Posted: 2:29 am Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

Palm Beach Gardens softball ranked fifth in the nation 

By Jeff Greer

Palm Beach Gardens is a feared name in Palm Beach County softball circles, and for good reason. The Gators have won four of the past seven Class 6A state championships — including the past two — and they’re heavily favored to win the 8A title this spring in Clermont.

But they aren’t just a statewide power. ESPN Rise this week ranked Gardens as the fifth-best softball team in the nation in its preseason Fab 50 poll. Fellow Florida schools Miami-Gulliver Prep (2), Niceville (8), Plantation-American Heritage (18), Bartow (24), Melbourn-Eau Gallie (28) and Sarasota (36) are also in the top 50.

After graduating five starters from last year’s state-title winning group, Gardens simply reloaded. Post Co-Player of the Year Shelby Turnier is back, as are All-Area first teamers Ta’Coia Williams and Taylor Schwarz, both Division I-bound players, and shortstop Liz Spring. Several youngsters who were reserves last year have stepped into key roles, and a few freshmen studs are making an immediate impact. Freshman second baseman Tiffany Lower started the year on a tear, and Spring has vastly improved as a power hitter.

Gardens (6-0) has been unstoppable in the early parts of the 2012 season. The Gators have outscored opponents 52-2.