By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
The Sun recognized 11 players as the top performers in the area in 2016. Charlotte’s Taylor Kirkus was the player of the year, and 10 others made the all-area team.
Of those 11 athletes, Lemon Bay’s Summer Jones was the only senior. That means in 2017 some excellent players are returning and the level of play in this area is likely going to greatly improve.
Charlotte was the area’s most successful team a year ago, going 18-6 and losing only two games to teams not named Fort Myers. The fourth loss to the Green Wave knocked the Tarpons out in the regional semifinals. After graduating only one senior, a district championship and a spot in the regional could be looming.
Lemon Bay was the other area team to make the regional playoffs a year ago, falling in the opening round. Jones was the Manta Rays’ only player to depart, so their core returns as well.
Port Charlotte and North Port lost a little more in graduating players than Charlotte or Lemon Bay, but a solid group of young players for both the Bobcats and Pirates should help them be more competitive in 2017.
Softball is one of the few team sports where all four area teams play each other, and they do so multiple times. There will be about a dozen opportunities to see the four teams square off against each other.
FOUR TO WATCH
Taylor Koohns, C
North Port – Senior
Koohns hit .500 with seven doubles and 16 RBI last year. Now in her senior season, look for an increase in power as she continues to be a presence behind the plate for the Bobcats pitchers.
Kasi Shaffer, 1B
Lemon Bay – Senior
Shaffer had an incredible junior season with a .520 average, 20 doubles and 37 RBI. There’s no reason to think the Jacksonville University-commit won’t match or exceed those numbers as a senior.
Abby Hayse, IF
Charlotte – Junior
Hayse was as clutch as it gets as a sophomore, getting many key hits in important games. Expect a line similar to her .433 average last year, but it could also be bolstered by an increase in power.
Seaaira Yiengst, P
Port Charlotte – Sophomore
Yiengst pitched more than 85 percent of Port Charlotte’s innings as a freshman, winning 12 games with 134 strikeouts. Look for those numbers to go up with her 4.79 ERA and 1.91 WHIP to go down.
COACH: Dennis Bell
DISTRICT: 7A-11 (Charlotte, Fort Myers, North Port, Venice)
LAST SEASON: 6-12; lost to Fort Myers in district semifinals.
PLAYERS LOST: Kylie Bell, Allyson Stewart
PLAYERS RETURNING: Taylor Koohns, Sr. C; Skylar Poitras, Sr. C/2B; Brianna Mitchell, Sr. 1B/OF; Brianna Heider, Sr. UTL; Jordan Grundvig, Sr. OF; Kylie Murray, So. SS; Courtney Senna, Jr. 3B.
NEWCOMERS: Liberty Pence, Fr. P/UTL; Ashley Nelson, Fr. P/IF; Nadia Playter, Fr. P/1B.
OUTLOOK: The Bobcats experience at the plate, while the arms are all freshmen. Koohns, Poitras and Murray will lead offensively and defensively for North Port. As for the circle, those freshman pitchers likely will struggle at first as they get acclimated to the varsity level before hitting stride by the end of the season. Look for that Bobcats’ record to creep more toward the .500 mark this year, with the goal of winning a district tournament game.
COACH: Greg Higgins
DISTRICT: 7A-10 (Fort Myers, Charlotte, North Port, Venice)
LAST SEASON: 18-6; lost to Fort Myers in regional semifinals
PLAYERS LOST: Kendall Chavarria
PLAYERS RETURNING: Kaylee Brannon, Sr. IF; Julie Dedrick, Sr. P; Taylor Kirkus, Jr. IF; Abby Hayse, Jr. IF; Tiffany Dodson, Sr., 1B/P/OF; Marissa Stack, Sr. IF; Haley Cabral, Jr. P/IF/OF; Kaylie Chavarria, Sr. OF.
NEWCOMERS: Kerstyn Shaw, Fr. C/OF; Alyssa Opsahl, Fr. I/OF; Kaitlyn Hopper, Fr. C/IF.
OUTLOOK: Charlotte returns The Sun’s 2016 all-area player of the year in Kirkus, the area’s top pitcher from last year (Dedrick) and three more members of the all-area team (Dodson, Chavarria and Hayse). In addition to Brannon and Stack, and a solid group of freshmen, the Tarpons have very few, if any, holes on their roster. Those returnees won’t forget the way they lost to Fort Myers last year, and are eyeing some revenge this year.
COACH: Kim Pinkham
DISTRICT: 5A-12 (DeSoto County, Dunbar, Lake Placid, Lemon Bay)
LAST SEASON: 12-10; Lost to Bayshore in regional quarterfinals.
PLAYERS LOST: Summer Jones
PLAYERS RETURNING: Kasi Shaffer, Sr. 1B; Brooke Kvaternick, Sr. 3B; Logan Johnson, Jr. P.
NEWCOMERS: Karlie Sweiberk, So. IF; Bailey Grossenbacher, Fr. P; Christain Chandler, Fr. P.
OUTLOOK: The Manta Rays return a strong group that had much success last year. Shaffer, Kvaternick and Johnson all will look to continue to progress after great years in 2016. Johnson, who was new to pitching last year, was still one of the top arms in the area. Look for Grossenbacher to step in a provide a one-two punch with Johnson in the circle.
COACH: Ryann Baker
DISTRICT: 6A-11 (Cape Coral, Cypress Lake, Ida Baker, Island Coast, Mariner, North Fort Myers, Port Charlotte)
LAST SEASON: 12-14; lost to Mariner in district semifinals
PLAYERS LOST: Maranda Greene, Emily McVety, Danielle Ferrentino, Samantha Hagerty
PLAYERS RETURNING: Seaaira Yiengst, So. P; Brittany Ferrentino, Jr. IF; Taylor Innello, Jr. OF Andi Suarez, Sr. I; Suzanne Holt, Jr. IF.
NEWCOMERS: Ali Eugenius, Fr. P/IF
OUTLOOK: The Pirates had the most seniors on their roster in the area last year, so they’ll be relying on some new names to fill those holes. Look for Port Charlotte to possibly throw out a different lineup or defensive assignments every game. All players can be playing different positions, depending who is pitching, and this should help them learn more about the game. Expect Ferrentino, who was an all-area player in 2016 and Yiengst, who had a breakout freshman year, to continue to make great strides.