State tournament is the goal
News-Gazette Photo/Andrew Sullivan
Harmony’s multi-talented junior Lily Mann (7) has committed to the University of Florida, one of two Lady Longhorns who have committed to the Gainesville university along with pitcher Aleshia Ocasio.
Horns eye return to 7A final four
By Rick Pedone
The 2013 high school softball season was one of the best in Osceola County with Harmony, Osceola and St. Cloud all advancing to the regional playoffs.
Harmony reached the Class 7A state tournament, its second appearance there in three seasons.
For 2014, the Lady Longhorns should be one of the best teams in Class 7A, and St. Cloud’s lineup is full of young, talented players. Osceola, as always, will be in contention for district and Orange Belt Conference titles. Those three teams join Liberty, Gateway, Celebration and Lake Nona in 7A District 5.
Poinciana plays in 6A District 8 in Polk County.
Coach Jeff Fiorelli returns for his second season with the Lady Longhorns after guiding the team to a 26-4 record.
The Longhorns lost in the state semifinals to eventual Class 7A champion Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, 1-0, in nine innings.
Harmony lost several outstanding seniors to graduation, but pitcher/shortstop Aleshia Ocasio returns for her senior year, and that fact by itself makes the Lady Longhorns a very dangerous team.
Ocasio, the News-Gazette Player of the Year for 2013, has committed to the University of Florida after a junior season that saw her post a 17-3 record and 0.42 ERA. She struck out 178 batters in 115 innings. She also is one of the team’s leading hitters.
Fiorelli is blessed with depth on the pitching staff. Junior Lily Mann, another UF commit, and senior Molly Baker both own varsity experience on the mound. Savannah Austin, an outfielder, is the only other senior on a young and talented roster.
Infielder Brooke Harris and outfielder Taylor Soltys, both juniors, return, and St. Cloud transfer Maddie Urquiola, a sophomore, should step in at shortstop.
Sophomores Rebekah Batson and Jaden Kline bring varsity experience to the lineup, along with Mikeila Bush and Jeleah Nunez.
Freshman Kendall Kisamore rounds out the varsity lineup.
Harris has committed to Jacksonville State, and Urquiola has selected Southern Mississippi as her commitment.
The Longhorns are the defending Orange Belt Conference champions and are off to a 4-0 start.
The Lady Bulldogs became a potent force last season with an outstanding group of young players under Coach Ray Whobrey.
Whobrey is ramping up the schedule to test his team.
“With my senior leadership, I believe we will have a very good team this year, and we should contend for the district and the conference championships,” he said. “We are setting our goals high and we expect to achieve them. The team is well balanced with four seniors, three juniors, three sophomores, and four freshmen.”
The seniors include infielder Emily Blackmore, who recently signed with Ava Maria University; outfielder KaDeisha McCowen, the county’s stolen bases leader last season; third baseman Hayle Pittman and catcher Shina Hunsicker.
Juniors include catcher Paola Del Valle and infielder Audrey Wentzell, who is recovering from a broken leg.
The sophomores are outfielder Sara Crawford, last year’s team home runs leader, and pitchers Paige Shantz and Lindsay Markham, who combined last year for 149 strike outs and a 1.57 ERA. They will share first base.
As good as that group is, Whobrey is excited about his freshmen class.
“It is probably the best freshmen class I have seen coming into the school since I have been here,” he said.
Outfielder Emily Henderson, infielder/outfielder Kayla Jensen, pitcher Skylar Whobrey and shortstop Cortney Wentzell all will contribute, the coach said.
“The coaching staff and myself are very excited about this year’s team; we are looking forward to the season and have very high expectations for the girls this year,” Whobrey said. “We have the ability to hit the long ball and speed to do the short game. Our defense will be very good with quickness in the infield, speed in the outfield, and we will have Cerberus (a three-headed dog in Greek Mythology) for our pitching.”
Coach George Coffey returns for his 20th season with a young lineup that Coffey believes will eventually develop into a powerhouse.
“Maybe not this year, but it won’t be long before this becomes a really, really good team,” Coffey said.
The Kowboys coach likes the team’s strong work ethic, enthusiasm and talent.
“I have such a great time working with these kids. They are fantastic. I enjoy every minute I spend with them,” he said.
Coffey, who lost several standouts to graduation from last year’s district championship team, said the only thing the team lacks is experience.
“We have one senior, two juniors, three sophomores and the rest are freshmen. We are young,” he said.
Also, it will be difficult to replace Kenya Pereira, a four-year varsity pitcher who went to Florida A&M.
Kali Jones, a junior, will step up in the rotation, and Coffey has high expectations for Nicole Santanello and Brittany Foster.
