Miami Palmetto, a proud softball program that has won three state championships, has spent the past three seasons trying to solve a puzzle — how to beat rival Coral Reef.
Figuring out the answer could propel the Panthers back to the state final four — a place they have been nine times in the past two decades.
The teams have met 15 times over the past three seasons.
Coral Reef beat Palmetto every time.
Palmetto hopes its talented roster and the graduation of numerous stars on a Coral Reef squad that won a state championship and made visits to state each of the past three seasons is enough for the Panthers to finally get past their nemesis.
“We did not graduate anyone from last year and we have a couple of new players that will round out this program,” Palmetto coach Emilio Exposito said. “We have depth at every position.”
At the center of Palmetto’s core of players is senior Amanda Guglietta.
A versatile pitcher who can also play corner infield, Guglietta has pitched the tough innings in big games for the Panthers the past two seasons. If she and junior Daijaa Williams can pitch consistently, it might be enough for the Panthers to get past a tough region in the newly-formed Class 9A.
Palmetto’s infield is one of its biggest strengths, and it is led by prolific hitters Kiley Kross, a sophomore shortstop, senior Erin Love, a corner infielder, and middle infielder Brittany Phillips.
Love, who also is used as an outfielder at times, is joined by sophomore Hannah Burge in that Palmetto outfield.
Coral Reef lost a long list of key players, including Miami Herald Player of the Year Carsyn Gordon and Kylan Becker, who captained one of Miami-Dade County’s best hitting and defensive infields for three seasons.
Coral Reef is not completely devoid of talent.
The Barracudas return senior first baseman Michelle Ryan and catcher Carolina Colli as well as a talented outfield led by junior Amanda Grullon and seniors Tyanni Guzman and Samantha Lorenzo.
Pitching will be crucial as Coral Reef is counting on junior Rebecca Sutton to fill in for departed two-year starter Michelle Mesa.
The two teams figure to battle again in District 16 and hold off several other contenders, including Southwest and South Dade, each of which has one of its better teams in recent years.
A few of the county’s best came within one or two victories of a state championship last season.
Westminster Christian took one of the toughest of those losses, losing in the Class 3A state final to Lakeland Christian by one run. The Warriors, led by pitchers Victoria Perez and Brooklyn Maguire, outfielder Nikkia Benitez and shortstop Ally Mena, appear to be strong enough to make another run after moving up to Class 4A.
Gulliver moved up to Class 5A and is back in the state championship conversation. The Raiders, who won’t start the regular season until Feb. 23 while they wait for key players from the school’s basketball and soccer teams to be ready for softball, still have a major obstacle in their way in reigning state champion Coral Springs Charter. Senior shortstop Jessica Rivera (a Lynn University commit) and senior outfielder Brianna Bahadue, an FIU signee, lead the Raiders.
Doral Academy, led by seniors Sydney Lageyre, Alyssa Rodriguez and Grethell Santos, moved up to Class 7A and figures to have enough to make another attempt to break through to state after coming up short in the regional finals each of the past two seasons.
March 3-5: Speedball Classic at Silver Lakes West
March 10-12: SlamFest tournament
March 31-April 2: Kissimmee Klassic
April 4-8: GMAC championship
April 11-15: Districts
April 20: Class 9A-5A regional quarterfinals
April 21: Class 4A-1A regional semifinals
April 26: Class 9A-5A regional semifinals; Class 4A-1A regional finals
April 29: Class 9A-5A regional finals
May 4-7: State tournament at Historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach
2015 STATE CHAMPIONS
Class 8A: Lithia Newsome; 7A: Cantonment Tate; 6A: Ocala Forest; 5A: Baker County; 4A: Coral Springs Charter; 3A: Lakeland Christian; 2A: Monticello Aucilla Christian; 1A: Chiefland.
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS
P Amanda Guglietta, Palmetto, Sr.; P Sofia Dominguez, Pace, Sr.; P Mekayla Frazier, Gulliver, 8th; P Victoria Perez, Westminster Christian, So.; P-OF Faith Vazquez, Florida Christian, Sr.; INF Kiley Kross, Palmetto, So.; INF Monica Marquez, Pace, Jr.; INF Jessica Rivera, Gulliver, Sr.; INF Sydney Lageyre, Doral Academy, Sr.; OF Nikkia Benitez, Westminster Christian, Jr.; OF Briana Bahadue, Gulliver, Sr.; OF Ashley Castano, Westminster Christian, Jr.; C Ally Mena, Westminster Christian, Jr.; C Thea Ramirez, South Dade, Sr.; C-OF Grethell Santos, Doral, Sr.
