It's already assured that Hernando County will have representation at the Florida Dixie Softball State Tournament next month.
That's because the event will take place at Tom Varn Park, July 5-9, meaning all teams from host Brooksville receive an automatic berth.
Thus the District 4 Tournament, set to start today at Wesley Chapel District Park, has become a three-way dance between all-star clubs from Spring Hill, West Pasco and Wesley Chapel.
Darlings (ages 7-8), Angels (ages 9-10), Ponytails (ages 11-12) and Belles (ages 13-15) are all in action. The Debs (ages 17-19) are once again not holding a district tournament, meaning Spring Hill's team goes straight to states.
Both the Angels and Ponytails tournaments will be played under the more advanced X-play rules. Dixie divided those two divisions into X-play and Traditional last season.
Though Spring Hill has risen to become one the finer programs in the state, the league produced only one district champ in 2012, the Ponytails, who also captured state and World Series crowns.
It would be unfair to hold this year's version of the Spring Hill Ponytails to those ultra-high standards. Not one player from last year's roster has returned.
The team now features: McKenna Corbett, Madison Dicono, Olivia Gartland, Alyssa Kelly, Megan McClellan, Cecelia McGee, Mackenzie McIntyre, Madison Oren, Ashley Perez, Hannah Rizzuto, Jenna Ryan and Audrey Selby.
Spring Hill begins with Wesley Chapel tonight at 6:30 p.m. Wesley Chapel and West Pasco then square off Saturday at 10 a.m., with Spring Hill taking on West Pasco an hour after the completion of that game. Those start times are uniform for all brackets.
Championship tilts for all divisions are scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, though the double-elimination format could necessitate a fifth game to be played an hour after the end of that day's first contest.
"It's a good group of girls," Spring Hill head coach Paul McGee said. "Anything can happen at this age. I haven't seen Wesley Chapel or West Pasco, so there's no way to tell if we're in line or out of line. But we have some experienced players."
Though no one on the roster played on the Ponytails level previously, McIntyre, Perez, Rizzuto, Ryan and Selby were Angels All-Stars a year ago.
Ryan, Gartland, Selby, McClellan and Kelly comprise the pitching staff. Offensively, Coach McGee believes he has "a good group of contact hitters. The girls will put the ball in play and make teams make plays."
Though the ultimate goal, he said, was getting to states, not knowing the other teams certainly makes it difficult to handicap the tournament, a common theme among all Spring Hill coaches.
Spring Hill's Belles, led by head coach Dianne McClellan, brings a roster of Marriah Adams, Tara Bowen, Makayla Harris, Celine Kordon, Taylor Major, Amber McClanahan, Abby Oliver, Alicia Pedersen, Allison Selg, Brooke Spaulding, Melani Torres and Taylor Umsted.
Adams is the lone returnee for Spring Hill in this division, though Oliver was part of the Ponytails last year.
First Spring Hill takes on West Pasco tonight, then Wesley Chapel in Saturday's early game.
"We've done a lot of scrimmaging this upcoming week and look awesome," Coach McClellan said. "I'm really impressed with how we're coming together.
"I see us making it through the district without a problem and playing at states."
The coach believes her squad can lean on a trio of fast, accurate arms on the mound, Harris, Spaulding and Kordon.
She's sees an interchangeable lineup possessing plenty of power and an experienced defense that she indicated will need to minimize errors.
"I have every bit of confidence in this group of the girls," the coach said. "The key is working together and getting better and better. I've love them. I'm a big fan of those girls."
The Angels have a returning headman in T Oliver and three players back in the fold, Madison Moran, Natalie Oliver and Ava Thompson, plus four 2012 Darlings All-Stars, Hannah Church, Jen Hackett, Victoria Ratigan and Sabrina Sessa.
Saith Budlove, Kendyl Helfand, Morgan Johnson, Allison Mayersky and Tiana Stifanic comprise the rest of the team.
Spring Hill draws Wesley Chapel in tonight's opener and will play West Pasco in Saturday's second game.
"We look like a decent team. Hitting is not going to be a problem," Coach Oliver said. "The key is pitching. No matter who we play and who plays us, if our pitchers are doing well, we're probably going to win."
To that end, Hackett heads the pitching staff, followed by Thompson, then a combination of Ratigan and Natalie Oliver.
Coach Oliver believes every member of his lineup is capable with the bat, but anticipates particularly strong production from his 2-6 hitters.
"Up and down the order they can all hit the ball, but definitely the meat of the order should produce some runs," Coach Oliver said. "They're young girls. If they get down on themselves, it's tough to get out of that rut. That's the only issue I see happening.
"I expect to win. I don't want to put too much pressure on the girls. But I expect to win this year."
The youngest group, the Darlings, battle West Pasco tonight and Wesley Chapel Saturday morning.
Head coach Nik Gilleo brings in a roster of Alexis Adelman, Mallory Austin, Alyssa Bennet, McKenna Carr, Madalyn Cullum, Leeanna Freeman, Saith Gilleo, Alexis Nobisso, Zoey Primavera, Kendall Stanton, Piper Sullivan and Makayla Way.
"The girls have been working really hard the past couple of weeks. I'm seeing a lot of improvement. They've come a long way in a short period of time," Coach Gilleo said. "I think they'll do well.
"Our strength would be we've got a lot of girls that play hard and don't give up. Any weakness I'd chalk up to experience. We have a fresh crop of girls that have never played this level of competition before."
Cullum, who will play shortstop, is the only returning All-Star. Sullivan, the first baseman, will bat fourth, however Coach Gilleo feels he has solid hitters up and down his lineup, as his players were mostly selected for their hitting prowess in the coach-pitch format.
"My expectations are for them to win," Coach Gilleo said. "They're going to try their hardest and no matter what the outcome is, I'm proud of them."
At a Glance
What - Dixie Softball District 4 Tournaments
Who - Spring Hill, Wesley Chapel and West Pasco
Where - Wesley Chapel District Park, 7727 Boyette Road, Wesley Chapel
When - Today through Sunday (weather permitting)
At stake - District champion in each division advances to State Tournament July 5-9 at Tom Varn Park
Spring Hill Darlings (ages 7-8)
Head coach: Nik Gilleo
Assistant coaches: Anthony Nobisso, Joe Sicarrotta, Chris Way
Spring Hill Angels (ages 9-10)
Head coach: T Oliver
Assistant coaches: Joe Ratigan, Dave Shirley
Spring Hill Ponytails (ages 11-12)
Head coach: Paul McGee
Assistant coaches: Scott McIntyre, Frank Rizzuto
Spring Hill Belles (ages 13-15)
Head coach: Dianne McClellan
Assistant coaches: Terry Major, Mike Spaulding