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Polk County Elite 8 Coaches Poll - Week 2, 2024

Bartow's Destiny Driskell.

The Elite 8 Coaches Poll is back for another season. We apologize for not getting a Polk 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 in Polk County 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. Bartow, 4-0 (6 first-place votes)


What is the best way to say it? Bartow’s gonna Bartow. The defending Class 6A State Champions are out to a 4-0 start and have outscored opponents by a combined 35-0 over the first two weeks. Named as the top team in Florida to start the season and ranked as the third-best team in the country by MaxPreps, the Lady Jackets have lived up to that expectation and then some. Florida signee Katelynn Oxley struck out 29 and allowed just a single hit in wins over Lake Region and Lake Wales. McKeel Academy transfer and West Florida signee Kyndal Cornelius posted her best outing in a Bartow uniform with a 3-for-3, two RBI night in a 10-0 win over Lake Wales on Friday. The Jackets will host their annual Home of Champions Tournament and will face Plant City and a strong Montverde Academy team in pool play, but not before a marquee district matchup at George Jenkins on Tuesday.


2. Lake Region, 2-2


Always known to play an extremely difficult schedule, the Thunder’s two losses have come to defending state champions between 3A’s Calvary Christian and the aforementioned 6A Champs, Bartow. That’s why they hold onto the second spot here. Six errors doomed Lake Region in its 3-0 loss at Bartow last week, as all three runs against Makenna Meadows went down as unearned. Meadows, now in her junior season, has struck out 24 batters in 15.2 to start and the Thunder will look to get her some additional run support in those tougher matchups. They struck for nine on just five hits in Thursday’s win at Auburndale, where freshman Kailyn Reeder earned the victory in the circle. Lake Region has a busy week with McKeel and Sebring before the Home of Champions Tournament, where it faces Inspiration Academy and Academy at the Lakes over the weekend.


3. George Jenkins, 5-0


This group is off to its best start since 2013 after a 6-1 decision went their way at Frostproof to finish the second week 3-0 with quality wins on their ledger over Lake Wales and Auburndale. Jazlyn Duque and Layla Hinojosa have been spectacular in the circle, striking out 30 in 34 innings and the duo’s allowed just seven earned runs in five games. The lineup has been productive and freshman Kamryn Wallisa came up in big spots in each of the Eagles’ games last week with a pair of home runs and a big knock in the win over Auburndale. Senior Payton Spears has driven in eight to lead George Jenkins in that department. A Tuesday showdown with Bartow will really show where this group is, considering the Lady Jackets are the biggest competition for Jenkins in Class 6A-District 10.


4. Auburndale, 2-2


After winning its first two games over Plant City and Winter Haven, Auburndale has fallen in back-to-back games to George Jenkins and Lake Region. Sophomore right-hander Jordan Honeycutt has been a positive for the Bloodhounds thus far. She earned a selection to the Week 1 Pitching Honor Roll and has struck out 36 total in 23 innings. Only four of the 12 runs she’s allowed have been earned. Kathryn Devore and Hailey Bradley lead Auburndale with seven hits so far and if McKeel Academy transfer Rylee Bass can get the bat going, Auburndale will only get stronger. The ‘Hounds take on Lake Wales before McKeel Academy and Coral Reef (Miami) in the Home of Champions Tournament this weekend.


5. McKeel Academy, 4-1


The Wildcats have been on the right side of one-run ballgames to start the year, as they’re 3-0 in those, which included a walk-off win over Fort Meade to open their new ballpark. McKeel’s looking to get more consistency from its everyday batters – all but one of their batters with 12-plus plate appearances are hitting .286 or worse – but the Wildcats have certainly found ways to win ballgames and that’s really all that matters. Freshman pitcher Chloe Lanier posted quality outings against Lake Gibson and Sebring last week, which would be a nice development if she can be a strong pitching option alongside Emma Skipper. It feels like we’re going to find out a lot about the Wildcats this week, who have Lake Region before Auburndale and Coral Reef (Miami) in the Home of Champions Tournament.


6. Lake Wales, 1-4


It’s been a tough go for the defending Class 4A State Champions over the last four games after defeating Winter Haven handily to begin. Lake Wales scored 13 in that game and has scored just two runs since, getting shut out by Sebring, George Jenkins and Bartow. Even after graduating a stocked senior class, the Highlanders still have plenty of talent to turn things around. There’s another McBurrows sister – Zamirya – that leads them in hitting, while Keira Davis and Keira Morris were important pieces of last year’s state championship run that have yet to get it going offensively this season. Anna Conroy is back in the circle for Lake Wales and has struck out 25 in 21.1 IP to help keep the Highlanders in games. Remember, this was a team that was right around .500 last year before they turned it on to go on a huge run in April and May. It is way too early to count this group out. Lake Wales faces Auburndale before Evangelical Christian (Ft. Myers) and Winter Haven in Home of Champions.


7. Lakeland Christian, 4-0


After a return to form last season, the Vikings have continued their success into the start of the 2024 season. They’ve outscored opponents 72-4 in four games with wins over Ridge Community, Discovery, Grace Christian and Kathleen, ending all of those games early. Eighth grader Paityn Donalson is off to a blistering start at the plate, going 10-for-11 with three doubles and six RBI. As a team, Lakeland Christian is hitting a remarkable .620 with four starters slashing at a .750 clip or better. It faces Santa Fe Catholic, All Saints’ Academy and Lakeland before Spring Break.


8. Mulberry, 3-0


Similar to George Jenkins (who Mulberry faces on Monday), the Panthers are off to their best start since 2012, a season where they finished 22-8 and reached a regional tournament. This group has been building over the last few seasons and is looking for their first winning campaign since 2021 and appears to have the pieces to compete. Mulberry’s outscored opponents 44-4 to start and has looked quite good across its first three games. Lorianys Castanon Cruz leads the Panthers with six RBI and senior pitcher Marissa Malkowski has a 0.70 ERA in ten innings. Monday’s battle with George Jenkins will say a lot about just how improved the Panthers are – they have a three-game week with DeSoto County and Davenport.


Also receiving votes:


Davenport, 2-1: The Broncos gave Osceola (Kissimmee) a fight and unfortunately fell victim to a walk-off on Tuesday night. Sophomore Ashanti Pagan is 5-for-8 with five runs scored to begin the year.


Fort Meade, 2-3: The Miners have been on the other side of one-run games, going a heartbreaking 0-3 in that span with three walk-offs against. Cailynn Johnson has driven in ten and eighth grader Ariel Ramirez has yet to allow an earned run in over 19 innings.


Frostproof, 1-2-1: A 7-4 win over traditional rival Lake Placid got the Bulldogs in the win column. Menzie Neal is 6-for-11 to start the year and she’s clubbed three doubles, as has pitcher Belle Mancillas. Moore Haven, Fort Meade and Avon Park await this week.


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