High school softball rankings for Tampa Bay

Newsome starts the season on top thanks to a stacked lineup full of future Division I stars.
Newsome Wolves catcher Lydia Castro is dynamic behind the plate and with a bat in her hand. She is also committed to USF.
Newsome Wolves catcher Lydia Castro is dynamic behind the plate and with a bat in her hand. She is also committed to USF. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Feb. 24, 2020

The softball season is upon us. After an offseason filled with coaching changes and player transfers, contenders are starting to emerge, especially among teams that saw few changes to their lineup. Newsome, which made the state finals last season, has the most star power with eight college-bound players. That is a big reason the Wolves start out as the top-ranked team.

1. Newsome (2-0)

Up next: Tuesday vs. Riverview

Last season: 23-5, Class 9A state finalist

Outlook: New coach Ally Ledenham, who was promoted from her interim role last season, has a loaded lineup that includes eight players who have already committed to Division I programs. Better still, Newsome picked a key transfer. Kelsey Winters comes over from Lakeland Christian and teams with Kaitlyn Felton (UCF commit) to give the Wolves two solid starting pitchers. Felton threw a two-hit shutout and Lydia Castro (USF commit), Jadeyn Ruszkowski (Clemson) and Jada Smallwood (Maryland) each had two hits in a 4-0 season-opening win over Sickles, a region finalist last year. Newsome followed that up by beating defending region semifinalist Wharton 9-2.

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

2. River Ridge (2-0)

Up next: Tuesday vs. Land O’ Lakes, Thursday vs. Pasco, Friday vs. Fivay

Last season: 16-8

Outlook: A lot has changed for the Royal Knights. They picked up two key starters with Brooke Blankenship, a Florida State commit, transferring from Academy at the Lakes and Giulia Desiderio, a South Carolina commit, arriving from Hudson. Gone is ace Melanie Rogers, but River Ridge has quality replacements in Victoria Nearing and Jordan Sheets. In the first two games this season, the Royal Knights outscored Hudson and Wesley Chapel by a combined 22-3. Desiderio and Sheets each had two hits and Madisen Vozdecky drove in three runs against the Cobras. Sophie Johnson hit a grand slam in the ninth inning to get past the Wildcats.

3. Steinbrenner (2-0)

Up next: Monday vs. Jefferson, Tuesday vs. Alonso, Thursday at Wharton, Friday-Saturday (@PHU Lady Canes Invitational)

Last season: 18-6, Class 8A region quarterfinalist

Outlook: The Warriors return everyone from last year’s team. That experience already is showing with Steinbrenner beating Bloomingdale and Freedom by a combined 19-4 to start the season. Sierra Carter, Madison Frey and Ashley Shroll each had two hits against the Patriots. Shroll also threw a four-hitter and allowed one run. This week might be one of the Warriors’ busiest of the season with the potential of seven games, the bulk coming this weekend at the Lady ’Canes Invitational in Clearwater.

Related: District softball: Steinbrenner rallies past rival

4. East Lake (2-0)

Pitcher Tori Brennan and East Lake are off to a strong start.
Pitcher Tori Brennan and East Lake are off to a strong start. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Tampa Bay Times ]

Up next: Tuesday vs. Countryside, Friday-Saturday (at PHU’s Lady ’Canes Invitational)

Last season: 27-2, Class 8A region semifinalist

Outlook: The Eagles lost four starters from last year’s team that was the best in school history. Still, there is plenty of talent left, starting with ace Tori Brennan, the reigning Tampa Bay Times’ Pinellas County player of the year. East Lake already is off to a strong start with wins against Tarpon Springs and Hernando by a combined 26-1. Cassidy Patterson went 3-for-3 with two RBIs and four runs scored against the Spongers. This weekend, the Eagles will try to defend their title at the Lady ‘Canes Invitational.