“This group is good. If we can get the pitching, we could go a long way,” Coffeys said.
Back are standouts like senior Chantal Crockett, who can play the outfield or catch, and a trio of talented sophomores including Haisette Escudero, a sophomore who hit four home runs last season, Santanello and Claire Anrendas. All three sophomores hit over .400 last year. Jones batted .507 and scored 27 runs last season.
Coffey said a stream of promising freshmen is ready to contribute in players like Justine Calderon, Trinity Gibbs, Leila Santiago, Abigail Kendrick and Janelys Rosado.
Realistically, with district foes Harmony and St. Cloud both deep in pitching, it will be difficult for the Lady Kowboys to reach the regional playoffs.
“It’s a very tough district, no question. Harmony and St. Cloud are very talented,” Coffey said. “But, I never count us out. Our team chemistry is great. How quickly we can get the newcomers up to speed will be the key.”
Coach Kim Harrison begins her second season with the Lady Eagles, and she is looking forward to seeing how well her squad can compete in 6A District 8.
Six players return: Veronica Pineiro, Tiffany Laboy, Yessenia Garcia, Neisha Figueroa, Lillianne Marcheggiani, and Jayleen Orengo. Also returning from injuries are Ramona Hernandez and Valentina Jorge.
“Watch-out players are Tiffany Laboy, Ramona Hernandez and newcomers Emily Kersey and Lizmarie Nieves,” Harrison said. “We are in a new district and we are hopeful on having great competition this year,” Harrison said.
Harrison’s assistant coach is Joe Marcheggiani.
After a two-year absence, Coach Ed Kuzma returns as the Storm softball coach.
Kuzma is pleased that two standouts from his last team from 2011, the battery of Maddie White and Sarah Stelwag, are back for their senior campaigns.
“Maddie will be continuing on to play at Lynn University,” Kuzma said.
The infield returns Morgan Molina (first base) and Brittany Moore (second base). The other side of the infield is a work in progress, Kuzma said. Freshman Sydney Hayes will fill one of those spots.
Kuzma said that, except for his battery, the team is inexperienced.
“Our goal this year is to limit the number of outs we give our opponents. We will spend the majority of practice working on raising our game IQ and understanding the roles of each position in each situation,” he said. “We will focus on not compounding errors with more errors.
Kuzma said that the team could be successful playing “small ball.”
“I think we can put up a few runs a game with the combination of the experienced middle of the order and the desire of the girls batting around them,” he said. “If we can play defense and make our opponents earn their runs, we can come out above .500. I guarantee that there will be a game where all the cylinders are clicking and we give someone a game that they did not expect.”
Coach Ron Styron begins his second season with a good group of lettermen.
Senior Selena Torres returns to the mound and batted .410 last season.
Junior Brooke Johnson (catcher/infield) is back, along with sophomores Mary Acosta (first base), Desiree Fernandez (shortstop/pitcher) and Kaelin Ruiz (catcher/third base).
Newcomers include freshmen Liera Acosta (outfield/pitcher) and Nyrobi Milien (second base/pitcher).
Coach Nichole Shiko takes over the Lady Chargers program this season.
“We have a strong, talented and knowledgeable freshman class and a senior class that consists of veteran athletes who possess excellent leadership and motivational skills,” she said. “We are very excited about the season and have been working diligently to improve our skills these past few weeks to not only become competitive in our conference, but to strengthen our team unity as well.”
Liberty’s seniors include Tajaray Ballentine, Zorylisse Bentancourt, Jamie Marrero, Livia Palmer, Giomara Perez and Lina Pinto. All but Ballentine return from last season.
Stephanie Dalgado, Carmen Eusebio, Arianna Reyes, Dalissa Rojas and Ariana Vargas are the juniors. Sophomore Kaela Cloutier and freshmen Courtney Benjamin, Ciara Ramos, Alexandra Reyes and Taylor Bates round out the varsity roster.
“Our girls are eager and excited to take on the challenge of a tough schedule against highly competitive and skilled opponents,” Shiko said.
The Lady Eagles reached the Florida Christian Conference championship game last season and return eight players under Coach Ryan Grothouse.
“We are looking forward to another great year,” he said.
Seniors Sara Bedoya and Kelly Riascos return this season and join eighth-graders Brooke Beaver and Jamie Uriarte in the starting lineup, which also includes sophomore Katie Kleinhans and Taylor Suarez. Freshmen Syanne Rowe and Rosarnie Perez also return. Newcomers include freshmen Shariely Figueroa-Mendez and Ynayah Boyd. Sian Arichibald (8th) and Lourdes Rivera (7th) also are on the roster.
Alvia Cotto and Joseph Nieves are the assistant coaches.