If there’s a team in Pasco County that’s on a mission to avenge last season, some might say it’s Academy at the Lakes for losing in the Class 2A state semifinals. Others may say Gulf, which lost to Brooksville Hernando in the Class 5A region quarterfinals last spring. The Royal Knights might pose the best argument amongst the Pasco County teams that got bounced out of the postseason, with River Ridge losing soundly in back-to-back region finals to Bradenton Lakewood Ranch.
River Ridge went on a similar tear last season and they’re starting off fast again, as the Royal Knights have racked up eight straight wins and have outscored opponents 81-5. Blowout victories against Wiregrass Ranch (10-0), Ridgewood (15-0), Wesley Chapel (10-0) and Pasco (15-0) were expected, but an early showdown with Class 2A’s No. 1 ranked Canterbury might be a better indicator of how much River Ridge has improved as a team. River Ridge upended Canterbury 2-1 and now can look ahead to some in-county matchups looming against Sunlake, Zephyrhills and Fivay.
“When you’re trying to make a schedule out, I wanted to schedule a team that has been to the big show,” River Ridge coach Ernie Beck said . “I think these girls need tests and last night’s (Thursday) test was a big win. This year, we all decided to play each other in district just once and it’s opened up the schedule. You always want to play good competition.”
A host of players have been contributing in River Ridge’s early season success, including senior Morgan Tolle, who is batting .478, driven in 14 runs and has belted two home runs. River Ridge ace Makenzie Goluba has been stellar on the mound thus far, boasting a 0.37 ERA, a 7-0 record and has struck out 30 batters. Others who are contributing to River Ridge are Kenzi Maguire (15 hits, 14 RBIs) and Madisyn Palmer (13 hits, 3 RBIs).
McElderry picking up where she left off
One of the obvious strengths in Pasco County softball this season is the amount of quality pitchers. With aces like Makenzie Goluba (River Ridge), Madison Morlan (Gulf) and Jordan Fowler (Mitchell) all on the west side of the county, another who will have to have a strong season for her team is Fivay’s Jill McElderry.
“(McElderry) has been a pitcher for 4 years and she’s going to hold every pitching record we got when she leaves,” Fivay coach Greg Bollinger said. “She’s going to keep playing next year, so that’s a special thing to have. We’re lucky to have her.”
Through six games, the Manatee College signee has a record of 4-2 and has struck out 63 batters. McElderry hasn’t just been doing it on the mound, but has excelled at the plate as well. The senior is batting a team-high .647 with 11 hits, 10 runs scored, three RBIs and a double.
Three teams ranked in latest state poll
Of the three counties that make up the Tampa Bay area, Pasco County has the most teams ranked in the latest state softball poll. Hillsborough had its lone representative in Seffner Christian in Class 3A; Admiral Farragut (Class 3A) and Canterbury (Class 2A) represent Pinellas.
Among the teams that were ranked from Pasco County was No. 3 River Ridge (8-0) and No. 10 Gulf (6-0) in Class 5A, and No. 2 Academy at the Lakes (6-1) in Class 2A. Mitchell (8-0) received votes in the Class 6A poll.
Correspondent Andy Villamarzo covers Pasco County prep softball and can be reached at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @avillamarzo.