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5. Palm Harbor University (2-0)

Up next: Tuesday at Plant, Friday-Saturday at Lady Canes Invitational

Last season: 20-9, Class 9A region semifinalist

Outlook: The Hurricanes can hit — and pile on the runs. Last week, they beat Boca Ciega and Countryside by a combined 30-9. Nine players are hitting .500 or better, led by Jalynn Ford’s .800 average (4-of-5). The Florida Atlantic signee also has a homer and five RBIs. Emma Blatchley also showed off her power with a home run and seven RBIs the first week of the season. This weekend, PHU host its annual invitational with a 16-team field that might be the best in tournament history.

6. Sunlake (1-0)

Up next: Monday at Wiregrass Ranch, Friday-Sunday (at PHU Lady ‘Canes Invitational)

Last season: 24-3, Class 7A region finalist

Outlook: The Seahawks went through quite a transformation in the offseason. Nelson Garcia stepped down as coach after eight seasons, citing health concerns. Phil Bell took over the program and inherited a team missing one significant bat in the lineup. Jenna Lord, who led the team in home runs (13) and RBIs (46), moved to Alabama. Despite no longer having the Crimson Tide commit, the Seahawks still have plenty of talent, starting with Florida commit Kendra Falby near the start of the batting order. Sunlake has plenty of other talented hitters. Against Pasco in the season opener, Jenna Gabrielli, Bella Sanchez and Madison Wagner each had three hits to lead the Seahawks in a 14-0 victory. On the mound, Alyssa Cordoba and Mikayla Hoschak combined on a one-hit shutout with seven strikeouts.

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

7. Academy of the Holy Names (2-0)

Up next: Friday-Saturday (at PHU’s Lady ‘Canes Invitational)

Last season: 14-10-1

Outlook: The Jaguars had an impressive start to the season, beating Land O’ Lakes and Tampa Catholic, both playoff teams a year ago, by a combined 26-5. The 14-4 victory over the Crusaders was particularly gratifying considering the rival knocked Academy of the Holy Names out the district semifinals last season en route to reaching the state semifinals. Genevieve Chiellini went 2-for-2 with a triple and five RBIs against Tampa Catholic. The Jaguars do not have another game until this weekend when they play in the always-tough Lady ’Canes Invitational.

8. Admiral Farragut (1-0)

Admiral Farragut won its second straight state title last year with a 15-5 victory over John Carroll Catholic.
Admiral Farragut won its second straight state title last year with a 15-5 victory over John Carroll Catholic. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]

Up next: Monday vs. Bishop McLaughlin, Tuesday vs. Canterbury, Friday-Saturday (@PHU’s Lady ‘Canes Invitational)

Last season: 20-10, Class 3A state champion

Outlook: The Blue Jackets are attempting to accomplish something no other bay area program has done before: win three straight state titles. They certainly have the talent to do it with nearly every starter returning from last season. Last week, Admiral Farragut started the season with a 6-2 win over Osceola. Lexi Hernandez, a Saint Francis signee, went 2-for-3 with three RBIs and Bre Benefield recorded eight strikeouts. The competition gets tougher this year with Canterbury entering the district (Class 2A-10). The teams square off in the first of their two regular-season meetings on Tuesday.

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

9. Canterbury (3-1)

Up next: Tuesday at Admiral Farragut, Friday-Saturday (@PHU’s Lady ‘Canes Invitational)

Last season: 19-9, Class 2A region semifinalist

Outlook: Throw out a 15-1 loss to Lakewood Ranch, the nation’s top-ranked team. The Crusaders are legitimate contenders. After making the state semifinals five straight seasons (2013-17), Canterbury missed out the past two seasons with a pair of playoff losses to two-defending state champion Academy at the Lakes. But the Crusaders no longer have to deal with Wildcats ace Lexi Kilfoyl, now a freshman at Alabama. The biggest challenge now comes from Admiral Farragut, winner of the past two state titles in Class 3A. Last week, Canterbury won its other three games, beating Berkeley Prep, Baldwin and Mount Dora Christian Academy by a combined 30-7. In the opener against the Buccaneers, Tayten Moore, Milan Posey and Sarah Young each had at least three RBIs.

