Compared with recent seasons, this has been a down year for softball on the North Suncoast. There are the clear front-runners, dominant where it matters most — on the pitcher's mound. There are the contenders, those with potential to claim a playoff berth, but probably not enough depth or seasoning to make a deep postseason run. Everyone else is a potential Cinderella story, hoping to take advantage of the Florida High School Association's district tournament system. Want to make the playoffs? Reach the district tournament final to claim your ticket.
The Mustangs are the hottest team on the North Suncoast with seven straight wins, including a 2-0 victory over River Ridge on Tuesday and a 10-0 win against Land O'Lakes on Thursday. Of course, ace Cortney Radke has earned most of the attention with her overpowering pitching. She is 12-2 with 178 strikeouts, and has 10 games with 11 or more strikeouts, including a season-high 21 in a 1-0 win over Gulf. Heather Muccino is batting .613 with 38 hits, 15 RBIs, 12 doubles, four triples and two home runs. She has scored 25 runs and has a 15-game hitting streak.
River Ridge (21-3)
A "rebuilding year" turned into one of the best of coach Ernie Beck's career. After the shutout loss to Mitchell, the Royal Knights ended the regular season with a 5-2 victory against Gulf. Beck has enjoyed the strong bat of Ana Alberti, who is hitting .438 with 32 hits, 22 RBIs, 10 doubles, three home runs and 17 runs scored. Ace Lakyn Shull has been solid with a 13-1 record, 145 strikeouts and a 0.43 ERA. If there's an X-factor, it could be the Mitchell loss and its mental impact.
Hernando Christian (17-4)
There was an early 22-2 loss to Tampa Catholic. There were losses to Anclote and Hudson. Then came mid March, and with it came a nice wave of wins. The Lions have won 10 of their past 11 games. Credit Courtney Riddle. She is batting .415 with 22 hits, nine RBIs, nine doubles, four triples and 24 runs scored. She has also been the ace with a 13-4 record, 129 strikeouts and a 0.81 ERA.
Bishop McLaughlin (12-8)
The Hurricanes have two things going for them in this tournament — run production and homefield advantage. Their 171 runs are important because they've allowed 114. Offensively, Bishop is led by Amy Szymanowski and Andrea Niggebrugge. Both are batting above .400, each with more than 20 hits and 20 runs scored. Szymanowski has a team-high 16 RBIs and Missy Overbeck has 13.
In a four-team district, Springstead appears to be a favorite for a playoff berth. Eagles sophomore Alexis Adams struck out 96 in compiling a 12-4 record. A 7-2 win Thursday against rival Nature Coast only strengthened Springstead's claim that it has plenty of softball left to play.
The Bulldogs have had their ups and downs. Among their notable players is freshman shortstop Tori Jordan, who is hitting .318 with 27 hits, 15 RBIs, five doubles and 22 runs scored. Bulldogs pitcher Lauren Pasquale went 12-5 with 126 strikeouts and a 0.31 ERA.
The Pirates are led by Courtney Brandt, who is batting .443 with 31 hits, 26 RBIs, eight doubles, one triple, two home runs and 25 runs scored. She also is Pasco's ace with an 8-5 record, including 109 strikeouts and a 1.84 ERA.
Academy at the Lakes (9-6)
The Wildcats are led by Kallie Shirling, who is batting .449 with 22 hits, 16 RBIs, nine doubles, one triple and three home runs and 22 runs scored. On the mound, Lauren Evans has gone 5-5 with 111 strikeouts and a 2.32 ERA.
Central, Sunlake and Gulf have all proved they can battle with playoff contenders.
Izzy Gould can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 421-3886.
5A-7 at Springstead
Wednesday: (1) Ocala Forest vs. (4) Ocala West Port, 5; (3) Central vs. (2) Springstead, 7
Thursday: Final, 7
4A-8 at River Ridge
Monday: (8) Citrus vs. (9) Wiregrass Ranch, 7
Tuesday: (2) Zephyrhills vs. (7) Hernando, 6; (1) River Ridge vs. Citrus/Wiregrass winner, 8
Wednesday: (3) Sunlake vs. (6) Lecanto, 6; (4) Land O'Lakes vs. (5) Nature Coast, 8
Thursday: Zephyrhills/Hernando winner vs. Sunlake/Lecanto winner, 6; River Ridge/Citrus-Wiregrass winner vs. Land O'Lakes/Nature Coast winner, 8
Friday: Final, 7
4A-7 at Gulf
Monday: (4) Ridgewood vs. (5) Hudson, 7
Tuesday: (2) Pasco vs. (7) Wesley Chapel, 5; (3) Gulf vs. (6) Anclote, 7
Wednesday: (1) Mitchell vs. Ridgewood/Hudson winner, 5; Pasco/Wesley Chapel winner vs. Gulf/Anclote winner, 7
Friday: Final, 7
2A-10 at Bishop McLaughlin
Monday: (1) Bishop McLaughlin vs. (4) Calvary Christian, 4:30
Tuesday: (2) Indian Rocks Christian vs. (3) Tampa Prep, 4:30
Thursday: Final, 4:30
A-9 at Canterbury
Monday: (4) Carrollwood Day vs. (5) Cambridge, 5
Tuesday: (2) Academy at the Lakes vs. (3) Lakeside Christian, 5; (1) Canterbury vs. Carrollwood/Cambridge winner, 7
Thursday: Final, 6
A-8 at Hernando Christian
Tuesday: (2) Bradenton Christian vs. Seffner Christian, 2; (1) Hernando Christian vs. (4) Bayshore Christian, 5
Thursday: Final, 4:30