Hillsborough Pitcher of the Year: Ashley Blessin, Jr., Plant City
Using her vast arsenal of pitches, Blessin went 21-6 with a 0.90 ERA and had 245 strikeouts in 162.2 innings pitched for the Class 8A, District 6 champion.
Blessin was the reigning two-time county Pitcher of the Year who led her team to two straight district titles and a state semifinal appearance last season. Graduation did a number on the lineup, but the one constant was Blessin, who kept Plant City in games by keeping opponents off the scoreboard. The Raiders won a district title for the fourth straight year and reached the region final in consecutive seasons for the first time.
“It was big to win districts again because the seniors were able to do it all four years,” Blessin said. “To get back to the region finals was a big accomplishment, too.”
The Marshall commit is doing crossfit training this summer to work on her strength and stamina. She also is playing travel ball.
Hillsborough Player of the Year: Jodi Handler, Sr., Alonso
The four-year starter finished her senior season with an 18-5 record, 0.96 ERA and had 202 strikeouts in 152.2 innings pitched.
Handler gained some notoriety two years ago when she pitched the bulk of the Ravens’ playoff games during their run to the Class 9A state title game. One of the postseason wins came against rival Newsome, a team Alonso lost to three in 2016. The Ravens had been trying to get back to the title game ever since. Handler almost got them there.
As a senior, Handler had her best season while facing quality competition seemingly every game. She led Alonso to a title in the inaugural Angela Slater Memorial tournament and helped the Ravens reach the region final. Along the way, Alonso again beat Newsome in the region semifinals, snapping a four-game losing streak to its rival.
Handler, a Georgia Southern signee, is training every day in the gym or on the field, and is playing in travel ball tournaments before heading off to college.
North Suncoast Player of the Year: Alexis Kilfoyl, Jr., Academy at the Lakes
The Wildcat ace had a 23-1 record with a 0.23 ERA and 249 strikeouts in 154 innings pitched in leading AATL to the Class 2A state title. At the plate, she hit a team-leading .482 with five home runs and 35 RBIs.
Kilfoyl was the most decorated player in the state. She became the first area player named the Gatorade state player of the year since Chamberlain’s Bianka Bell in 2012. And she was the first area player selected as the Florida Dairy Farmers state player of the year since Palm Harbor University’s Dani Hofer in 2005. In the 2A title game, Kilfoyl threw an 11-inning shutout and had the winning hit in a 1-0 victory over defending champion Aucilla Christian.
Kilfoyl, the nation’s top pitching prospect in the 2019 class, committed to Alabama before the start of her freshman season. She will continue to play travel ball this summer.
North Suncoast Pitcher of the Year: Callie Turner, Jr., Land O’Lakes
The reigning Pitcher of the Year put up solid numbers again, going 17-6 with a 0.78 ERA and recording 252 strikeouts in 153.1 innings pitched.
Land O’Lakes, the defending Class 6A state champion, lost twice to rival River Ridge, including the district title game. That meant Land O’Lakes had to go on the road to make it back to a state final four. Turner delivered.
She pitched shutouts in two of the Gators’ three playoff games. She also came through with key hits, including the winning one to beat Crystal River in the region final. In the state semifinals, Turner threw a no-hitter with 11 strikeouts in a 5-0 win over Clay. The Gators’ run ended in the state final with a 5-1 loss to Plantation American Heritage.
Turner is close friends with Academy at the Lakes’ ace Alexis Kilfoyl. Their fathers — Dave Turner and Homer Kilfoyl — both work for Delta Airlines. And they both live in the same Land O’Lakes neighborhood, less than a five-minute car ride apart. Turner, a Tennessee commit, played with Kilfoyl on a travel team this summer.
Pinellas Player of the Year: Faith Allen, Jr., Palm Harbor University
The outfielder hit .522 with three homers and 30 RBIs to help the Hurricanes go 18-7.
PHU entered the season as the defending Class 9A state finalist. To reach the title game again, the Hurricanes had to get through arguably the toughest district in the state (9A-8). PHU prepared by playing a challenging schedule that included 12 of its 25 games against teams that reached the region semifinals.
