Balanced might be one way to describe the outlook for North Suncoast softball. Everywhere you look — whether it's in the Zephyrhills dugout, the outfields of Sunlake or the bullpen at Hernando — there's optimism about teams and talk of good competition. Yes, it appears to be an "up year" for North Suncoast softball. Changes during the offseason, including new districts, mean some old rivalries will fade for now. Of course, some of those teams could meet in the postseason. So we offer a few things to consider entering the 2010 North Suncoast softball season.
Offseason of intrigue
Pasco has undergone a significant facelift after losing four key seniors, including Lucy Schneider and Colena Lazar. The most significant news was that of head coach Shamalene Broner stepping aside for personal reasons. She continues to teach at the school but has kept her distance from the field. Longtime Pasco assistant Lisa Herndon takes over and will employ her daughter to help coach the team. The Pirates now turn to ace Courtney Brandt to help give them stability on the mound. Pasco finished 23-7 last year with a region semifinal berth.
Perhaps the most eye-opening move in terms of district realignment was that of Mitchell. The Mustangs had been roped into Class 6A since the 2005-06 season. They move down to Class 4A, a classification they have not played in since 2003. The reason for the move was the opening of Anclote, which alleviated crowding at Mitchell. Despite moderate turnover the past few seasons, Mitchell's district opponents are concerned with ace Courtney Radke back on the mound and the big bats of Courtney Dougherty and Heather Muccino. Mitchell finished 19-9 last year with a region quarterfinal berth.
Time to shine?
Sunlake lost North Suncoast player of the year Samantha Dittman to graduation. But in the Seahawks' third season, coach Johnny Dawkins expects improvement. Look for girls such as junior Alex Rogers (orally committed to UNC-Charlotte), and sophomores Courtney Durbin and Meghan Durbin to pick up the slack.
Could be Class 4A, District 8 with traditional powers such as River Ridge, Zephyrhills and Land O'Lakes. Then there's the up-and-coming Sunlake Seahawks and Wiregrass Ranch Bulls. Nature Coast should continue to be a force, and Hernando is expected to compete.
Hernando Christian advanced to the region semifinal round guided by first-year coach and Hernando County staple Ernie Chatman. The Lions lost four seniors from a team that went 22-6.
Players to watch
Lakyn Shull, Jr., River Ridge: Went 11-4 with a 1.46 ERA.
Madison Morris, Sr., River Ridge: Hit .432 with 38 hits, 12 RBIs, seven doubles and two triples.
Heather Muccino, Jr., Mitchell: Hit .358 with 34 hits, 20 RBIs, four doubles, three triples and a home run.
Courtney Radke, Sr., Mitchell: Threw 105 strikeouts sharing the mound with Olivia Kline to finish 6-6 with a 0.68 ERA.
Ashley Antczak, Sr., Nature Coast: Signed with Hillsborough Community College and had a 2.36 ERA with 147 strikeouts.
Jen Marshall, Sr., Nature Coast: Hit .484 in 27 games with 20 RBIs.
Alicia Field, Sr., Hernando Christian: Went 10-3 with a 2.70 ERA.
Madison Manuel, Jr., Hernando Christian: Hit .444 with 40 hits, 37 RBIs, 10 doubles, three triples and two home runs.
Alex Rogers, Jr., Sunlake: Led the Seahawks in runs scored, hits, walks and stolen bases with a .467 batting average.
McKenzie Burns, Jr., Central: Hit .493 last season and has great speed around the bases.
Lauren Pasquale, So., Zephyrhills: Hit .463 with a county-best 16 doubles and went 6-1 with 1.45 ERA.
Brittney Mayhill, Jr., Gulf: Had a hit in every game with a .522 average and 39 steals.
Courtney Brandt, Jr., Pasco: Went 6-1 with a 1.66 ERA.
Megan Newsome, Sr., Pasco: Hit .385 with 37 hits, 10 RBIs, four doubles, one triple and four home runs.
Amanda Drawe, Sr., Springstead: Hit .383 with 20 RBIs last season.
Class 5A, District 7
Central, Ocala Forest, Springstead, Ocala West Port
Class 4A, District 8
Citrus, Hernando, Land O'Lakes, Lecanto, Nature Coast, River Ridge, Sunlake, Wiregrass Ranch, Zephyrhills
Class 4A, District 7
Anclote, Gulf, Hudson, Pasco, Mitchell, Ridgewood, Wesley Chapel
Class 2A, District 10
Bishop McLaughlin, Brooks-DeBartolo, Calvary Christian, Indian Rocks Christian, Tampa Prep
Class A, District 9
Academy at the Lakes, Cambridge, Canterbury, Carrollwood, Lakeside Christian, Tampa Bay Christian
Class A, District 8
Bayshore Christian, Bradenton Christian, Hernando Christian, Seffner Christian