- By Jodie Wagner Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Palm Beach County was well-represented at the state softball championships in Vero Beach last spring.
Four area teams — Jupiter, Wellington, Oxbridge Academy and Glades Day — advanced to the state semifinals at Historic Dodgertown, while the Wolverines and ThunderWolves made the state title game in Classes 8A and 4A, respectively.
As the 2018 season gets underway, all four teams have high hopes to repeat last season’s accomplishments. But there will be challenges along the way.
Jupiter, which made it to the Class 9A state semifinals before falling 1-0 to Palm Harbor University, lost two-time Palm Beach Post Player of the Year Ally Costa to graduation, plus a pair of clutch hitters in infielders Bailey Phillips and Rachel Frankhouser.
However, the Warriors return a strong group of seniors, with catcher Ashley Goebel, third baseman Megan McCants and leftfielder Shelby Russo leading the way.
Replacing Costa on the mound will be a pair of sophomores — Marisa Mellone and Madi Leonard — and their development will be key this season, head coach Steve Ahern said.
“This year we have a young team,” Ahern said. “Our focus will be on getting better each game until we find our identity on how this team will win games.”
Glades Day has a more veteran group returning from a team that finished 12-14 and advanced to the Class 2A state semifinals.
The Gators return six starters, including senior pitcher Jaylin Smith — an All-Area first-teamer last season — junior first baseman Emilee Perkins (.313 batting average), and sophomore catcher Olivia Esquivel (.297).
Glades Day also has a pair of talented newcomers in outfielders Kennedy Derouchers and Allison Deaton.
“We hope to return this year to the state Final Four,” longtime coach Sherri Paez said. “We have two key positions to fill, but hopefully with our 24-game schedule, we will work out all the kinks. We plan on taking one game at a time and improving as we go.”
Wellington and Oxbridge Academy each lose a couple of key players from last season, but have the bulk of their starting lineups returning.
For the Wolverines, who lost to nationally ranked Orange Park-Oakleaf 6-1 in the Class 8A state title game, junior shortstop Sarah Longley, senior third baseman Bailey Cain and pitchers Kate Desimone and Katie Schmidt are back.
And for the ThunderWolves, who fell 4-2 to Miami-Westminster Christian in the Class 4A state championship game, hard-hitting pitcher/first baseman Caridad Estes, catcher Josie Foreman, infielder Madalynn Davis and outfielder Christian Glenn return.
Oxbridge also added junior outfielder Ariel Girardi from Dwyer and freshman pitcher/outfielder Jena Whipple from American Heritage, while former Palm Beach Gardens pitcher Dani Farley joins the Wolverines.
“Our goal of course is to get back to the state tournament,” Wellington coach Mark Boretti said. “But the road will be very difficult.”