Five weeks into the softball season, the schedule has reached its midpoint. Here's the best of what we've seen with an eye toward what's yet to come:
Is there an athletic program in the county that, from fall to spring, has had more success than Palm Harbor University?
The boys swim team won a state title, the school's first in the sport. The boys and girls soccer teams recently completed the state double in soccer. Girls basketball and volleyball were regional participants. Football had its first winning season, coming within a tiebreaker of the playoffs.
And now the softball team has, to this point at least, earned the right to call itself the county's best. Maybe even the bay area's best. Freshman left-handed flamethrower Taylor Sabol (9-0) has shined in the absence of senior Courtney O'Connell, who started the season injured. Sabol pitched the Hurricanes to district wins over East Lake and Pinellas Park. And with O'Connell slowly rounding into form — she got her first victory against Largo and pitched three innings of relief to beat East Lake the next day — the Hurricanes have the pitching depth to match their offense, which, oh by the way, averages just under 10 runs a game so far this season.
District bragging rights
In honor of March Madness and all things bracketology, 6A-7 (six teams) earns our designation as the county's top district. Here's why. In the Big Dance, Countryside, Gaither, Mitchell and Sickles all could be considered No. 1 seeds with Alonso playing the midmajor spoiler role. In 5A-9 (seven teams), the other top candidate, East Lake, Palm Harbor University and Pinellas Park would earn top seeds and two bubble teams, Dunedin and Tarpon Springs, probably slide in. Having five out of your seven teams making the tournament is good. But five out of six is better. Top to bottom, the nod goes to 6A-7.
One of the more intriguing side stories of the second half is the strikeout race between pitchers Alyssa Bache (Countryside), Sara Nevins (Pinellas Park) and Chloe Saganowich (St. Petersburg Catholic) for the county lead. Through Thursday, Nevins, the early leader, set the bar at 157 (11.21 per game). But Bache has an ever-so-slightly higher per-game average (11.22, 101 total). And Saganowich (9.9, 101) is in the mix, too. For the record, Nevins is the reigning champion after striking out 315 (12.1 a game) last season.
Three early season scoreline surprises:
Northeast 3, Seminole 2 (Feb. 12): We knew Seminole — district champs and region semifinalists a year ago — would suffer after losing seven starters, but not enough to lose to Northeast in the season opener.
St. Petersburg Catholic 10, Canterbury 0, 5 innings (March 3): It wasn't that SPC beat Canterbury. The Barons were the clear favorites entering this matchup of private school heavyweights. But, the manner in which SPC picked apart a final four (Class A) participant that returned nearly its entire, intact lineup was striking. Chloe Saganowich pitched a one-hitter, and every Barons batter reached base safely at least once.
Seminole 2, Osceola 0 (March 12): After back-to-back losses (Northeast, Seminole) to start, Seminole looked done in Class 5A, District 11. Junior pitcher Sarah Read, though, breathed new life into the Warhawks' playoff hopes by throwing a gem in the Osceola rematch and handing the Warriors their first district defeat.
Three to see:
(the best remaining regular-season games)
Pinellas Park (14-2, 5-2) at Palm Harbor University (13-1, 8-0), March 17: Hurricanes can tighten their stranglehold on 5A-9.
St. Petersburg Catholic (10-3, 6-0) at Canterbury (11-2, 6-0), April 8: Canterbury looks for redemption in out-of-district rematch.
Palm Harbor University (13-1, 8-0) at Countryside (7-3, 4-2), April 13: Season finale could determine North County champion.