OTHERS TO WATCH
P: Destyn Jones, Gulliver, So.; Tayler Sanchez, Terra, Sr.; Emily Santos, Miami Springs, Sr.; Rebecca Sutton, Coral Reef, Jr.; Daijaa Williams, Palmetto, Jr.; C: Carolina Colli, Coral Reef, Sr.; Katherine Dube, Southwest, Sr.; Kathleen Rios, Monsignor Pace, So.; INF: Carydad Bolivar, Braddock, So.; Natalie Costero, Goleman, Jr.; Erin Love, Palmetto, Sr.; Brittany Phillips, Palmetto, Jr.; Alyssa Rodriguez, Doral, Sr.; Natalie Rodriguez, Monsignor Pace, Jr.; DH: Michelle Ryan, Coral Reef, Sr.; OF: Aliana Bonilla, Coral Gables, Jr.; Ananda Grullon, Coral Reef, Jr.; Zaria Hall, South Dade, Sr.; Ana Hilton, Gulliver, Sr.; Kaylee Rodriguez, Doral, 8th; UT: Lilly Barlow, Gulliver, Jr.; Tiffany McBrayer, Ransom Everglades, So.; Taylor Sennett, Miami Country Day, Sr.
PRESEASON TOP 10
2. Westminster Christian
4. Coral Reef
6. Monsignor Pace
7. Florida Christian
10. South Dade
On the rise: Terra, Coral Gables, Miami Springs, Goleman.
NOTE: For complete team-by-team outlooks, visit the online version of this story at www.miamiherald.com/ high-schools
1. PALMETTO (Coach Emilio Exposito, 6th year). Last year: 20-9 (8A regional semifinalist). Top players: 3B-1B-P Amanda Guglietta, Sr.; SS Kiley Kross, So.; OF-3B-1B Erin Love, Sr.; 2B-SS Brittany Phillips, Jr.; OF Hannah Burge, So.; P Daijaa Williams, Jr.
2. CORAL REEF (Coach Dario Rodriguez, 4th year, 73-15). Last year: 27-5 (8A state runner-up). Top players: C-SS Carolina Colli, Sr.; 1B Michelle Ryan, Sr.; OF Ananda Grullon, Jr.; P Rebecca Sutton, Jr.; OF Tyanni Guzman, Sr.; OF Samantha Lorenzo, Sr.
3. SOUTHWEST (Coach Ray Blanco, 5th year at SW, 11th overall, 84-50). Last year: 15-9. Top players: C Katherine Dube, Sr.; SS Kayla Patino, Jr.; UT Amanda Shewchuck, Jr.; 3B Carolina Silverio, Jr.; P Unisis Suarez, Jr.; CF Anais Mauri, Jr.
4. SOUTH DADE – Top players: DH Thea Ramirez, Sr.; OF Zaria Hall, Sr.
5. CORAL GABLES (Coach Natalie De La Vega, 9th year). Last year: 17-8 (8A regional quarterfinalist). Top players: CF Aliana Bonilla, Jr.; SS Natalie Regalado, Jr.; P-3B Emma Cavo, Jr.; C Ashley Knapp, So.; 1B Victoria Garcia, Sr.
6. LOURDES (Coach Jose Estevez, 1st year at LOU, 6th overall, 73-51). Last year: 9-13. Top players: SS Nicole Gonzalez, Fr.; P-OF Natasha Gonzalez, So.; P-1B Nora Zubillaga, Fr.; 3B Stephanie Iglesias, So.; 1B Emalie Hernandez, Jr.; 2B Julianna Lorente, Sr.
7. BRADDOCK (Coach Addy Marcote, 26th year, 357-232-4). Last year: 13-8 (8A regional quarterfinalist). Top players: 1B-P Carydad Bolivar, So.; SS-2B Nicole Caldera, So.; OF Shelsea Brenes, Sr.; 2B Melissa Diaz, Sr.; 1B Pam Cubias, Sr.
8. KROP (Coach Krista Latessa, 11th year, 114-59). Last year: 17-5. Top players: UTL Taylor Coachman, Sr.; 1B Brooke Studnik, Jr.; OF Deborah Vainstein, Sr.; P Karina Delarosa, Jr.; C Kassidy Klein, Sr.
9. KILLIAN (Coach Otto Williams, 1st year). Last year: N/A. Top players: OF-1B Natalie De La Espriella, Jr.; C Maya Elias, Sr.; SS Geagny Mosquera, Sr.; 1B Kathedraa Cange, So.; 3B Rachel Cardenas, Fr.
10. CORAL PARK (Coach Horacio Sierra, 15th year, 115-155). Last year: 3-19. Top players: CF Genisis Flores, Sr.; 2B Nicole Reyes, Jr.; 1B Crystal Valdeon, Sr.; 3B Ecstacy Mirabal, Jr.
MATER ACADEMY (Coach Ann Infante, 10th year). Last year: 12-6. Top players: SS Ibis Abreu, Sr.; P Maria Barranco, Fr.; 1B Amanda Diaz, Sr.; OF Allani Loureiro, Sr.
1. DORAL ACADEMY (Coach Walter Acevedo, 8th year, 109-72). Last year: 21-6 (6A regional finalist). Top players: SS-3B Sydney Lageyre, Sr.; SS-3B Alyssa Rodriguez, Sr.; CF-C Grethell Santos, Sr.; 3B-OF Kaylee Rodriguez, 8th; P-OF Gabriella Ruiz, Fr.; C-3B Gabriella Rumie, Fr.
