The Tampa Bay area has brought home at least one softball state championship each of the past four seasons. The quest for a fifth resumes today as 16 high school teams across all four counties battle in the region semifinals. Here are some of the top hitters, pitchers and matchups for the teams still dreaming of a trip to Vero Beach:
Noelle Dietrich, Plant City: The junior's gotten hot near the close of a strong season (1.10 ERA). Dietrich threw a perfect game in an abbreviated win over Hillsborough and allowed only two hits and one run in last week's playoff win over Gaither.
Sloan Hammons, Durant: The freshman struggled in her playoff debut, but has had a strong rookie season (2.20 ERA, 131 strikeouts). She enters a rematch against Plant City with momentum and confidence after throwing five shutout, two-hit innings in a district championship victory over the Raiders.
Makenzie Goluba, River Ridge: With her win last week over Nature Coast, Goluba became the school's all-time leader with 55 — and she's only a junior. Goluba is now 23-3 with a 0.31 ERA and has allowed only one run in her past seven games.
Courtney Riddle, Hernando: The senior ace, 26-1 this year, has won 66 games over 96 appearances in her Leopard career. Counting her days with Hernando Christian she has 93 career wins. After taking Hernando to the region finals last year, she's set season-best marks with 11 shutouts and a 0.91 ERA without allowing a home run.
Lace Smith, Bloomingdale: The junior's 20-2 record is almost as impressive as her performance in last week's playoff opener: a perfect game with 19 strikeouts and a seventh-inning home run to take a 1-0 victory. Coach Mandy Schuerman said Smith has improved her command since last spring, which has helped Bloomingdale advance to the region semifinals for the first time since 2009 and set up a fourth meeting with the hard-hitting Ravens.
Mariah Watts, Lakewood: Since coming back from a shoulder injury early in the season, the Wisconsin recruit has been dominant. In the past three games, she has recorded a combined 32 strikeouts and led the Spartans to their first playoff appearance and postseason win.
Kama Woodall, Canterbury: The freshman, who was the Crusaders' primary starter during their state title run last year, has put up impressive numbers the past two weeks, allowing a combined three hits in three games and throwing a perfect game in the district final against Lakeside Christian.
Aliyah Andrews, East Lake: The quintessential leadoff hitter, Andrews has a .465 average despite battling a litany of injuries that limited her to 12 games this season. Now healthy, Andrews has provided a spark with a combined six hits in wins against Countryside in the district final and Braden River in the region quarterfinal.
Lauren Evans, Academy at the Lakes: The USF signee has been one of Tampa Bay's top sluggers for her entire career, and this spring is no different. She's batted at least .400 since eighth grade and is in the middle of the best year of her life (.702 average, .797 on-base percentage, 10 triples).
Megan Lane, Hernando: According to MaxPreps, there's no one better in America at swiping bases than Lane, whose 60 steals lead the country. To steal, though, you have to get on base, which Lane does well: she's hitting .564 as the Leopards' leadoff hitter, with at least one hit in 26 of 28 games.
Kenzi Maguire, River Ridge: The Royal Knight shortstop and Arkansas commitment bats leadoff, but is no slap hitter. In fact, Maguire would be a clean-up hitter on most teams. She's batting .613, but has an extra-base hit in 22 of 29 games: 15 doubles, 12 triples and seven home runs.
Danielle Romanello, Canterbury: The freshman catcher, who is already committed to Florida, is batting .537. She is tearing up Class 2A competition, going a combined 7-for-11 in the past three games with three homers and eight RBIs.
Jessica Warren, Alonso: The Florida State-bound senior is batting .605 and ranks fourth in the state with 11 home runs. The most recent one was an inside-the-park shot in last week's 4-2 win over Palm Harbor University that gave the Ravens their first playoff victory in program history.
Admiral Farragut at St. Petersburg Catholic: This is the fourth meeting between these teams. The Blue Jackets won both in the regular season; the Barons rebounded in the district final with an 8-7 victory. The key is whether SPC hitters can make contact against AFA pitcher Corynn Miner, who has a 0.42 ERA and 200 strikeouts.
Bloomingdale at Alonso: This tantalizing matchup pits one of the area's top pitchers (Bloomingdale's Smith) against one of its top hitters (Alonso's Warren). The three previous meetings were all decided by one run, including the Ravens' 7-6 win for the district title in a sloppy, 13-inning marathon. Houston signee Kayla Maxwell has 18 strikeouts in her past two games for Alonso.
Canterbury at Academy at the Lakes: A rematch of last year's state semifinal, which the Crusaders won 13-3 en route to their second title in three years. Both teams are young with several freshmen, eighth- and seventh-graders taking the field. Canterbury has played a tougher schedule with eight games against teams ranked in the state poll in their respective classifications.
Chamberlain at Jefferson: The three previous meetings have had mixed results. Jefferson won twice, including 2-1 for the district title, but was blown out 16-0 in the other game. Nikki Lopez had 10 strikeouts to help the Dragons earn the program's first playoff win last week, but Chamberlain has a loaded offense - and stranded 10 runners in scoring position last time. "I know my team," Chiefs coach Bob Diez said. "We can play."
River Ridge at Hernando: Hernando was the first team to beat River Ridge this season, knocking the Knights off 2-1 in eight innings of a tournament. The rematch, though, was anticlimactic and the Leopards didn't start ace Riddle for the first time all season. The Knights won that game 8-1, but didn't have fun doing it. The rubber match should be a dandy.
Find more tidbits about tonight's region semifinals at tampabay.com/hometeam.