Top contenders

Great pitching key to success

Reliable pitching is often the most important component for a successful high school softball team.

With numerous perennial favorites, including Palmetto and Southwest starting talented but unproven pitchers this season, whichever team can get enough of it will likely emerge as Miami-Dade County’s top Class 8A squad.

Southwest could have a head start in terms of experience as it starts a new era under first-year coach Ray Blanco.

The Eagles will be led by senior Samantha Lanzas, who pitched some last season behind ace Cassandra Perez. Southwest has seven seniors and a talented group of nine underclassmen as well.

Southwest should also have one of the better lineups in the county, led by seniors Alexandra Castellanos at shortstop, Emily San Nicolas at second base and Amanda Laguardia in center field.

“We have lots of leadership on this team, and that’s going to help especially with our new coaches coming in,” Blanco said. “It could also be our best hitting lineup in a long time here at the school.”

Coral Reef also is considered one of the county’s top Class 8A contenders with a talented squad led by sophomore pitcher/infielder Carsyn Gordon, who hit .562 with four home runs last year as a freshman.

Palmetto is coming off a state runner-up finish in Class 8A and returns three of the county’s best position players: outfielders Megan Greenwell (UCF commitment), Gaby Spallone (FIU) and catcher Emily Rodriguez.

But the Panthers lost All-Dade ace Meg Parker, who went to Cornell, and must find a reliable arm to replace her if they are to contend.

Coral Gables returns twins Christie (senior pitcher) and Catie Falcon (senior catcher) after making it to the regional finals last season. Lourdes is hoping senior Vanessa Flores will lead a veteran group back to the playoffs as well.

Blanco, who coached at the middle school level for the past seven years, took the job after Iris Carpio stepped down. Blanco is being assisted by Reny Perez, who has been on the Eagles’ coaching staff the past six years.

The most notable difference in the dugout for Southwest will be the absence of longtime coach Maria Alvarez, who helped develop the Eagles’ players for more than 20 years.

“We have all the respect in the world for what Maria was able to do here for so many years,” Blanco said. “We hope we can continue to bring the tough and disciplined style she brought to this team. She set the tone for this program.”

Read more Miami-Dade High Schools stories from the Miami Herald

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