The Softball regular season has begun, and the Harmony Longhorns – the defending Orange Belt Conference champions – are not only looking forward to defending that championship but they also intend to make some noise in the FHSAA post-season.

“We have a very solid group of veteran players coming back from last year’s team,” Head Coach Kristi Mindrup said of her team that went 14-6 last season. “Our goals extend way beyond the OBC and district tournaments. We want to compete for a regional championship.”

Harmony returns a lot of firepower from last year, including Florida Gateway College signee Amanda Whalen, who batted .453 last season while playing at shortstop and in the outfield. Other outstanding returnees that hit better than .400 include C/OF Natalie Booth (.484), 1B/C/P Ireland Sibbitt (.464) and P/1B/C Lindsay Green, who hit .429 as a sophomore.

Although the Longhorns lost a pair of .400 hitters as juniors Emma Blandford (.417) and Aurielle Reavis (.597) moved out of the area with their families, Mindrup says those losses will be mitigated by the addition of transfer Katelyn Lund-Rodriguez and junior newcomer Isabella Correa-Ayala. Mindrup is also excited about the addition of freshman Emerson Asian, who she says “will bring a huge bat to our lineup.”

Traditional county powers St. Cloud (15-11 in 2022) and Osceola (10-15 in ’22) hope to challenge the Longhorns for the county title.

Veteran Bulldogs coach Ray Whobrey says his team is “going to surprise some folks this season” and he says his current edition of Bulldogs reminds him a lot of his 2017 district championship team.

St. Cloud returning starters include Kamrie Poppell (1B/OF), Brooklyn Scott (SS), and Olivia Lameau (1B/OF). Both Lemeau (.424) and Soctt (.422) hit better than .400 last year; and Scott is the returning Bulldogs leader in RBI (19). In addition, senior transfer Kaitlyn Harkema will take over duties at second base.

But it is the new faces that have bolstered Whobrey’s confidence the most heading into the season. Based on potential, he calls his freshmen class of Brianna Costa (P/OF), Addison Felblinger (P/OF), Leah McLaughlin (C), and Addisyn Todd (P/1B/OF) perhaps his “most talented ever” and added that “all should make significant contributions” in their season.

For years, Osceola has fielded one of the top softball teams in the county and coach Miranda Watford has a senior loaded team that she hopes will get them back to the top. Seven of those seniors have signed athletic scholarship papers to play at the next level.

Those players include Nayeli Hernandez (.478), Gabriela Avila (.339), and Eylany Laboy (.290, 20 RBI, 6 extra base hits). Kaylee Jones is another senior who will solidify the Kowboys’ lineup. Alexis Miranda, who shared starting duties on the mound as a sophomore last season, will serve as Osceola’s ace this year and start most games.

“When you have that many seniors with experience, you tend not to worry about leadership,” Watford said. “This is a great group to teach and mentor our younger players and I would like to think we have the talent to compete with Harmony and St. Cloud for the OBC title.”

Over at Poinciana, football coach Randy Beeken was asked to perform double duty and take over the girls softball program just days before the start of the 2021 season. It was not an ideal situation as the Eagles had won just six games in the previous seven years (6-113).

Beeken has done a tremendous job after that rocky 2-14 first season, almost reaching the .500 mark in his second year (10-12) and winning a district playoff game to boot. Now he says continuing to build on that culture and perhaps a winning season could be in the offing.

“We want to get to 16 wins,” Beeken – who led Poinciana to a record eight football wins and just their second winning season in the school’s 30 history last fall—said. “That would insure a winning season regardless of what happens in districts. But the most important thing is to keep getting better and moving the program forward.”

In search of that winning season, Beeken does return some talent in eight full or part-time starters including Aidalee “Poptart” Vargas (.433 BA). Tristin Skoog (.444), and Mia Guieb (.391). But he added the player to keep an eye on is sophomore catcher Alondra Lozada (.333). “She is a Division-1 talent, Nichols State and others have already been in contact with her,” Beeken says.

The biggest concern for the Eagles is at pitcher, where no starter returns. Poinciana will most likely use last year’s starting shortstop Mayra Saez (BA .419) there. “I hate to move her because she is incredibly valuable to us at shortstop,” Beeken noted. “But we have to have someone who can throw the ball over the plate and right now she is the best option.”

Gateway coach Samuel Milien and Storm coach Anyssa Robles find themselves in similar situations. Both the Panthers and Storm roster include nine freshman and sophomores—with just one lone senior each. Fortunately for Robles and the Storm, one of those young players is sophomore Kacey Pagan – who had a sensational freshman campaign by hitting .529 with 17 RBI and 13 runs scored. Another talented player returning is junior Valeria Martinez, who hit .370 and led the team in runs scored (17). Carolina McAuley (.240), Alejandro and Amelia McMahon are also returning starters for the Storm.
After compiling a combined 25-5 record over the Covid-shortened 2020 season and the 2021 campaign, Liberty backslid a little last season but still managed to make it to a district final, where they lost to Eau Gallie by a 8-5 score.

Coach Rich Roy returns some solid talent in Abigail Esparza (P/UTL), Yainad Torres (INF) and Yasmin Elaraj (1B). Just a junior, Elaraj hit .515 last season and led the team in RBI with 28. Esparaza was tops in pitching wins with six. Keep an eye on Arianna Serrano, a freshman who went 3-0 as a pitcher and started in the infield when she wasn’t on the mound, as she starts his sophomore campaign.

At Tohopekaliga, Head coach Chantal Schuster says her team continues to work hard as the young program (school enters fifth season) continues to establish itself. Top returning players include Nina Delgado (1B), Mya Rivera (C), and Jessalyn Morales (PP/SS). Both Delgado and Rivera have on-base percentages north of the .430 mark. Newcomers Jessilyn Diaz (P/2B) and Valentina Fontanez (3B/SS) have shown promise in the pre-season.

“We lost a few great seniors from last year, but we have had some or our first year players step in and make a statement,” Schuster said. “The entire team has been working hard each day for not only themselves but for their team as well.”