top of page

Pinellas County Elite 8 Coaches Poll - Preseason, 2024

High school softball is officially back across the Sunshine State. After a spectacular week of preseason softball across the area, the intensity turns up slightly and the games begin to count.

 

The drive for Clermont has officially begun.

 

If you’re new to Bay Made Fastpitch, welcome to the first iteration of this season’s Elite 8 Coaches Poll. We send a poll each week to head and selected assistant coaches around a specific county and ask them to give us a ranking of the top eight teams, weekly. The poll is completely anonymous and turns out to consistently be the most accurate way to rank teams.

 

We’ll start this season in Pinellas, where a two-time defending state champion reigns and a race for the PCAC crown will be tightly contested all spring.



1. Calvary Christian, 22-7 (6 first-place votes)


Defending your title is a tough thing to do, especially in a classification like 3A. It wasn’t always easy for the Warriors last season, who weathered the storm and captured their second consecutive state championship – the first team in the area to do so since Lakewood Ranch won back-to-back titles in 2021 and ’22. The three-peat is on and Calvary Christian knows that it will get everyone’s best shot every night.

 

Headlined by NC State commit and 2023 Tampa Bay Area Player of the Year Morgen Talley, the Warriors are, once again, the favorite in 3A. Stetson signee Irianis Garcia and Georgia Southern signee Payton Cushman make one of the most experienced cores in Florida. Eckerd College signee Ava Planeta, Ursinus College signee Reagan Lavina and Florida Gulf Coast commit Alexis Camilleri will be extremely valuable role players and upperclassmen leaders for a promising freshman class that the Warriors are extremely excited about. Calvary starts another daunting schedule with another ranked Pinellas squad at Northeast on Tuesday.



2. East Lake, 22-5


A season filled with accolades between the Leopard Slam title, the PCAC Championship and a district championship was memorable for a lot of reasons, except for the ensuing postseason run. East Lake was shockingly upset by Mitchell in the first round of the Class 6A-Region 2 tournament after the Mustangs squeaked in as the No. 8 seed. The Eagles have put together a tremendous program over the last decade, but it’s safe to say that everyone inside the program will admit that it’s time to get over the hump and reach that elusive state tournament.

 

2024 looks as promising as ever to do just that. East Lake graduated just one senior and added one of Pinellas County’s best hitters in the form of USF signee Karhys Pierce, who transferred from crosstown rival Palm Harbor University. Georgia Southern signee Kayla Christensen posted career highs across the board as a junior and plugging Pierce into the lineup gives the Eagles an amazing 1-2 punch, not to mention they have threats all across the order with the Bostak sisters, Maddie and Meagan, and catcher Sophia Cannon. They should provide plenty of run support for ace Lucy Mondok, who burst on the scene in 2023 on the way to earning the Tampa Bay Area Freshman of the Year honor. East Lake opens Tuesday with its annual Strike Out Cancer game against Clearwater.



3. Osceola, 17-9


There is a lot to like with this Osceola ballclub. As we wrote a couple of weeks ago, there is so much continuity with this group that makes it seem like they have a real opportunity to reach the state tournament in a wide-open Class 5A. They’ll be extra motivated to get an opportunity to recapture the PCAC Championship after missing out on that opportunity altogether last season, as it was St. Petersburg that represented the south.

 

A healthy Addison Futch is a major boost – the Seminole State College signee dealt with a hand injury in ’23 – to a lineup that produced at a high rate thanks to Tampa commit Jenna Neupaver and a breakout season from then-freshman Angelina Rodriguez. The Warriors will have to replace the production that came from Enslie Lloyd’s bat and they’re hopeful that freshman Bri Shepherd will be able to help fill that void. What separates this team, in our opinion, is their pitching staff. Aliyah Lai showed ace potential in the first half of last season. Getting Theresa “Cobra” Diez back from a knee injury is massive for Lai in spreading out some innings and Osceola hopes that Dunedin transfer Jordyn Wagner can help in that, too. The Warriors open Tuesday with Countryside.



4. Palm Harbor University, 18-9


This group has the most intrigue around it out of all the Pinellas squads. Kara Lilley got promoted from assistant to head coach this offseason after the retirement of Kerry Katchuk and inherited a scrappy team with a lot of youth. Although they fell in the district final and missed the region tournament for the second consecutive season, the Hurricanes gave Class 7A Runner-Up Plant everything it could handle in an extra-inning thriller and things continue to trend in the right direction for them.

