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Manatee / Sarasota County Elite 8 Coaches Poll - Week 2, 2024

Parrish Community's Julia Girk.

The Elite 8 Coaches Poll is back for another season. We apologize for not getting a Manatee and Sarasota poll out for the preseason – there’s been so much going on in the softball world that there just aren’t enough hours in the day to write about it all!


Regardless, we’ve polled our coaches on the South Suncoast and have our first poll of the regular season ready to go as teams get ready for Week 3 of action in 2024.


Here’s how the coaches saw things after Week 2.


1. Parrish Community, 2-0 (3 first-place votes)


In a way, the defending Class 5A State Champions are looking to find themselves. Losing such a prolific senior class as the Bulls had last year is a tough thing to overcome, for any team. They’ve overcome some early-season adversity and are still looking to find an identity with a group that still has a handful of pieces from its 2023 title run. Parrish Community defeated Palmetto and Sarasota to jump out to an undefeated start, although neither game was easy. The win over the Tigers needed extra innings, then the Bulls had to rally from a seventh inning deficit to down Sarasota. Things don’t get easier this week with two tough Hillsborough County teams coming to town in Sumner and Bloomingdale. A home date with Lakewood Ranch is sandwiched between.


2. Inspiration Academy, 3-0


This comes at no surprise to those that saw the Lions in the preseason. Well, we did, and we’re not necessarily surprised at what this team has done in the early going. We kind of wish that IA wasn’t still an independent because this team would be dangerous in Class 2A, where they’d project to be. Iowa State signee Danika Best is off to a 7-for-10 start to lead the team and junior pitcher Elle Hildreth has thrown all but one inning for Inspiration thus far, working a 1.75 ERA in 20 innings with 16 strikeouts. The Lions head to the Bartow Home of Champions Tournament this weekend, where they’ll face Lake Region and Academy at the Lakes.


3. Manatee, 4-1


How about the Hurricanes, huh? They have quickly turned into a contender in Class 6A-Region 2 with a tremendous start to the 2024 campaign. Head coach Krista Latessa had the interim coach tag taken off over the offseason and she has run with the job, seeing Manatee off to its best start since the 2018 season. This group is solid, particularly at the dish. Hope Jordan, Baelee Garland and Josie Alderson have all clubbed home runs for the Hurricanes, who have scored 44 across their first five games. They host Tampa Catholic and Bradenton Christian this week, part of a six-game homestand.


4. Riverview, 5-1


This is another group that has taken the South Suncoast by storm to start the season. Their unbeaten start was the first time in the MaxPreps era (2007-present) they’ve begun 5-0 and their only loss is to Manatee in extra innings. We’re two weeks in and the Rams have already surpassed their win total from a year ago under first-year head coach Tom Forkan. A major part of their success can be attributed to junior left-hander Allison Cole, who won the Week 1 Pitcher of the Week award. She’s struck out 68 in 34 innings and worked a 1.65 ERA in that timespan. Riverview’s been able to give her plenty of run support – senior Isabella Thompson leads Riverview with 11 RBI, while Sierra Lipton and Ella Trandem each have crossed home ten times. The Rams have a light week with Charlotte (Punta Gorda) on Thursday.


5. Venice, 2-2


After a pair of losses to higher ranked South Suncoast opponents, the Indians got on the board with wins over Lemon Bay (Englewood) and North Port, outscoring them by a combined 27-2. Venice’s bats are pretty even across the board – Emily Beam and Riley Sullivan have combined for five of the Indians’ nine base hits as the lone outlier. Senior pitcher Layne Preece has struck out 17 in 17 innings to go along with a 1.24 ERA through the first two weeks. This is a team that appears to be treading water, for now, with a lot of potential as the season goes along. The Indians travel south to Charlotte on Tuesday.


6. Sarasota, 0-3


The Lady Sailors might not be off to the start they wanted so far, but there’s a good number of positives to take away. All three of their losses will help in the postseason rankings because Inspiration Academy, Berkeley Prep and Parrish Community all will be highly-rated teams at the end of the year. They’ve lost by two runs in each of their first three and had a three-run lead over PC before a seventh inning rally. Sarasota’s concerns about pitching after Ryleigh Bennett’s graduation have been eased slightly, considering Ashlan Guengerich has worked a 1.34 ERA in 15.2 IP. Brooke Bendel has yet to grab a hit, while Abbey Johns and Carley Ramsden have each started 2-for-9 to start the year. Once they get going, Sarasota should get going. It travels to Palmetto on Monday.


7. Palmetto, 1-3


Perhaps another group that is underperforming to start the season with a lot of expectations for this year, the Tigers' three losses have also come by two runs or fewer and got in the win column for the first time with an important win at Lakewood Ranch. Makenna Lee has been a bright spot, starting 7-for-14 with two home runs and nearly half of the Tigers’ extra base hits. Leilani Cruz has also been good at the plate, matching Lee’s 7-for-14 effort. And with Lee and Desiree Aitken in the circle, you know the Tigers are going to be in a lot of games off their pitching alone. Sarasota and a return fixture with Lakewood Ranch highlight Week 3.


8. Lakewood Ranch, 1-4


It feels strange to see the Mustangs this low in the coaches poll – as one coach didn’t even have them in their rankings this week, a strange sight to behold. But that’s the reality for Lakewood Ranch, right now, as the program appears to be in a rebuilding season. Regardless, North Florida signee and senior Grace Shaw-Rockey is going to do everything she can to put the Mustangs on her back. She clubbed three home runs in Week 1 and has driven in 10 of the Mustangs’ 22 runs scored. Lakewood Ranch travels to Inspiration Academy, a team they split two games with in the preseason, on Tuesday.


Also receiving votes:


Bradenton Christian, 2-1: The Panthers have road wins over Northside Christian and Southeast on its ledger to start the season before falling to Canterbury in a potential Class 2A-Region 3 preview.


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