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High school softball players to keep an eye on in Tampa Bay

The area is loaded with talented players who can help their teams win state titles.
Admiral Farragut pitcher Bre Benefield fires an early pitch during a Class 3A state semifinal against University Christian last season. [SCOTT PURKS]

The bay area has plenty of talented softball players, many of whom have already committed to or signed with major Division-I programs. Here are 30 to watch as the season gets started.

P Jordan Almasy, Sr., Wesley Chapel

The UCF signee, who had 151 strikeouts last season, is one of the few power pitchers left in the area. She made her regular-season debut Thursday against River Ridge’s powerful lineup.

P Bre Benefield, Sr., Admiral Farragut

The Tampa Bay Times’ Pinellas County pitcher of the year last season is back after leading the Blue Jackets to another state title. She gave up two runs and struck out eight in a 6-2 win over Osceola to open the season.

Related: State softball: Admiral Farragut repeats as Class 3A champion

P Mackenzie Bergstrom, So., Canterbury

A starter since middle school, Bergstrom had a 2.77 ERA and 119 strikeouts facing quality competition in an always brutal schedule. She will be counted on once again to handle a bulk of the pitching workload.

IF Brooke Blankenship, Jr., River Ridge

After missing the bulk of last season with an elbow injury, Blankenship returns with another team. The Florida State commit transferred from defending state champion Academy at the Lakes to River Ridge, along with her younger sister, Caitlin.

P Tori Brennan, Sr., East Lake

The Tampa Bay Times’ Pinellas County pitcher of the year in 2018 and player of the year last season is one of the top aces in the area. She has recorded more than 100 strikeouts in each of the last two seasons and led the Eagles to the region semifinals in 2019.

Related: Tampa Bay Times’ all-Pinellas County softball

C Katie Bright, Jr., East Lake

The Florida State commit provided some pop in the Eagles’ lineup after transferring from Mitchell a year ago. She hit .364 with 25 RBIs last season. On Tuesday, Bright drove in two runs in East Lake’s 15-0 season-opening victory over rival Tarpon Springs.

Related: Phone it in? Not this East Lake softball team

P Alyssa Cordoba, Sr., Sunlake

Though Cordoba doesn’t overpower hitters, she knows how to get them out. Last season, she went 7-1 with a 1.31 ERA to help the Seahawks advance to the region finals. Cordoba will team with Mikayla Hoschak to give Sunlake a solid 1-2 pitching punch.

Related: It’s not all about Ks and ERAs for Sunlake softball

P Kylie Coffin, Sr., Freedom

The Tennessee-Chattanooga signee gave the Patriots the ace they needed when she transferred from Carrollwood Day last season. In Tuesday’s opener, Coffin gave up four hits and two runs in a 14-2 victory over Riverview.

UTIL Giulia Desiderio, Jr., River Ridge

The South Carolina commit transferred from Hudson and is one of the top hitters in the area. Against her former team, Desiderio had an RBI double and scored three runs in a 15-0 season-opening victory.

C Taliyah Dowdell, Sr., Hernando

The team’s top returning hitter (.443 average, 43 RBIs last season), Dowdell will be counted on plenty at the plate and behind it. She started the season strong, going 2-for-3 with a homer and two RBIs in a 16-0 victory over Weeki Wachee.

OF Hayley Eaton, Sr., Calvary Christian

The Georgia signee is among a solid nucleus returning for the defending region finalist Warriors. Eaton went 3-for-5 with two RBIs in Tuesday’s 12-4 win over Berkeley Prep.

Related: Now it’s the Calvary Christian softball team ‘making some noise’

C Ellis Erickson, Sr., Freedom

The Northern Illinois signee works with Kylie Coffin to give the Patriots a solid battery. Erickson can hit, too. She was 3-of-5 with a double and three RBIs in the win over Riverview.

OF Kendra Falby, Jr., Sunlake

The Florida commit spent the summer playing for the Canadian junior women’s national team. One of the state’s top leadoff hitters, Falby hit .510 with 22 RBIs and 44 runs scored last season.

