Softball preview: Hard-hitting spoilers target Pasco
KAINAZ AMARIA | Times
Sunlake’s Samantha Dittman, who is batting .541 with eight homers, has knocked in 62 runs so far this season. The Seahawks start their District 4A-8 play against Gulf on Wednesday.
There is no shortage of gaudy stats in Class 4A, District 8. Sunlake's Samantha Dittman is likely to win the Pasco County triple crown — she is hitting .541 with eight homers and what could be a county record 62 RBIs. Pasco's Lucy Schneider is good for two hits a game and rarely strikes out. Twin sisters Erica and Demi Maldonado of Hernando are both hitting over .430. Gulf's Brittney Mayhill leads the North Suncoast with 39 steals. Zephyrhills' Lauren Pasquale has 16 doubles. At last count, the district had at least a dozen hitters boasting a .400 average or better.
"Everyone in the district can hit,'' said Zephyrhills Craig Milburn, and hence, everyone with the exception of Hudson is considered dangerous heading into this week's district tournaments.
The one thing most of the teams don't have in 4A-8?
A pitching ace.
Which is why Pasco, which undeniably has the best pitcher in Colena Lazar, is the No. 1 seed and heavy favorite to win the whole thing.
"Everybody's goal was still not to have to go through Pasco to get the final,'' Milburn said. "I know it was ours.''
Despite dropping five of their last six games after a 17-1 start, Lazar's pitching — she is the only pitcher in the district capable of single-handedly dominating a game — makes the Pirates the easiest pick for one of the two postseason slots.
From there, though?
"Anyone,'' Hernando coach Kevin Bittinger said.
The Leopards are the No. 7 seed, but Hernando beat Gulf recently, only lost to Pasco by a 5-2 score in their second meeting and managed to score 11 runs against Zephyrhills — its first round opponent — in a loss,
"I think Pasco has clearly established themselves as the favorite,'' Bittinger said. "But as the No. 7 seed, I'm as confident as I would be if we were the 2 or 3 seed. I'm confident we will be playing (in the final).''
To do so, it comes down to this for Hernando, and everyone else as well — a pitcher must step forward to throw two of her best games of the season.
Hernando (13-12) will start Stephanie Sinwelski, who has an ERA over 5.00. But she has pitched well lately, and the Leopards recorded their first shutout of the season in the regular-season finale.
"I would probably say this is the first year there weren't two, three dominant pitchers in the district,'' Bittinger said. "It's really deep hitingwise, though. When the season started, I thought top to bottom we had one of the better hitting teams. Then you start playing in the district, and you're like, oh geez.''
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Class 6A, District 7 (at Gaither)
Schedule: Tuesday — Mitchell (4) vs. Alonso (5), 5 p.m.; Gaither (3) vs. St. Petersburg (6), 7; Wednesday — Mitchell/Alonso winner vs. Sickles (1), 5; Gaither/St. Petersburg winner vs. Countryside (2), 7; Friday — final, 7
Mitchell's outlook: This might be the toughest district in the state. Countryside won the Pinellas County Athletic Conference, Mitchell the Sunshine Athletic Conference title, and Sickles might be Hillsborough's best team. Mitchell beat Alonso 4-1 and 8-1, and split with probable semifinal opponent Sickles. Mitchell has made the region playoffs since 2006.
Class 5A, District 7 (at River Ridge)
Schedule: Monday — Ridgewood (4) vs. Wesley Chapel (5), 5 p.m.; Tuesday — Land O'Lakes (1) vs. Ridgewood/Wesley Chapel winner, 5; River Ridge (2) vs. Central (3), 7; Thursday — final, 7
Outlook: River Ridge's only two district losses were to Land O'Lakes, and the Royal Knights will definitely get another shot at the Gators. How do we know? Well, consider: Land O'Lakes outscored Ridgewood and Wesley Chapel (one of them will be the semifinal opponent) by a combined 65-0 in four games. River Ridge outscored Central 17-2 in two victories.
Class 4A, District 8 (at Pasco)
Schedule: Monday — Hudson (9) vs. Springstead (8), 6:30 p.m.; Tuesday — Hernando (7) vs. Zephyrhills (2), 5:30; Hudson/Springstead winner vs. Pasco (1), 7:30; Wednesday — Sunlake (4) vs. Gulf (5), 5:30; Wiregrass Ranch (3) vs. Nature Coast (6), 7:30; Thursday — Hernando/Zephyrhills winner vs. Wiregrass Ranch/Nature Coast winner, 5:30; Hudson-Springstead/Pasco winner vs. Sunlake/Gulf winner, 7:30 p.m. Friday — final, 7
Outlook: Pasco has the great unequalizer in Colena Lazar, but Gulf or Sunlake could pose a threat. You could argue that Zephyrhills has the easier path to the final, so don't be surprised, despite the number of potential spoilers, to see a third meeting between Pasco and the Bulldogs.
Class A, District 6
(at Ocala Meadowbrook Academy)
Schedule: Tuesday — Seven Rivers (3) vs. Meadowbrook Academy (2), 6 p.m.; Thursday — final, Hernando Christian (1) vs. Seven Rivers/Meadowbrook Academy winner, 6
Outlook: Hernando Christian is already in the final of this three-team district. Who its plays shouldn't matter as it goes for a fifth straight district title — the Lions have 17-0 and 18-2 wins over Seven Rivers, and 5-4 and 17-0 over Meadowbrook.
Class A, District 11 (at Canterbury)
Schedule: Monday — Oldsmar Christian (4) vs. Lakeside Christian (5), 4:30 p.m.; Tuesday — Academy at the Lakes (2) vs. Citrus Park (3), 4:30; Oldsmar/Lakeside winner vs. Canterbury (1), 6:30; Thursday — final, 4:30
Academy's outlook: The Wildcats scored 21 runs in one game this season, 26 in another. Both games were against Citrus Park. They probably won't beat No. 1 seed Canterbury, but the Eagles will be heading to the region playoffs.