Last season, Canterbury was the only county school to reach the state final four in softball. The talent level has increased, but the path to a title remains perilous. Can the Crusaders repeat? Will anybody join them? The first step toward finding out starts with this week's district tournaments.
Class 6A, District 7
Schedule: Tuesday — Mitchell (4) vs. Alonso (5), 5; Gaither (3) vs. St. Petersburg (6), 7; Wednesday — Mitchell/Alonso winner vs. Sickles (1), 5; Gaither/St. Pete winner vs. Countryside (2), 7; Friday — final, 7
Outlook: Good news for the Cougars: Speedster Devika Choo Chew is back in the lineup after tweaking her knee and exiting Monday's win against Palm Harbor University. Friday, Choo Chew went 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs to help Countryside capture its third straight PCAC title. The Cougars will likely need a victory over Gaither to advance to region. Countryside split with Gaither during the regular season, but the Cowboys have lost six of their last nine. Countryside centerfielder Ayanna Andrews was recently named the top hitter at the Kissimmee Klassic after going 6-for-10 at the prestigious tournament.
Class 5A, District 9
at Eddie C. Moore Complex, Clearwater
Schedule: Monday — Dunedin (4) vs. Tarpon Springs (5), 5; Largo/Clearwater coin-flip winner vs. East Lake (3), 7; Largo/Clearwater coin-flip loser vs. Pinellas Park (2), 7; Tuesday — Dunedin/Tarpon Springs winner vs. Palm Harbor University (1), 7; Largo-Clearwater/East Lake winner vs. Largo-Clearwater/Pinellas Park winner, 7; Thursday — final, 7
Outlook: East Lake, PHU and Pinellas Park have been three of the county's best all season but only two will make it to region. East Lake caught fire late to defeat Pinellas Park 2-0 in the 2008 final but has lost its last three. The Patriots have won 10 in a row and are the only county team to defeat Countryside. PHU is looking to erase bitter memories from last year's tourney when it lost in the semifinals to East Lake and missed the playoffs for the first time this decade. Dunedin and Tarpon Springs are capable squads but have the misfortune of playing in a loaded district.
Class 5A, District 11
Schedule: Tuesday — Northeast (4) vs. Lakewood (5), 2:30; Seminole (2) vs. Gibbs (7), 5; Boca Ciega (3) vs. Dixie Hollins (6), 7:30; Wednesday — Northeast/Lakewood winner vs. Osceola (1), 5; Seminole/Gibbs winner vs. Boca Ciega/Dixie Hollins winner, 7; Friday — final, 7
Outlook: Top-seeded Osceola received a playoff boost with the return of Allison Shirley to the pitching rubber. Shirley, a senior third baseman who hadn't pitched this year, threw a complete-game (five innings) shutout against Largo in Osceola's final regular-season game. Last season, Shirley was Osceola's No. 1 starter, leading the Warriors to a 14-7 record. She gives the Warriors another option behind sophomore Jordan Bennett (11-7, 2.58 ERA this season). The Warriors are riding a four-game winning streak, including over East Lake, and enter as the favorite. South County champion Seminole is the likely opponent in the final, although Boca Ciega, Lakewood and Northeast all have the ability to pull off an upset.
Class 3A, District 11
at Academy of the Holy Names
Schedule: Tuesday — Clearwater Central Catholic (4) vs. Berkeley Prep (5), 4:30; Academy of the Holy Names (3) vs. Lennard (6), 7; Wednesday — CCC/Berkeley Prep winner vs. St. Petersburg Catholic (1), 4:30; AHN/Lennard winner vs. Tampa Catholic (2), 7; Thursday — final, 7
Outlook: In going 21-3, SPC scored 195 runs and won 14 games by shutout. Eight Barons reached double figures for RBIs, led by player of the year candidate Chloe Saganowich. In the pitching circle, Saganowich has more than 200 strikeouts and is 17-3. SPC went 10-0 in district, but Tampa Catholic came within a run (2-1) of the Barons (Feb. 19). The Crusaders have two losses, both to SPC. With Sam McCloskey pitching, CCC is a threat. The freshman tossed a no-hitter against Northside Christian (April 7) and finished with a 9-7 record and 2.71 ERA. She also leads CCC in batting (.467) and RBIs (22).
Class 2A, District 9
at University of Tampa Softball Complex
Schedule: Monday — Indian Rocks Christian (2) vs. Bishop McLaughlin (3), 7; Tuesday — Tampa Prep (1) vs. Calvary Christian (4), 7; Thursday — final, 7
Outlook: Last year, IRC was winless through the regular season but upset Bishop McLaughlin to advance to region for just the second time in school history. IRC won't have to surprise anybody this season, however. The Golden Eagles completed a remarkable turnaround, entering with a 10-5 record and 4-1 district mark. Led by sophomore Jen Lyons (10-5, sub-2.00 ERA, team-leading 27 RBIs), IRC will challenge Tampa Prep for the title. The Golden Eagles dropped a 5-3 decision to the Terrapins in their only meeting this season.
Class 2A, District 11
Schedule: Thursday — Northside Christian (1) vs. Shorecrest (2), 4
Outlook: Northside and Shorecrest are guaranteed to advance to region after St. Stephen's and Keswick Christian dropped out. Northside defeated Shorecrest 11-1 (five innings) in early March, but the Chargers were much more competitive in the rematch, losing 8-6. Northside can win its second district championship in three years. The Mustangs were upset last year by St. Stephen's in the final.
Class A, District 11
Schedule: Monday — Oldsmar Christian (4) vs. Lakeside Christian (5), 4:30; Tuesday — Academy at the Lakes (2) vs. Citrus Park Christian (3), 4:30; Oldsmar/Lakeside winner vs. Canterbury (1), 6:30. Thursday – final, 4:30
Outlook: Canterbury is aiming for back-to-back final four appearances and has a favorable path at the region round. But first the Crusaders have to take care of business in the district, where they've won three straight titles. Only Academy at the Lakes poses a serious threat. The Wildcats nearly upset Canterbury 9-8 on March 10. Of district foes not named Academy, Canterbury won by a combined 92-1 (five games).