2. TERRA (Coach Crystal Forjan, 4th year). Last year: 21-6 (6A regional quarterfinalist). Top players: SS Oceana Camejo, Sr.; P Tayler Sanchez, Sr.; P-1B Veronnica Sanchez, So.; 2B Emma Tabares, Sr.; OF Michelle Arellano, So.
3. SUNSET (Coach Nick Cesarino, 9th year at Sun, 11th overall). Last year: 1-17. Top players: INF-OF Sabrina Perez, Sr.; INF Naomie Valme, Sr.; INF Angie Diaz, Jr.; C-INF Alexandra Poit, Jr.; INF Jerry Ann Britton, Jr.; INF Harley Tekerman, Jr.
1. MIAMI SPRINGS (Coach Charlie Green, 27th year, 555-112). Last year: 21-4 (6A regional quarterfinalist). Top players: P Emily Santos, Sr.; INF Nicole Borroto, Sr.; INF Kristin Medina, Jr.; C Briana Gomez, Jr.; INF Jasmine Echeverra, So.; C Amanda Pazon, Fr.
2. GOLEMAN (Coach Orlando Barreda, 9th year, 122-50). Last year: 17-4 (6A regional quarterfinalist). Top players: P-INF Natalie Costero, Jr.; INF Michelle Oliva, Sr.; UT Emily Bacallao, Jr.; OF Natalie Perez, Jr.; C Kourtney Lohn, Jr.; UT Juliet Viana, Jr.
1. GULLIVER PREP (Coach Mark Schusterman, 30th year, 659-185). Last year: 22-8 (4A regional finalist). Top players: SS Jessica Rivera, Sr.; CF Brianna Bahadue, Sr.; P-2B Mekayla Frazier, 8th; P-1B Destyn Jones, So.; P-1B Lilly Barlow, Jr.; 2B-OF Taylor Heyser, Jr.
2. MONSIGNOR PACE (Coach Angel Torres, 2nd year at MP, 9th overall, 115-45). Last year: 15-12. Top players: P Sofia Dominguez, Sr.; SS Monica Marquez, Jr.; C Kathleen Rios, So.; 2B Cassidy Ziegler, Jr.; 1B Natalie Rodriguez, Jr.; 3B Helen Rios, Sr.
1. WESTMINSTER CHRISTIAN (Coach Scott Doan). Last year: 22-10 (3A state runner-up). Top players: P Victoria Perez, So.; OF Nikkia Benitez, Jr.; OF Ashley Castano, Jr.; C Ally Mena, Jr.
2. FLORIDA CHRISTIAN (Coach Scott Stemmer). Last year: 17-9 (4A regional semifinalist). Top players: P-OF Faith Vazquez, Sr.; P-1B Megan Rodriguez, Fr.; CF Victoria Alonso, Jr.; SS Sam Elias, Sr.
3. RANSOM EVERGLADES (Coach Joseph Mancuso, 12th year). Last year: 11-8. Top players: SS Tiffany McBrayer, So.; P Gaby Jadotte, So.; 1B Hannah Holle, Sr.; C Sophia Petros, Sr.; 2B Abigail Hyde, Sr.; OF Abigail Sekoff, 8th.
4. CARROLLTON (Coach Alex Consuegra, 13th year at CAR, 21st overall). Last year: 8-10. Top players: INF Caroline Dowell-Esquivel, Fr.; INF Genesis Diaz, Jr.; OF Victoria Lopez-Trujillo, Sr.; OF Jane Ingram-Noell, Sr.; OF Samantha Borden, Sr.
5. PALMER TRINITY (Coach Jenny Cerda, 2nd year at PT, 10th overall). Last year: 0-15. Top players: P-INF Lauren Keller, Jr.; C-INF Patty Martinez, Sr.; 1B-OF Caro Mallar, Sr.; UTL Cati dos Santos, Sr.; P-INF Victoria Torres, Fr.; INF Dani de Sola, So.
1. ARCHBISHOP CARROLL (Coach Jeff Blanchard, 2nd year at AC, 3rd overall, 7-9). Last year: 7-9. Top players: P-C Maddie Hefty, So.; P-3B Justine Cinalli, Sr.; 1B-OF Nicole Kozak, Jr.; SS-OF Michelle Moye, Jr.; INF Valentina Hoyos, So.; OF Ayana Seabrook, Sr.
2. ARCHBISHOP CURLEY (Coach Beth Love, 11th year). Last year: N/A. Top players: P-UT Olya Seichrist, Sr.; P-UT Ashley Savain, Sr.; 2B Amanda Lesperance, Sr.; SS Sarisha Wiggan, Jr.; 3B Cecilia Saunders, Jr.; C Brianna Hernandez, So.
MIAMI COUNTRY DAY (Coach Chris Antonopoulos, 17th year). Last year: 14-2 (3A regional quarterfinalist). Top players: P Taylor Sennett, Sr.; CF Sierra Mathis, Jr.; INF Michelle Yakobi, So.; INF Veronica Ben-David, Jr.; INF Mary Elizabeth Allen, Jr.