Posted: 2:55 pm Friday, May 10th, 2013

Softball: A very early look at the 2014 season 

By Jeff Greer

American Heritage is the area’s only state champ in 2013. Several other programs put together nice runs, including King’s Academy and Palm Beach Central. West Boca got back to the regional finals despite losing its best pitcher.

But the 2013 softball campaign is over. Let’s handicap the 2014 season.

Jupiter loses ace pitcher Kylee Hanson to graduation. How much will that hurt the Warriors in 2014?

Most of the area’s top teams lose a serious crop of talented seniors:

American Heritage, fresh off its third consecutive state title, loses starting pitcher Corrie Boggess (Indian River), center fielder Marissa Mangini (GW), shortstop Whitney Farris (Florida A&M), pitcher Madison Hir (UAB) and left fielder Sarah Collier.

Jupiter must find a replacement for four-year ace Kylee Hanson, a Florida Miss Softball candidate who’s headed to FAU. But the Warriors’ middle infield unit of Lauren Frye (Caldwell) and Bri Rano (Nova Southeastern) will also graduate, and their defense will be very tough to replace.

Palm Beach Central made a nice run to the Class 8A regional finals, but now graduate catcher Marina Carmona (FIU), third baseman Alex Pisa, shortstop Kristen Garceau, right fielder Victoria Manning and center fielder Sara Vazquez.

Palm Beach Gardens won the toughest district tournament in the state (9-8A), and now must find replacements for outfielder Ta’Coia Williams (USF), catcher Virginia Spring (Central Florida CC), first baseman/outfielder Sara Diskant and second baseman Jessie Lopes.

Once again King’s Academy must find another starting pitcher, this time to replace Allison Willcox.

That’s just a sample of who’s leaving — there are so many more. That said, let’s try to figure out which teams will be ranked to start the 2014 slate.

1. Palm Beach Gardens
Losing the area’s best all-around non-pitcher, Ta’Coia Williams, is a major blow to Gardens, which also loses three other savvy vets in Diskant, Lopes and Spring. But the Gators return a Division I-bound left side of the infield (Tiffany Lower and Sydney Jones), plus freshmen pitchers Kelsey Lay and Bailey Whalen. Center fielder Minnie Cocuzza showed signs of star power in her first year of major time, and left fielder Montanah Rogers will be back to provide some speed and a good bat at the bottom of the order. Freshman pitcher Kaylin Kramer adds another arm to the mix, and Randy Jackson likes the potential of other freshmen Britney Schmidt and Gina Tucciarone.

2. Palm Beach Central
The hardest thing to do is replace a pitcher, and that’s not a problem Central has. The Broncos lose a ton of talent — three starting infielders and two starting outfielders — but ace Amanda Blanchard will be back for another season, as will star first baseman Kasandra Castle. Both players are in the top two in the area at their positions, so that’s a good place to start when reloading a roster. Megan Granitto, a regular in left field, is also back for another season. Central’s biggest challenge will be finding players — by the end of the season, the Broncos only had 11 players on the roster.

3. American Heritage
Corrie Boggess graduates this spring, going out a winner. Boggess won two state titles with Heritage and helped Wellington reach the state semis in 2011. Not a bad run. With her and Madison Hir both off the books for 2014, Heritage turns to Kerri Stevens (27 IP in 2013), Ashley Niesman (4 1/3 IP) and Addison Simpson (2 1/3 IP) to handle its pitching load. Niesman is the team’s second baseman, and a very good one at that, so it’s tough to imagine her moving out of the infield. Junior Jessie Mohl has another season, too, and she is one of the underrated players in the county. First baseman Casey Estes, catcher Toni Pancione and outfielders Alex Simpson and Steph Sciandra all have plenty of seasoning, too.

4. Park Vista
Perhaps the best all-around 2014 player is back for one more go-around. Shortstop Emily Lochten provides versatility, speed, arm strength, power hitting and a nice glove for the Cobras. The FAU-bound Lochten is a nice piece around which Vista can build the rest of its roster. Pitcher Gabby Decker will be back, giving the Cobras a savvy veteran in the circle. Both Taylor and Jaime Scher return, and they’re both solid bats.

5. Jupiter
This may be the area’s toughest team to peg in 2014. The Warriors lose major star power in Hanson, and not having two fantastic fielding middle infielders really hurts. The hitting problems hurt Jupiter this spring, and not having a lightning-fast lead-off hitter like Devin Williams, who was a fantastic center fielder on the 2012 state semifinals team, didn’t help. But you know what? Jupiter gets catcher Alex Arciola, first baseman Kasey McMullen and Savanna Stone back. McMullen can be a very tough out, and plays a good first base. Arciola emerged as a star this season, and last in the campaign became a clutch hitter with good power.

Best of the Rest
6. Wellington
7. West Boca Raton
8. Suncoast
9. Seminole Ridge
10. Dwyer

In the hunt
Spanish River, King’s Academy, Trinity Christian, Boca.