. Lakeside Christian; Thursday at St. Cloud; Friday at Kissimmee Osceola; Saturday vs. Countryside; Saturday vs. Lake Brantley
Scoop: The Crusaders struggled most of last season before turning it around to make the state semifinals for the fifth straight year. Catcher Danielle Romanello (Florida) and shortstop Taylor Bump (Michigan) are seniors who have been around for each of those state tournament runs. The Crusaders won both games over defending region semifinalist Osceola in the preseason.
10. Palm Harbor University
This week: Wednesday at Pinellas Park; Friday vs. Sanford Seminole (@Lake Mary Early Bird Tournament); Saturday at Lake Mary; Saturday vs. Sickles (@Lake Mary Early Bird Tournament).
Scoop: The Hurricanes return nearly everyone from last year's team that lost defending state finalist Alonso in the district semifinals. Pitcher Taylor Scott and infielder Bailey Wilson both signed with North Florida in November. Mia Buffano, a Florida recruit, returns after hitting seven home runs and 36 RBIs as a freshman last season. This week's schedule is loaded with tough competition at the Lake Mary Early Bird Tournament.
11. Nature Coast
This week: Tuesday vs. Fivay; Friday vs. Ridgewood
Scoop: Four starters graduated, including the top two hitters, Mare Sparacia (.439) and Chyloe Gonzalez (.416). Abbey Primavera returns as the ace. Last season, she went 17-3 with a 1.06 ERA and 120 strikeouts. The Sharks split their two preseason games, losing to River Ridge and beating Wesley Chapel.
This week: Thursday vs. Robinson
Scoop: For most teams, graduating six starters would require a major rebuilding project. But the Wolves have plenty of underclassmen capable of filling the voids in the lineup. Maggie Trgo, who hit .417 last season, is the top returner. Others who could have breakout seasons include Mary Beth Feldman, Bailee Leistl and Jada Smallwood.
13. Strawberry Crest
This week: Tuesday at Tampa Bay Tech; Thursday vs. Durant
Scoop: The Chargers lost top hitter Kasey Locke and workhorse pitcher Scottie Todd from last year's team that made the state semifinals. Kacey Fultz, who started both preseason games, will handle the bulk of the pitching load. Celia Higgins is poised for a breakout season at the plate.
This week: Tuesday vs. Jefferson; Thursday at Leto
Scoop: The Ravens graduated three starters from last year's team that made an improbable run to the state title game, most notably Jessica Louth. Caila Weisman (.432 average last year) is the top returning hitter. The pitching staff will be strong with Jodi Handler and Kristin Kopp spitting time. Alonso split its preseason games, beating Berkeley Prep and losing to Holy Names.
This week: Tuesday vs. Plant
Scoop: The Wildcats should rebound after going 11-10 last season. All but one starter returns, including the top two pitchers. Wharton split its preseason games, beating River Ridge and losing to Land O'Lakes.
16. River Ridge
This week: Thursday vs. Hernando
Scoop: After losing a pair of one-run games in the district final and region semifinal to Land O'Lakes last season, the Royal Knights should be poised for another playoff run with the return of starters Jessica Bryson (33 runs scored), Breana Blankenship (25 RBIs) and Melanie Rogers (10-4, 132 Ks). River Ridge split its preseason games, beating Nature Coast and losing to Wharton.
This week: Tuesday at Middleton; Thursday at Jefferson; Friday at Lake Mary; Saturday vs. Sanford Seminole (@Lake Mary Early Bird Tournament); Saturday vs. Palm Harbor University (@Lake Mary Early Bird Tournament)
Scoop: The top hitter (Morgan Noah) and top pitcher (Natalie Zweig) both return from a team that went 16-7 last season. Noah, an FSU commit, hit .417 from her leadoff position. Zweig was 10-6 with a 2.01 ERA and 102 strikeouts. The Gryphons went 1-1 in the preseason, beating Wesley Chapel and losing to Land O'Lakes.
18. Tampa Catholic
This week: Thursday vs. Brooks DeBartolo
Scoop: Alexa Russo, Madison Epperson, Hera Varmah, Julia Engebretson, who combined to hit 15 home runs last season, all return. The Crusaders, who averaged eight runs per game, likely will be in a lot of slug fests this year.
This week: Thursday at Clearwater; Friday at Dunedin; Saturday at Canterbury; Saturday vs. Lake Brantley (@Canterbury)
Scoop: The defending state finalist Cougars finally have an on-campus stadium with lights. Countryside's first true home game will be Feb. 28 against Pinellas Park. The lineup will have some new faces after graduating several starters. Makenzie Griffin, a North Florida signee, leads the offense. Jordan Lewis takes over pitching duties from Stella Preston, who graduated.
This week: Tuesday at Freedom; Thursday vs. Chamberlain
Scoop: The loss of Haley Murphy, now with East Bay, is a big one for the Sharks. To get back to a region final, Riverview will have to rely on catcher Kaia LoPreste, a sophomore who has already committed to FSU.
This week: Thursday at Lennard
Scoop: The Bulls were a young team that took their lumps last season. But there is a strong nucleus, led by Alexys Lawson and Lexie Chevalier, who should put up big numbers on offense. Lawson also will be counted on to handle most of the pitching.
This week: Tuesday vs. Admiral Farragut; Thursday at Dixie Hollins; Friday vs. East Lake
Scoop: The two-time defending conference and district champions graduated five starters. Still, the Warriors can contend with a strong nucleus led by pitcher Megan Weisenberg, who is back from a knee injury. Osceola lost both preseason games to Canterbury last week.
This week: Tuesday at Gulf; Thursday at Pasco
Scoop: Kelsea Vanderveer was the only senior on last year's team that was the district runnerup. Three players who hit above .400 — Alex Hare, Bailey Williams and Lexi Clark — are back. So is ace Ashley Autuori.
24. Wiregrass Ranch
This week: Wednesday vs. Land O'Lakes; Thursday at Zephyrhills
Scoop: The Bulls started to turn things around late last season, winning four of their final six games. The top two hitters — Samantha Hiley (.462) and Kameron Aitken (.422) — are back. So is the bulk of the pitching staff.
25. East Lake
This week: Wednesday at St. Petersburg; Friday at Osceola
Scoop: Aliyah Andrews, the speedy leadoff hitter, is now at LSU. This is a young team with four freshmen and five sophomores on the roster. The four seniors — Karli Crean, Ana Holt, Maddie Neuhaus and Nicci Palumbo — will have to provide leadership.
On the bubble: Seminole, Freedom, Boca Ciega, Robinson, Tarpon Springs, Gaither, Sunlake