P Kaitlyn Felton, Jr., Newsome

The UCF commit takes over as the Wolves’ ace now that Mary Beth Feldman is pitching for Utah. Against Sickles, Felton was dominant, throwing a two-hit shutout and striking out four.

IF Jalynn Ford, Sr., Palm Harbor University

The Florida Atlantic signee is one of just two seniors on this year’s roster and will be counted on for leadership. She had two hits and drove in two runs in a 17-7 season-opening victory over Boca Ciega.

IF Madison Frey, So., Steinbrenner

As a freshman last season, Frey made an immediate impact, leading the Warriors in batting average (.500) and RBIs (25) and helping them win a district title.

C Kailey Harrigan, Sr., Bloomingdale

The two-sport star returns from soccer and will provide leadership to go along with plenty of offense. Last year, she hit eight home runs and 28 RBIs. Her teammate, Maddie Droz, a UCF commit, could easily be on this list but is out three-to-six weeks after suffering an ACL/MCL sprain.

IF Krystina Hartley, Jr., Admiral Farragut

The Florida State commit has led the team in home runs each of the past two seasons. Her blasts have helped the Blue Jackets win back-to-back state titles.

UTIL Lexi Hernandez, Sr., Admiral Farragut

The Saint Francis signee has played a key role in helping the Blue Jackets win state titles the past two seasons. In the opener against Osceola, she went 2-for-3 with three RBIs.

Related: Softball, military blend nicely for Admiral Farragut’s Lexi Hernandez

P Robyn Herron, So., Sickles

One of the area’s top newcomers last season, Herron became the ace of the staff, recording more than 100 strikeouts and leading the Gryphons to the region final.

Related: Region softball: Sickles definitely shows up

IF Leah Jarnac, Jr., Calvary Christian

The Warriors’ most versatile player was second in hitting (.538) and third in RBIs (40) last season. In the opener against Berkeley Prep, she hit a solo homer.

P Mikayla Johnson, Sr., Steinbrenner

Though the pitching staff has plenty of arms, Johnson emerged as the leader of the group with her performance down the stretch last season. She finished with a 2.09 ERA and 92 strikeouts.

P Jillian Long, Sr., Wharton

During the Wildcats’ run to a district title and the region semifinals, Long took on the bulk of the pitching duties. She will have an even bigger role this year as one of only two returning pitchers who threw more than 10 innings a year ago.

Related: District softball: Wharton regains the crown

P Alanah Rivera, Sr., Boca Ciega

The USF signee will do the most damage this season with her bat. Against Palm Harbor University in the season opener, Rivera was 3-for-3 with two home runs and five RBIs.

IF Marina Rao, Sr., Mitchell

The UCF signee is the Mustangs’ top returning player. She already is off to a solid start, hitting .571 (4-of-7) with three RBIs in two games this season.

IF Jadeyn Ruszkowski, Jr., Newsome

The Clemson commit provides some pop in the lineup. Last year, she hit five home runs with 38 RBIs for the state finalist Wolves. In the opener against Sickles, Ruszkowski was 2-for-4 with a triple.

OF Jada Smallwood, Sr., Newsome

The Maryland signee is one of three returning starters that had at least five home runs for the Wolves last season. She went 2-for-4 with a double against Sickles.

Related: State softball: Newsome gets straight to business, no sprinkles needed

P Kayla Swinson, Sr., Durant

Last season, she took over as the Cougars’ top pitcher and finished with a 0.69 ERA and 72 strikeouts. Swinson started this season strong, allowing four hits and a run while striking out four in a 4-1 win over Plant.

OF McKayla Timmons, Sr., Newsome

Before missing the final four games of the Wolves’ state final run with an injury, the Ball State signee was a tear, hitting eight home runs to go along with 37 RBIs as a junior.

IF Sarah Young, Jr., Canterbury

The Rollins commit hit .402 with 31 RBIs last season to help lead the Crusaders to the region final.

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