Allen played her best in those games, hitting .436 (17-of-39). Her most memorable moment came in a 10-0 win over defending state champion West Orange, the team the Hurricanes lost to the year before in the title game. The only thing PHU was unable to do was get back to the playoffs. The Hurricanes lost to Alonso in the district semifinals.
Allen has already committed to Palm Beach Atlantic. She is spending the summer playing travel ball.
Pinellas Pitcher of the Year: Tori Brennan, So., East Lake
Pitching in the biggest games, Brennan went 12-2 with a 0.87 ERA and had 118 strikeouts in 89 innings pitched for the Class 8A, District 7 champion Eagles.
East Lake graduated five starters from last season. With so many holes to fill in the lineup, the Eagles were uncertain how they would fare. Brennan kept them in games whenever she was on the mound. East Lake ended up playing in the Pinellas County Athletic Conference title game for the first time in more than a decade and finished with one of the best records (23-4) in school history. Brennan pitched in the conference championship game, the district final and region quarterfinals, all wins.
Brennan is taking the summer off from playing softball. She is still taking pitching lessons and continues to work on her hitting. Once school starts, Brennan might resume playing in the fall to get ready for the high school season.
Co-coaches of the Year: Admiral Farragut’s Linda Derk and AATL’s Diane Stephenson
Derk and Stephenson have known each other for more for than two decades. They were rival head coaches in college (Derk at Indiana State and Stephenson at Indiana) who became friends. This year, they guided their high school programs to their first state titles. Derk’s Blue Jackets won in Class 3A; Stephenson’s Wildcats won in 2A. They were the only state titles from bay area programs this season.
First teamP Melanie Rogers, Jr., River Ridge: Warner commit finished 21-5 with a 1.21 ERA and 258 strikeouts and led the Royal Knights to a district title.
P Ali Shenefield, Jr., Hernando: Rollins commit was 23-4 and had a 1.01 ERA with 278 strikeouts for the region finalist Leopards.
P Alanah Rivera, So., Boca Ciega: USF commit put up impressive numbers (29 RBIs, six homers; 1.90 ERA, 190 strikeouts) for the district champion Pirates.
P Savannah Farkas, Sr., Northside Christian: Florida Dairy Farmers Class 3A pitcher of the year was 14-9 with a 0.68 ERA and 314 strikeouts.
C Paige Pfent, Sr., Springstead: North Florida signee showed off her power with a .575 average to go along with 10 home runs and 38 RBIs to lead the Eagles to the region semifinals.
IF Brooke Blankenship, Fr., Academy at the Lakes: FSU commit had a .467 average with homers and 20 RBIs and was stellar in the field for the Class 2A state champion.
IF Hailey Smith, Jr., River Ridge: Hudson transfer was the offensive catalyst for the Royal Knights, finishing with a .583 average, two homers and 35 RBIs.
IF Madyson Lamp, Jr., Hernando: Weeki Wachee transfer was the big bat in the lineup, hitting .566 with five homers and 40 RBIs.
IF Lani Trent, Jr., Chamberlain: Slugger hit .479 with seven homers and 46 RBIs to lead the Chiefs to the region final. Also had a .976 fielding percentage.
OF Kendra Falby, Fr., Sunlake: Florida commit was the ultimate table setter with a .644 average, 31 RBIs and 35 stolen bases.
OF Jada Smallwood, So., Newsome: Maryland commit hit .465, two homers and 19 RBIs for the district champion Wolves.
OF Jessica Bryson, Jr., River Ridge: Louisiana-Monroe was a key piece at the top of the lineup and hit .448 with 21 RBIs for the Royal Knights.
UTIL Ashley Autuori, Sr., Mitchell: Ace was adept at preventing runs and scoring them. Hit .407 with 47 RBIs and had a 2.49 ERA with 94 strikeouts.
DH Kaia LoPreste, Jr., Riverview: FSU commit was the Sharks’ biggest offensive threat, hitting .530 with seven homers and 35 RBIs.
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