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Four things: Hollins, Northeast go 2-0 in Vikings preseason classic

Hollins INF Gianna Close celebrates after hitting a home run in the fifth inning of the Royals' preseason win over Largo on Feb. 14, 2024.

ST. PETERSBURG – In their final preseason tune-ups before the start of the regular season next week, Hollins and Northeast each grabbed victories on Wednesday.


Hollins used a ten-run fifth that lasted nearly 30 minutes to overcome an early deficit, downing Largo, 14-9 in the matinee before the host Vikings scored four in the first to earn a wire-to-wire triumph over county foe Pinellas Park.


Here are four things we noticed from the exhibition:

What we know – Northeast’s junior core is getting better and better

We wrote about it two years ago - the Vikings could really turn some heads in a few seasons with a large freshman class that showed tons of promise. There is a lot to like and a ton of improvement between when we last saw Northeast last April. Wednesday’s game against Pinellas Park was never in doubt after the Vikings four-run first, especially with how well Savanna Hogsten pitched.


A usual utility player for Northeast, Hogsten tossed complete games on back-to-back nights and earned the victory in both. She worked around ten hits, struck out five Patriots and impressively was able to stop a sixth inning rally by working out of a no-out, bases loaded jam by limiting Pinellas Park to just two runs there. After posting a 7.50 ERA in nine innings as a sophomore, she’s shown major improvement this preseason, an important development for Northeast as Dani Brunner works her way back from an injury.


“I was excited [for the opportunity],” she said. “I miss my other positions, but Dani needs some help, so I’m going to try my best for her.”

What we think – Hollins is going to take a significant step forward

A ten-run fifth inning for the Royals was plenty to overcome an early deficit and the effort really impressed us. The top six of the Hollins order was on fire and the big bat of sophomore Gianna Close highlighted the comeback. Close doubled, homered and drove in a trio, while Ava Vargas and Hailey Mercado each drove in a pair. Alex Schleissing and Webber International signee Mackenzie Wilfert had two hits.


Under second-year head coach Chris Layner, Hollins will look to improve on a 10-10 season – the program’s best season since 2021 when it reached the Class 5A-Region 2 tournament. The team hit .328 last year in part because of a huge season from Paige Little-Westerfield and if this group can play tighter defense (nearly half of their runs allowed last year were unearned), we could see them surprising some folks.


“We’re really, really excited for this group,” Layner said. “The growth – I got thrown in here last December and I was just ready to start the season. I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare…there’s a few that needed to get acclimated, and I’ve had that time this year with them.”

What we’re interested to see – Largo’s growth as a program

The Packers have struggled over the last decade in softball, but first-year head coach Jerry King is looking to right the ship. A long-time travel ball coach who currently runs the Clearwater Lady Bombers organization, King has begun to breathe new life into a program that desperately needed it. Largo has a brand-new locker room to be proud of and sky-high expectations for this season to achieve.


Largo opened up a 7-4 lead on Hollins in the first game of Wednesday’s doubleheader – sophomore Paige Sofge had a pair of hits and a pair of RBI in the early going while she and outfielder Lacy Smithson each added a double to the box score. With the bases loaded, Seminole transfer Miranda Rollins created some baserunning havoc from first by breaking for second and prompting a throw, which allowed Kaitlin Cheng to score as a part of a three-run second.

What we liked – Pinellas Park’s ability to get runners aboard

Center fielder Khloe Birk and catcher Alyssa Brady combined to go 5-for-7 at the top of the order for the Patriots, which banged out ten hits as a team. While the end of the order produced just two of those hits, the No. 6-8 spots in the order walked five times, and had Northeast beginning to sweat in the sixth. Alyssa Givens drew a bases loaded walk, then Kelliann Wright hit a little flare that trickled into the outfield to drive in a run.


Pinellas Park had runners on in every inning except for the seventh, something they can absolutely take away as a positive. Admittedly, we would’ve liked to see sophomore Cadelynn Parker pitch a little longer – she was pulled with one out in the first – or Sophie Sokolowski throw (the duo led Pinellas Park in innings pitched last year), but it was encouraging to see Ayanah Wilson throw up back-to-back scoreless innings to finish her second outing of the preseason.


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