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Pasco / Hernando County Elite 8 Coaches Poll - Week 2, 2024

Wiregrass Ranch C Julianna Snyder.

The Elite 8 Coaches Poll is back for another season. We apologize for not getting a Pasco / Hernando 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 along the North 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.

Editor's notes: While records are current, coaches were polled over the weekend and do not take Monday's results into account.


1. Wiregrass Ranch, 5-0 (3 first-place votes)


While the Bulls haven’t gotten off to as dominant a start as other teams on this list, they’ve arguably had the toughest schedule out of the first three teams in our poll. They hold wins over fellow ranked Pasco opponents in Academy at the Lakes and Land O’Lakes – the latter a wacky, slugfest of a game that saw Wiregrass Ranch come back from a 7-2 third inning deficit to win 11-10, their first win over the Gators in eight years. The addition of Wesley Chapel transfer Reagan Beagle gives Wiregrass a true three-arm pitching staff between her, Stephanie Daly and Kylie Glatfelter. The bats have shown plenty of gap-to-gap power, as the Bulls have clubbed 13 doubles in five games. Junior Aubrey Zechmann has been a multi-faceted weapon for Wiregrass early, leading the team with 11 runs scored and nine stolen bases. Wiregrass has a big one on Thursday at River Ridge – both teams should likely come in undefeated.


2. River Ridge, 5-0 (3 first-place votes)


There was not much that separated the Royal Knights from the Bulls – two points – in this week’s poll. The defending Class 5A-Region 2 Champions did exactly what they were expected to do in the first three games, picking up three run-rule victories, then shut down a high-flying Sunlake team before taking down rival Land O’Lakes in a 6-5 decision on Friday. A major question for the Royal Knights was how they would replace Jayda Smith in the circle and sophomore Lilly Jackson has done an admirable job thus far, striking out 25 in 15.2 IP with a 0.89 ERA. The lineup’s producing, with four everyday starters hitting .500 or better. River Ridge and Wiregrass Ranch is the matchup to watch on Thursday.


3. Mitchell, 3-1 (1 first-place vote)


Mitchell was one of three teams headed into the week undefeated. It dropped its first of the year in a Monday matinee at Palm Harbor University, simply running into a hot pitcher. That game was the Mustangs first true test of the year after handily defeating Anclote, Fivay and Cypress Creek by a combined 50-2. Four players have hit home runs for the Mustangs in their first three headed into Week 3 – the addition of River Ridge transfer and Liberty commit Taryn Newton has been beneficial, she’s 5-for-6 with six RBI along with 13 strikeouts and a 0.78 ERA heading into the week. Mitchell still has a lot of talent and perhaps an underrated pitching staff after MacKenzie Tucker came on strong in the latter portions of last season. She started 9-for-11 at the plate, too. The ‘Stangs week continues with Hudson and Land O’Lakes.


4. Land O’Lakes, 2-3


The schedule has been right up there with Wiregrass Ranch in terms of toughness, considering that the Gators have faced the No. 1, 2, 5 and 7 teams in this poll, along with a ranked Hillsborough squad in the Academy of the Holy Names to boot. It’s been a challenge for Land O’Lakes, but that’s how they like it. Florida commit Makenna Bellaire is 8-for-17 with four doubles and two home runs to start the season and fellow junior Jaila Mitchell has connected on a pair herself. The Gators are down a pitcher, so it has been up to sophomore Myah Davis in the circle, who has struck out 43 in 35 innings pitched – she’s thrown every inning for Land O’Lakes in its first five. It faces Wesley Chapel, Mitchell and Steinbrenner in Week 3.


5. Pasco, 2-1


This group continues to build upon its Class 5A-District 5 Championship from last year and a region semifinal appearance. The Pirates have wins over Zephyrhills and Wesley Chapel on their ledger early after falling to Land O’Lakes, 7-2, on opening night. Mariah Bennett and Abi Grubbs lead the team with 5-for-11 starts at the dish and have combined to drive in nearly half of Pasco’s runs. The Pirates will conclude a four-game road trip with tests at Cypress Creek and Springstead in Week 3.


6. Nature Coast Tech, 5-2


Getting some help from Week 1’s Player of the Week Kenzie Eland, the Sharks went 2-2 at Buffalo Stampede Tournament at The Villages and have since picked up a pair of Gulf Coast 8 wins against Citrus and Central. Perhaps the biggest win of the season for the Sharks, though, was their 4-2 triumph over Hernando on opening night, to snap a four-game losing streak to their traditional rivals. Eland has continued her terrific start to lead the team alongside fellow senior Ashlynn Sentner, while Caitlin Corrigan leads the team in RBI. Nature Coast is scoring a lot of runs, but they’re also giving up a lot with a 4.40 staff ERA through 7 games. The Sharks have a big Gulf Coast 8 matchup at Crystal River on Tuesday.


7. Academy at the Lakes, 3-2


Similar to Pasco, the Wildcats are a group that are continuing to build off of their successes from a year ago with wins over large-class opponents Wesley Chapel and Hernando and a solid win over Tampa Catholic. They haven’t yet been able to break into the upper echelon of Pasco / Hernando teams, but it would not be surprising to see them pick off someone they’re not supposed to by the end of the season. AATL has a pair of senior arms between Sydney Klein (who was really, really good against Hernando the other night) and Quinnipiac signee Shannon Kendall, who’s settled in nicely since transferring in. The Wildcats have a measuring-stick-type weekend at the Bartow Home of Champions Tournament, where they’ll face Lake Region and Inspiration Academy.


8. Springstead, 4-1


The Eagles started 4-0 for the first time since 2018 and are seemingly a surprise player in the Gulf Coast 8 this season and have gone 3-0 there with wins over Citrus, Lecanto and Weeki Wachee. The Miller sisters have been a huge part of Springstead’s early success. Junior Ava is 10-for-20 and freshman Alivia has tied her for the team lead in RBI with nine. The duo have worked a 3.40 staff ERA, striking out 47 in 35 innings of work. Springstead will travel to Lecanto and host Pasco in Week 3.


Also receiving votes:


Sunlake, 3-2: In its three wins, Sunlake has scored 50 runs. In its two losses, they’ve scored just one. There’s a lot of talent on this roster and it’ll be interesting to see if the Seahawks can put it all together in some of those tougher games.


Hernando, 1-5: For the first time in the Elite 8, the Lady Leopards find themselves on the outside looking in. Hernando looks to build on a 7-2 win over Trinity Catholic (Ocala) to finish Week 2, as Stetson signee Ava Braswell turned in a 17-strikeout performance there.


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