A year after winning its first state softball championship, Coral Reef’s lineup card still resembles an All-Star team.
But according to second-year coach Dario Rodriguez, the Barracudas are still focusing on the “team” part of it and not so much the “All-Star” mentality.
“One of the things I was concerned was them being a little too confident or comfortable [after winning the state championship],” Rodriguez said. “They’ve really worked hard since our conditioning. They’ve come back hungry and wanting to do it again and compete.”
Rodriguez has some evidence to back up his early appraisal of his team.
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Coral Reef posted 15-0 blowout wins in last week’s preseason classics over Miami Springs and Doral Academy — each expected to be among the better teams in Miami-Dade County this season.
“It almost felt too good to be true at times,” Rodriguez said. “We set high goals for ourselves, but the biggest thing was how they played as a team.
“We have great individual players, but they united and really played for each other.”
For the Barracudas, it’s a matter of maintaining that approach that helped them win the school’s first state title last season in Class 8A.
At the plate, Coral Reef should be just as strong as last season when it scored 43 runs in five combined regional and state playoff games.
Leading the way is a core of juniors led by shortstop Kylan Becker and third baseman Carsyn Gordon.
Becker, an early FIU commitment, led the county in hitting with a .677 average last season and stole 39 bases.
Gordon, an early Florida State commitment, is one of the best defensive players in the nation at her position and hit .514 with 26 RBI last season.
Rodriguez believes second baseman Denver Keller will be the key both at the plate and defensively. Keller, who has drawn interest from UCF, has improved tremendously in the offseason and figures to be a big contributor.
Cassandra Garcia and Cristina Colli are each big offensive weapons and should do well again leading Coral Reef’s outfield.
One of the key seniors will be catcher Sarah Ortiz, a second-team All-Dade selection as a junior who has signed with Santa Fe College in Gainesville.
The only spot Coral Reef needs to replace is on the pitching circle where graduated senior Dayna Wilson excelled last season.
But Rodriguez is confident junior Michelle Mesa, who went 8-0 with a 1.73 ERA last season backing up Wilson, will fill in adequately.
Coral Reef has lined up a challenging schedule again.
The Barracudas will travel to the Kissimmee Klassic, play in the local SlamFest tournament and take on state powerhouses Westminster Christian and Plantation American Heritage.
“We may be even stronger defensively as a team overall,” Rodriguez said. “Mesa has done really well, and with her experience from last year, I think we can follow the same script and do it again.”
Gulliver graduated two of its best players in Ashley Leon (Auburn) and Stephanie Texeira (FIU). But the Raiders still have more than enough to contend for a fifth consecutive state championship, which would equal the state record held by Bartow.
Senior pitcher Gabbee Draney, senior shortstop Crystal Garcia and junior catcher Tori Rios lead an exeperienced squad.
Westminster Christian should be among the state’s overall best again led by a seniors Brittany Husk, Kelli Kleis, Caitlin Charlton and Kaytlin Musa.
A potential state contender from Dade could emerge in Class 6A as well.
Doral Academy moved up from Class 4A and returns enough talent to battle Pembroke Pines Charter in the region for a spot at state.