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

10. Cypress Creek (2-0)

Up next: Tuesday at Berkeley Prep, Thursday at Wesley Chapel

Last season: 15-9, Class 5A region semifinalist

Outlook: The neophyte program made the playoffs in just its second season playing varsity last year. The bulk of the lineup returns, including some heavy hitters. Last week, the Coyotes started by beating Mitchell 9-0 and Tampa Catholic 2-0. Anna Margetis and Mandy Schwartz have already hit home runs, and Emma Coon and Haley Vasquez are each hitting .571 through the first four games. The biggest addition is Vasquez, an Ave Maria commit who transferred from Wiregrass Ranch. The junior already has tossed a pair of shutouts and recorded a combined 16 strikeouts.

11. Calvary Christian (1-1)

Calvary Christian hopes to at least match last year's region final run.
Calvary Christian hopes to at least match last year's region final run. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Tampa Bay Times ]

Up next: Tuesday vs. Calvary Christian, Friday-Saturday (at PHU’s Lady ‘Canes Invitational)

Last season: 24-4, Class 4A region finalist

Outlook: The Warriors made great strides last year by reaching the Class 4A region finals. But they are without Charlotte Schultheis, named by Miracle Sports as the state’s Class 4A pitcher of the year last season. The senior, who has already signed with North Carolina-Wilmington, will miss the season after having Tommy John surgery. Despite her absence, Calvary Christian has the talent — and offensive talent — to contend for deep postseason run. Leah Jarnac and Samantha Leski have each two homers and seven players have driven in at least one run through the first two games.

12. Wesley Chapel (0-1)

Up next: Thursday vs. Cypress Creek, Friday at Tampa Catholic

Last season: 15-7, Class 6A region semifinalist

Outlook: In their only game last week, the Wildcats gave River Ridge everything it could handle before falling 7-3 in nine innings. Jordan Almasy, a UCF signee, recorded nine strikeouts. The offense had 12 hits. This week, Wesley Chapel will try to regroup with two tough games, the biggest coming Thursday against Cypress Creek.

13. Freedom (1-1)

Up next: Tuesday at Chamberlain, Thursday at Auburndale

Last season: 15-5, Class 8A region quarterfinalist

Outlook: There is talent at all the key positions with pitcher Kylie Coffin, catcher Ellis Erickson and outfielder Chloe Potts all returning. In the opener, the Patriots cruised to a 14-2 win over Riverview. Coffin was 4-for-5 with a homer and six RBIs and Erickson was 3-for-5 with three RBIs against the Sharks. Freedom took a step back with a 11-1 loss to Steinbrenner the following game. The Patriots look to rebound with games against Chamberlain and Auburndale this week.

14. Durant (2-0)

Up next: Thursday vs. Plant City

Last season: 15-6

Outlook: The Cougars have the pitching with the return of ace Kayla Swinson. Now, they are getting some offense, too. Durant opened the season with wins over Plant (4-1) and Sickles (7-2). Swinson has a 1.50 ERA and has 14 strikeouts in the first two games. Emily Smith is hitting .571 (4-for-7) with five RBIs. And Kelly Swank already has four RBIs.

15. Alonso (2-0)

Up next: Tuesday at Steinbrenner, Thursday vs. Plant, Friday at Chamberlain

Last season: 11-10

Outlook: The Ravens went through some rebuilding after graduating five players from last year’s roster. But there has been little dropoff despite having some new faces in the lineup. Last week, Alonso beat Plant City and Strawberry Crest by a combined 23-4. Ashling Sturgis went 3-for-4 and Paige Lassiter, a Tampa Catholic transfer, recorded 11 strikeouts in the opener.

On the bubble: Dunedin (3-0), Seffner Christian (3-0), Nature Coast (2-0), Jefferson (2-0), Plant (1-1), Robinson (1-1), Springstead (1-1), Bloomingdale (1-1), Gaither (1-1), Chamberlain (1-1)