St. Patrick is considered a heavy favorite to win its third straight Class 3A fast-pitch softball championship.
The Lady Irish (31-3) are ranked first in the Sun Herald's South Mississippi preseason softball poll. St. Patrick return four key players from last year's team that ended the season ranked No. 1 in the state. The softball season gets underway this weekend across the Coast.
"We are very proud to represent the Coast, the Catholic Diocese, our school and facility as the Sun Herald's No. 1 team," St. Patrick coach Tommy Castanedo said. "We're playing a tough schedule this year."
Returning to lead the St. Patrick championship reign are junior pitcher Sabrina Turner, sophomore short stop Emma Castanedo, sophomore outfielder Elizabeth Zorich and junior first baseman Victoria Tyler.
Turner, a member of the Sun Herald's All-south Mississippi team, went 21-1 last season and has already verbally committed to Mississippi State. Emma Castanedo has started since the seventh grade.
"Sabrina is our primary pitcher and lead off hitter," Castanedo said. "Emma's one of our leaders on and off the field. Liz tore her ACL last year and missed 21 games. She swings the bat well and is a table setter for those hitting behind her. Coast teams will get to know Victoria this season. She has a great presence in the batter's box and on the field."
St. Patrick's tough non-Division 7-3A schedule includes games against defending 6A state champion Oak Grove, 5A runner up East Central and 4A state champion Newton County.
Here's a look at the other classes:
The road to a 6A state title runs through Oak Grove. Harrison Central and St. Martin will battle for the right to face the Lady Warriors in the 6A South state championship series.
The 5A South state championship is wide open, with George County moving down from 6A. East Central edged West Harrison in the South state finals last year.
Newton County remains the team to beat in the 4A South, but Vancleave and Poplarville could emerge as challengers.
The Coast is deep with talented players, as 10 members of the Sun Herald's All-South Mississippi team return.
Leading the way are Our Lady Academy pitcher Demi Blaker, a Mississippi State verbal commitment, Turner, and St. Martin outfielders Alyssa Hardy and Jay Harris.
Other returning All-South Mississippi picks are Harrison Central pitcher Madison Burge and third baseman Kim Gilbert, Biloxi shortstop Olivia Holley, West Harrison shortstop Katelyn Raffeo, George County shortstop Julianna Rouse and Pascagoula catcher Carlie Vice.