Our annual picks for the best players in our coverage area, spanning Hernando, Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties:
Player of the Year: Moriah Connolly, Sr., Palm Harbor University
For two years, Palm Harbor University third baseman Moriah Connolly was a multi-sport athlete. She ran track, was a small forward in basketball and an outfielder in softball. But after tearing her labrum for the second time in 2012, which forced her to miss her junior season in softball, Connolly had a decision to make.
Instead of juggling so many sports, Connolly decided to concentrate on the one she thought gave her the best opportunity to play in college.
Softball then became the primary focus.
Devoting all her time to the sport, Connolly put together perhaps the best season of any every-day player in the area. This season, she hit .535, scored 49 runs and stole 51 bases, six shy of the Pinellas County record.
In the field, she made the switch from outfield to third base and committed just four errors, despite having more than her share of ground balls hit her way.
And she also became a valuable leader on a team that lost several starters to graduation from the year before. PHU ended up not missing a beat, winning conference and district titles and advancing to the Class 8A region final.
Connolly’s all-around play also earned her something she coveted: a scholarship from Boston University to play softball.
“I had a lot to overcome after I got hurt,” she said. “I didn’t have any offers at the time. I didn’t know if I’d be able to play in college. But I stayed dedicated, and it means a lot to me that I was able to get through that and continue playing in college.”
Pitcher of the Year: Makenzie Goluba, So., River Ridge
When River Ridge ace Makenzie Goluba reflected on a standout sophomore season that ranked among the finest in the state, she deflected praise onto her teammates. • “Having a stellar defense behind me really helped me,” Goluba said.
But having a star in the center helped River Ridge become one of Tampa Bay’s top teams. Her Royal Knights compiled a 28-2 record, knocked off Durant, Countryside and Hernando and earned a second straight trip to the region final.
The Knights’ ace was solid as a freshman (10 wins and a 2.72 ERA), but found another level this spring after an intense offseason spent fine-tuning her diverse repertoire.
“She worked very, very hard and got a lot stronger,” coach Ernie Beck said.
That work resulted in an area-low 0.54 ERA and a 23-2 record, with her only losses coming in a 1-0 defeat to Plant and to Lakewood Ranch in the elite eight. She struck out 146 batters, and her 12 shutouts included a 5-0 triumph over Mitchell in the region semifinals.
Goluba also starred at the plate, ranking second on the Knights’ loaded roster with a .483 average and 38 RBIs. Her two-run single bailed out her team and gave River Ridge a 4-3 comeback win over rival Mitchell for the Class 6A, District 10 championship.
“She was just so dominant,” teammate Morgan Tolle said. “She would get us the ground balls we needed, or get them to pop up. She pitched perfectly.”
P Alyssa Queen, Jr., Countryside: Pinellas County’s pitcher of the year went 13-5, was strong in season’s second half.
P Paige Davis, Sr., Durant: Won county-best 18 games and tied Cougars’ single-season record with 10 shutouts.
P Kama Woodall, 8th, Canterbury: Newcomer won 20 games, struck out 169 batters for Class 2A state champ.
P Rachel Dwyer, Sr., Chamberlain: Chiefs’ valedictorian finished 16-7 with 0.92 ERA, eight shutouts.
C Mia Fung, Jr., Strawberry Crest: USF commit hit .533 with six homers and committed one error all season behind plate.
IF Morgan Tolle, Jr., River Ridge: James Madison commit batted .588 with eight homers and 48 RBIs for 6A region finalist.
IF Logyn Lilley, So., Palm Harbor University: Hit. 500 and had 50 RBIs as one of ’Canes’ top hitters.
IF Chelsea Armstrong, Jr., Sickles: County home run leader (seven) led team in every major offensive category including BA (.473).
IF Lauren Evans, Jr., Academy at the Lakes: USF commit led the Wildcats to the 2A state semifinals by batting .610 with six triples.
OF Cacey Simmons, Jr., Strawberry Crest: Chargers’ RBI leader (28) had 14 multi-hit games, including five in a row in March.
OF Madisyn Palmer, So., River Ridge: Stole 18 bases and ranked second on the Knights with a .489 batting average.
OF Ashley Sims, Sr., Hernando: Seminole State-bound speedster scored 39 runs while batting .450 for Class 5A, District 7 champs.
DH Hailee Keisling, Sr., Countryside: Leadoff hitter batted .500 with 19 RBIs and 22 stolen bases.
Util Courtney Riddle, Jr., Hernando: Starred in the circle (1.41 ERA, 177 strikeouts) and at the plate (.453 average, 42 RBIs) for 5A region finalist.
P Sammy Tyler, Jr., Strawberry Crest
P Mariah Watts, Jr., Lakewood
P Bre Setree, Sr., St. Petersburg
P Madison Morlan, Jr., Gulf
C Lindsey Hagberg, Sr., Chamberlain
IF Jessica Warren, Jr., Alonso
IF Jess Adams, Sr., PHU
IF Kenzi Maguire, So., River Ridge
IF Katie McCarthy, Sr., Central
OF Kelli Parker, Sr., Pasco
OF Brooke Freeman, Jr., Durant
OF Kelsie Sanchez, Sr., Countryside
DH Alyssa Colding, Sr., Durant
Util Katlin Hall, Sr., Freedom
Coach of the Year
Autum Hernandez, Freedom: Bereft of hype and history (no prior postseason berths) when the year began, the Patriots (22-4) enjoyed the best season in the program’s 11-year existence, thanks in part to Hernandez’s strategy and stern love. To keep batting orders off-balance, Hernandez started sophomore Grace Street and relieved her with senior Katlin Hall in every playoff game. As a result, Freedom allowed three earned runs in its five-game postseason run, which ended with a 1-0 loss to Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas in the Class 7A state final.
Academy at the Lakes: Sydney Boynton, Skyler Boynton; Academy of the Holy Names: Christina Gerecke, Ashton Hill; Berkeley Prep: Kristin Hoover; Blake: Amanda Weathers; Cambridge Christian: Alea White; Canterbury: Taylor Bump, Danielle Romanello; Central: Kaeleen Koehler; Chamberlain: Jenna Brownell; Countryside: Brittany Creamer, Keeley Mayers, Sam Sharpe; Dunedin: Aubrey Ehlers; Durant: Payton Lewis; East Bay: Kijana Browder; East Lake: Aliya Andrews, Ashley Bonalewicz, Emma Hvozdovich, Hannah Roberts; Fivay: Jill McElderry; Freedom: Rachel Carlson, Maddy Hall, Grace Street, Caroline Whiteside; Gulf: Nikki Sedivy, Britney Pressler; Hernando: Megan Lane; Hernando Christian: Ashley McKay; Leto: Jaclyn Amato; Mitchell: Jordan Fowler, Kassidy Neptune; Newsome: Hannah Pridemore; Palm Harbor University: Katie Flanagan, Torey Scott, Rachel Taylor; Pasco: Jordan Lane, Lizzy Burchfield; Plant: Nikki Misner; Plant City: Noelle Dietrich, Kristen Wyckoff; River Ridge: Jada Power; Seminole: Brooke Ours, Jennie Sittloh; Shorecrest: Raquel Galinski, Hannah Smith; Springstead: Hailey Drawe, Louisa Disi; St. Petersburg: Carly Danner; St. Petersburg Catholic: Kelsey Humphrey; Strawberry Crest: Megan Reed; Sunlake: Stephanie Frances; Tarpon Springs: Lindsey White; Wharton: Mak Dooley; Wiregrass Ranch: Shailynn Morales; Zephyrhills: Karisten Deem, Tori Jordan, Lindsey Hupp