For Canterbury, the defending Class 2A state champion, winning a ninth straight district title already is a foregone conclusion considering how overmatched the competition has been.
The Crusaders have beaten 2A-8 foes Bayshore Christian, Lakeside Christian and Keswick Christian by a combined 52-0, each game lasting no more than three innings because of the mercy rule.
That is what makes this weekend important.
Canterbury, ranked No. 1 in 2A, hosts 7A No. 10 Kissimmee Osceola today. An even bigger test comes Saturday, when the Crusaders host Oviedo Harmony, the No. 2 team in 7A and the second-best team in the state regardless of classification.
"We're excited about playing some great competition," Canterbury coach Jody Moore said. "That's something we've been searching for."
The game against Osceola came out of familiarity. Moore played for the Kowboys from 1992-95 and made the state semifinals three times.
Her coach, George Coffey, still is at the school.
"We've kept in contact through the years," Moore said. "He's a great man and is one of the biggest reasons I got into coaching."
Next week, the Crusaders go through another series of tough games at the Gulliver Slamfest in Miami. Canterbury opens bracket play against 8A No. 1 Miami Coral Reef.
"We had some of these games last year, and it helped," Moore said.
"We're a year older, and the eighth-graders we had are now freshmen. They're not as tentative anymore."
Offensive explosion: Over the past three seasons, softball in Pinellas County has evolved from a game dominated by low scores and overpowering pitching to slugfests in which runs can come in dizzying fashion.
So far, 10 teams in the county are averaging at least six runs per game. Four — Admiral Farragut, Canterbury, Palm Harbor University and St. Petersburg Catholic — are averaging more than 10.
The runs have not come via the long ball. No team in the county has more than five home runs. Instead, teams are making solid contact and capitalizing on opportunities.
Under the radar: Clearwater has struggled in ultracompetitive 7A-9, losing all six district games en route to a 1-11 start. The lone bright spot has been Alyssa Johnson, a captain and senior infielder who leads the district with a .688 batting average and a .762 on-base percentage. She has signed with Babson College, where she will study international business and law.
Did you know? Dunedin junior Aubrey Ehlers, a three-year starter on the mound, is following a family tradition. Her older sisters, Amber and Ashley, also pitched for the Falcons. Amber, who graduated in 2007, played two seasons at Hillsborough Community College. Ashley, a 2011 graduate, is currently pitching for Saint Leo.
Aubrey is 6-3 this season with a 1.73 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 57.1 innings.
Bob Putnam can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @BobbyHomeTeam.