Coach: Scott Hoffman
Last season: 17-9 (5-2 in Class 8A-4)
Key returners: Brian Baughman (Sr., LHP, OF), Zach Ehrhard (So., 2B), Mike Hudson (Sr., 1B), Dylan McDonald (So., INF), Grady Maguire (Jr., SS).
Promising newcomers: Ryan Fry (Fr, RHP) and Michael Rivera (So., LHP).
Breakout Star: Dubbed by Hoffman as the team’s “Ben Zobrist” for his incredible versatility on defense, junior shortstop and infielder Grady Maguire opened last season on a tear with hits in 10 of the first 11 games. He finished his sophomore season hitting .357, with 20 runs scored and 12 RBI.
Outlook: District runners-up last season and riding a streak of four straight regional playoff appearances, Wharton will again bring a highly-talented team to the table this season.
The Wildcats will be led by senior pitcher and outfielder Brian Baughman, who burst onto the scene last year by hitting .398, more than 100 points better than his 2017 batting average, scored 26 runs and went 6-3 on the mound with a 1.94 ERA and 60 strikeouts.
Sophomore Zach Ehrhard had an impressive varsity debut last year, hitting .371 and scoring 20 runs, while Mike Hudson (see story on previous page) had 15 RBI and Dylan McDonald drove in 14 runs, including one in each of the team’s last four games.
Freshman pitcher Ryan Fry hasn’t even thrown a high school pitch yet, but he already has made an early oral commitment to the University of Miami this winter and may make an immediate impact on the mound for the‘Cats. Lefthanded sophomore Michael Rivera transferred in from Alonso High, where he did not see any varsity action.
Hoffman says: “Our seniors like Brian (Baughman) and Mikey Hudson are guys we lean on a lot and they show how about we go about our business around here… the younger guys see and follow them.”
Coach: Brittany Bonea
Last season: 15-7, Class 8A, District 4 runner-up
Key returners: Jordyn Gendron (Sr., 3B); Jillian Long (Jr., P/OF); Hana Schwindler (Sr., P/2B); Tieley Vaughn (So., SS).
Promising newcomers: Riley Collins (Fr., P/2B/OF)
Breakout Star: A University of South Florida oral commitment as a freshman, Tieley Vaughn is a powerhouse hitter according to Bonea, who also boasts a cannon of an arm from shortstop. Last season, Vaughn was the leading hitter for the Wildcats amongst the regulars, hitting .352, with six doubles, 12 RBI and 15 runs scored.
Outlook: The Wildcats, 2-0 so far with a pair of shutout wins, cruised through district play last season, going 6-0 in the regular season, before winning its district tournament semifinal game against Wiregrass Ranch.
In two regular season games against Freedom, the Wildcats outlasted the Patriots.
However, in the district championship Wharton hitters were held to just four hits in a mercy-rule loss to Freedom, and then knocked out of the state playoffs 14-0 by East Ridge.
Despite the end-of-season stumble last year, Bonea, a former Saint Leo University player, has steered the Wildcats to three straight District championship games, and four straight winning seasons since taking over the program in 2015.
Wharton loses four of its top five hitters due to graduation, but will regroup offensively behind solid crop of returners.
Senior Jordyn Gendron (.306, 19 RBI and 10 runs scored in 2018), Hana Schwindler (.292, 12 runs scored) and Vaughn will key the offense.
Junior Jillian Long returns to the mound for her junior campaign after posting a 13-4 record last season, with a 3.33 ERA and 44 strikeouts. She leads the team with three RBI in two games this season.
Bonea says: “Our goal this year is to make sure that the players take their mental game as serious as their physical game.”
Coach: Tripp Merrell
Last season: 6-16 (1-5 in Class 8A-4)
Key returners: Mitchell Leroy (Sr., RHP), Jeremy Carrick (Sr., SS), Kevin Kirby (Jr., 1B/RHP), Brylan West (Jr., 3B/RHP).
Promising newcomers: Sebastian Burgess, Sr., Util/P; Jack Richardson Sr., OF
Breakout Star: The Patriots success this season will be highly dependent on pitching ace Mitchell Leroy, and according to Merrell the senior righty is just fine with that pressure. Mitchell is a workhorse on mound, who Merrell says is a “big-game pitcher,” who loves the limelight and wants to have the ball in his hands for the biggest game.