 

Palm Harbor University lost a pair of terrific bats after Pierce’s transfer to East Lake and the early graduation of Kendall Hyatt but added experience in senior Emily Boylan, who completed a ‘one-for-one trade’, of sorts, between the Eagles and ‘Canes. Katie Kreidler and Ariana Silva return after each had breakout junior seasons and sophomore Mylie Stout joins Emma Shipley in the circle for another season. If Stout can pitch as well as she did in Thursday’s preseason loss to Wiregrass Ranch (she struck out 12), PHU’s going to be tough to beat. It travels to St. Petersburg to face Canterbury on Wednesday.



5. St. Petersburg, 17-8

 

At the surface level, it was a tad surprising to see St. Petersburg so high on ballots. One coach had the Green Devils as high as third, denoting respect for the group that earned the PCAC South title and won their first district championship in a long time. Going deeper, you see why. St. Petersburg returns most of its core and has some breakout candidates that could help it in important ballgames.

 

The biggest key here is that MIT signee Sarah Blackett anchors the Green Devils in the circle. She was among county leaders in strikeouts as a junior and will be a huge part of her team’s successes again, as will seniors Teagan Grizzard, Daniela Leombruno and junior Joselyn Castagner. St. Petersburg and first-year head coach Megan Fish start their season on Tuesday at Largo.



6. Clearwater, 17-8

 

The mission of winning a district championship was achieved for Clearwater in 2023 and the Tornadoes got another taste of what regional playoff softball is like. Say what you will about Class 4A-Region 3 – there’s a legitimate path to the state tournament for the Tornadoes, considering the region sets up nearly the same as last year. This program has improved tenfold and now has an opportunity to parlay its success into something a lot of people around Pinellas County may have thought was impossible.

 

It's also strange to say that even after losing Abbee Klinefelter to graduation Clearwater still manages to take a step forward on paper. The sophomore tandem of Morgan Maske and Megan Kimmet is perhaps the pitching staff with the most potential in the county, especially if they can get consistently solid defense behind them. Expect Jadah Nicholls, Sydney Wilhelm and Juleah Patterson to all take another step forward offensively and if the Tornadoes can get a little more production here and there, they could be a sneaky, sneaky good team in April and May. Clearwater opens at Canterbury on Monday.



7. Northeast, 13-9

 

This is a team that could find itself mixing things up in the south part of the county when it faces Osceola in late March and St. Petersburg two weeks later. Similar to Osceola, Northeast searches for revenge against the crosstown rival Green Devils, as they were responsible for knocking the Vikings out of contention for their second consecutive district championship in addition to the PCAC South title.

 

Over the next two seasons, the Vikings core is going to be one of the biggest storylines in South County. Between Lashell Roberts, Mikayla Simon, Baylie Dorr, Lauren Fernald, Brooke McCarthy, Savanna Hogsten, Dani Brunner and Victoria Frye, there is so much potential for Northeast to do great things. We’ll learn a lot about Northeast early while Brunner works on getting back from an injury and Hogsten projects to take most of the innings to start the year. Her first test is a big one – the Vikings host two-time defending state champion Calvary Christian on Tuesday.



8. Hollins, 10-10

 

Overall, we were impressed with Hollins when we got a chance to see them this preseason. Head coach Chris Layner enters his second season in charge and mentioned that having the extra offseason developmental time with his group that he didn’t have last year (Layner took the job in December and had just short of two months to prepare) will be a game-changer in 2024, particularly for his younger players.

 

Paige Little-Westerfield tore the cover off the softball last season, while Gianna Close hit the cover off the ball in the preseason – both will be impact players for the Royals in the regular season. Ava Vargas, Hailey Mercado are two hitters to watch out for and two-way threat Mackenzie Wilfert, a Webber International pledge pairs with senior Madasyn Hensley and Little-Westerfield well in the circle. The Royals host Pinellas Park in their season opener on Tuesday.


Also receiving votes:

 

Seminole, 12-6 – The Warhawks will lean on seniors Brittany Gingrich and Graci Tubbs for leadership and production at the plate, as they hope to reach the region tournament for the fourth consecutive season.

 

Largo, 4-15 – New coaching staff, new attitude and a lot of hope for the Packers heading into 2024. Jerry King takes over and will rely heavily on Seminole transfer Miranda Rollins and pitcher Paige Sofge in a rebuilding season.

Comments


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page