Sports Editor

OHS SB Audra Thompson

Osceola shortstop Audra Thompson batted .509 and led the Kowgirls in most offensive categories while playing shortstop. She's part of an infield full of juniors that have started for three years.

St. Cloud earned a four-peat as district champion last year, and Osceola also won another district title while ending the Bulldogs’ three-year reign as Orange Belt Conference champions. Those teams are a year more experienced — a scary thought for their foes in the coming seasons, as a youth movement is a common theme around the county.

For one last year, the district alignments have Osceola, Gateway, Haines City and Ridge Community in 9A District 5; Tohopekaliga will jump in with St. Cloud, Liberty, Celebration, East River, Windermere and Lake Nona in 8A-10; Harmony is in a Brevard-heavy 7A-6; Poinciana goes south and east in 6A-10 and City of Life is in 2A-3.

Heritage Christian will chase another Florida Christian Conference championship.

St. Cloud

The Bulldogs completed a career of district titles for senior Bri Rodriguez last year, coming from behind to beat Windermere to win the 8A-10 trophy, but a 4-0 loss to Hagerty in the 8A-3 regional quarterfinals ended their year at 19-9.

But she was the only loss to graduation in the starting lineup, so Coach Ray Whobrey said he and the squad are very excited about their prospects this year.

“We’ve changed up the lineup a little bit from last year to put the talent in the best spots,” he said.

Talented senior pitcher Alyssa O’Donnell, who was 14-7 with a 1.45 ERA and 161 strikeouts in 140 innings last year, is again the ace and backed up by Vanessa Davis and Lindsey Burns, who are outfielders when O’Donnell’s in the circle. Sophomore catcher Leah Gonzales completes the battery.

Taylro McFann hit .355 last year and is back at first base, Amy McNabb (.306) is at second, Morgan Watral (.409) is at shortstop and forcer catch Ariana Manzanares is at third. Marlana McNutt takes over in center field.

Even with such experience, some freshman will have an impact like designated hitter Delaney Carnell, Hannah Nasco and Kylie Holland.

St. Cloud has started 5-0 with big wins already over West Orange and Eau Gallie, and will play St. Thomas Aquinas, in the Bartow Tournament of Champions and Roger Jones Kissimmee Klassic, and travel to Montverde Academy.

Osceola

Coach George Coffey will conclude his 25-year career as the Kowgirls’ head coach this year, and has a young but very, very experienced squad that features an entire infield of third-year starting juniors: first baseman Kendall Thompson, second baseman Leyla Laboy, shortstop and reigning county player of the year Audra Thompson and third baseman Natalia Ferrer.

“They were pups, now they’re yearlings,” Coffey said. “They know what the expectations are and know who’s good around them.”

The outfield is even younger — right and left fielders Madison Dennis and Rylee Andrews are sophomores and new center fielder Jaiona Ramos is a freshman.

Junior Shelby Jones pitched last year and is back in the circle, being pushed by hard-throwing lefty freshman Alyssa Miranda. Junior catcher Maria Nunez is behind the plate.

Versatile senior Megan Martin and junior Alyson Cox round out the varsity roster.

Despite the absence of its namesake, who passed away after a long cancer battle last fall, the Roger Jones Kissimmee Klassic will still go on at the Osceola County Softball Complex April 4-6.

“It will be hard without Roger, but we just finished the brackets and will be getting them out to coaches soon.”

After going 19-7 last year, the Kowgirls are off to a 4-0 start in 2019.

Harmony

In her second year with the Longhorns, Coach Kristi Mindrup hopes to bring the program back to prior glory, when it made four appearances in the state tournament.

The team’s one senior, Lesleigh Shelton, will share time in the pitching circle with hard-throwing junior Taylor Barrett.

“Shelton will also be key player on defense playing infield. On offensive she has a quick bat with lots of power,” Mindrup said. “Barrett is strong and healthy going into her junior year. Her velocity is outstanding and we are working on keeping the pitch count low.

Sophomore Alisha Vohs will catch and hit near the top of the lineup. Junior Anisten Bo will play first base after missing a year with injury. Speedy junior Bianca Texidor is in the outfield. Sophomores, Evan Bass, Lucy Burgess, Linda Evan, Carlee Fitzgerald bring speed to the outfield with strong arms.  Britany Compton will paly first base and DH.

Freshman Samatha Hubera has earned the starting spot at third base. Other varsity freshmen include Natalie Megale (outfield) and Lianna Allende (lefty pitcher).

“Our focus this year is to stay focused; one pitch at a time, one game at a time,” Mindrup said. “I'm excited for this year. The senior and juniors are showing leadership and with leadership we can build and grow.”

Liberty

Kathrin Pennanen took over the Chargers last year, had them playing near .500 ball, and has them off to a 2-1 start this year with seven returning varsity players.

"We also have a showing of strong freshmen players also in key positions.  So we are looking for an extremely successful season," she said.

Pennanen can hand the ball to seasoned pitchers Sydney Marrero, Emma Stephens and Beverly Rehfeldt in the circle. The infield has all returned with Serena Ramos on third, Yasheska Marquez at shortstop, Madison Adams on second and any one of my pitchers at first. Left field has returner Morgan Bates, Center field has returner Michelle Santiago, and freshman Jehna Morales earned the job in right field.

"Our batting can hold its own in scoring," Pennanen said.

Celebration

The Lady Storm have a new coach in Alyssa Robles.

The senior-laden roster includes returning players Tiani Malave, Rebecca Stafford, Brooklyn Sheehan and Braedon Lindsay, Brithanny Rodriguez, Carina Garcia, Ella Portell, Emily Cocks, Maria Pizzano, Nahiely Rodriguez, Nannette Rivera and Nakeria Smith.

Tohopekaliga

Chantal Crockett leads the first Tigers squad onto the diamond at the new school. The senior-less roster is heavy on freshmen: Annalise Alvarado, Xiomara Perez, Kayla Wynn, Jenesis Ayala, Kasandra Montanez, Mia Karina Rivera and Chantal Urena. Sophomore Maya Watts and Alyssa Lugo and juniors Sharelix Ocasio, Destinie Youman, Sienna Rivera and Taisha Torres also dot the roster.

Among the county’s other programs, Poinciana is led by third-year coach Nicollette Kaylor, Gateway is coached by Ron Styron, and Heritage Christian will chase after another Florida Christian Conference championship with new coach Don Bates.