Outlook: Merrell is the fourth new baseball coach in as many years at Freedom, and he is tasked with turning around a program that has had only one winning season, back in 2012. A Sickles High grad and former college player at Webber International University in Babson Park, FL, Merrell will likely lean on Leroy, who was 2-4 last season.
However, the Hillborough Community College oral commitment posted a 2.88 ERA, with 59 strikeouts in 56 innings. He is 6-foot-3, and boasts a fastball that gets up to 90 mph.
Jeremy Carrick, a four-year starter committed to NCAA Division III’s Norwich University in Vermont, will play a pivotal role on defense and will look to be a leader at the plate after scoring a team-best 16 runs last season, while juniors Kevin Kirby and Brylan West (the top returning hitter with a .267 average) will contribute at the plate and on the mound this season.
Returning for their final prep seasons after two years away from the program are seniors Sebastian Burgess and Jack Richardson, who Merrell hopes can be impact players this season for the Patriots.
Merrell says: “We have a tough schedule and I’m happy about the teams we played in the fall. And in most of those games, we hung in there and I feel like those things prepared us for this tough district. Come (district tournament) time you only have to win one game to advance, but I know every team in our district.”
Coach: Autumn Hernandez
Last season: 19-6 (Class 8A-District 4 Champions, region semifinalist)
Key returners: Ellis Erickson (Jr., C); Lilly Kiester (So., OF); Abigail Vandeberg (Sr., SS).
Promising newcomer: Kylie Coffin (Jr., P; see photo)
Breakout Star: A speedy runner with a great ability to read the ball off the bat, sophomore Lilly Kiester is already one of the best outfielders in the county according to Hernandez. As a freshman, Kiester scored 26 times last season and hit .333.
Outlook: Freedom is already 2-0 and have outscored opponents 34-6 in its first two wins, a year after claiming its first softball district title last season. The Patriots hope to build on that with a junior-heavy lineup, but one that returns a lot of starting experience. For Hernandez, leaders like Ellis Erickson (.442, 19 RBI, 21 runs, and six doubles in 2018) and senior Abigail Vandeberg (.361, 20 runs, 17 RBI) will be crucial to the success for the Patriots, who are still adjusting to some defensive realignment heading into the start of the season.
Erickson, who already has a homer and four RBI and has already orally committed to play in college for Northern Illinois, is the “heartbeat of the team” according to Hernandez and is the field general from behind the plate.
The Patriots biggest boost on defense, however, might come from its most crucial new edition – Carrollwood Day School junior transfer Kylie Coffin. Last season while pitching CDS to the Class 3A regional final, she posted a 17-9 record with a 1.90 ERA and 156 strikeouts. Relying on a nasty screwball and a solid curve, she will immediately take over the heavy lifting on the mound for Freedom, and she is no slouch at the plate after hitting .487 with three home runs and 32 RBI for CDS.
In two games, Coffin is making a serious impact, going 5-for-7 at the plate with two homers and nine RBI, and has struck out 13 batters in seven innings pitched.
Senior Abigail Vandeberg makes the move from first base to shortstop this season, filling a key role defensively for the Patriots, and returns solid numbers at the plate after hitting .361 with 17 RBI last season.
Hernandez says: “We are a small team this season with just 11 players, so we are moving a lot of players around the field this season. To fill some holes, I’ve had to move some people to new spots, so there may be a bit of a learning situation taking place early on. But I think we are getting better every day, and once we get into district play I expect us to be ready.”
Outlook: Merrell is the fourth new baseball coach in as many years at Freedom, and he is tasked with turning around a program that has had only one winning season, back in 2012. A Sickles High grad and former college player at Webber International University in Babson Park, FL, Merrell will likely lean on Leroy, who was 2-4 last season.However, the Hillborough Community College oral commitment posted a 2.88 ERA, with 59 strikeouts in 56 innings. He is 6-foot-3, and boasts a fastball that gets up to 90 mph.Jeremy Carrick, a four-year starter committed to NCAA Division III’s Norwich University in Vermont, will play a pivotal role on defense and will look to be a leader at the plate after scoring a team-best 16 runs last season, while juniors Kevin Kirby and Brylan West (the top returning hitter with a .267 average) will contribute at the plate and on the mound this season.
Merrell says: “We have a tough schedule and I’m happy about the teams we played in the fall. And in most of those games, we hung in there and I feel like those things prepared us for this tough district. Come (district tournament) time you only have to win one game to advance, but I know every team in our district