Last year the Eustis softball team only lost one game, and they won the one that counted the most.
The Panthers (27-1) captured their first state title in school history in 2021 as sophomore Libby Levendoski, who struck out 13 Ridgeview (Orange Park) batters in the state semifinals, fanned 17 Hernando (Brooksville) batters in the Class 4A state championship game in a 5-0 win.
Levendoski is back for her junior season and Eustis, which had been state runner-up before, looks to defend its state title. They begin the 2022 season on top of the all-classification regional rankings, receiving two of the six first-place votes.
Eustis edged current No. 2 University (Orange City) by just one total voting point. They also narrowly defeated the Titans, 2-1, this past Friday at home.
University (25-1), which dropped down to Class 6A, received three first-place votes. They lost to eventual 7A state runner-up Park Vista (Lake Worth), 4-3, in last year’s 7A state semifinals, marking their first appearance in the final four in softball.
Grace Taylor is back for her senior season. The Mercer University commit was in the circle for 23 of the Titans' 26 games and tossed two no-hitters, tallied four shutouts, struck out 200 hitters and had a sparkling 0.73 ERA in 143 innings pitched.
Hernando is ranked third in The Prep Zone Power Poll, which ranks the top 20 softball teams across 26 counties in Florida. The Leopards (26-5), who dropped down to 3A this season, advanced to the final four for the second time in three years and made their first state championship game appearance in 21 years.
Class 3A West Nassau (Callahan) and Ridgeview, which moves up to Class 5A, round out the top five.
Baker County (Glen St. Mary), which lost at Ridgeview in last year’s region final, leads off the second five at No. 6.
Defending 1A state champion Trenton is No. 7. Last year, the Lady Tigers (20-1) won their second state title in the past three years.
Trenton, which received the other first-place vote, has a new coach in former assistant Clint Anderson. He takes over for Todd Bryant who stepped down at the end of last season. Trenton was 57-1 the past three years under Bryant.
Class 3A state semifinalist Episcopal (Jacksonville), Creekside (St. Johns), and Oakleaf (Orange Park) round out the top 10.
Meanwhile, 2A state semifinalists University Christian (Jacksonville) and Mount Dora Christian Academy are ranked No. 11 and No. 16, respectively, while Class 1A state semifinalist Branford (15-5) is ranked at No. 15.
A total of 32 teams are either ranked or receiving votes in the preseason poll.
The Prep Zone Power Poll ranks the top 20 high school football, girls volleyball, girls basketball, boys basketball, softball & baseball teams (regardless of FHSAA classification) across 26 counties in North Florida (Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Citrus, Clay, Columbia, Dixie, Duval, Flagler, Gilchrist, Hamilton, Hernando, Jefferson, Lafayette, Lake, Levy, Madison, Marion, Nassau, Putnam, Sumter, St. Johns, Suwannee, Taylor, Union & Volusia counties). It is voted on weekly by sportswriters and sportscasters and it is powered by Anytime Fitness of Gainesville.
THE PREP ZONE POWER POLL – 2022 SOFTBALL POLL #1
(School, followed by classification, first-place votes, 2021 final record, and total voting points)
1. Eustis (4A) (2) (27-1) – 115
2. University (Orange City) (6A) (3) (25-1) – 114
3. Hernando (Brooksville) (3A) (26-5) – 85
4. West Nassau (Callahan) (3A) (20-7) - 82
5. Ridgeview (Orange Park) (5A) (26-4) - 81
6. Baker County (Glen St. Mary) (4A) (18-8) - 78
7. Trenton (1A) (1) (20-1) – 77
8. Episcopal (Jacksonville) (3A) (23-6) - 70
9. Creekside (St. Johns) (7A) (20-6) 56
10. Oakleaf (Orange Park) (7A) (17-10) - 54
11T. East Ridge (Clermont) (6A) (20-8) – 53
11T. University Christian (Jacksonville) (2A) (18-3) – 53
13. Dixie County (Cross City) (1A) (20-3) - 51
14. Trinity Christian Academy (Jacksonville) (2A) (17-7) – 49
15. Branford (1A) (15-5) – 39
16. Mount Dora Christian Academy (2A) (20-9) - 29
17. Baldwin (3A) (20-6) – 26
18. South Lake (Groveland) (5A) (21-5) – 23
19. Nature Coast Tech (Brooksville) (4A) (17-7) – 22
20. Clay (Green Cove Springs) (4A) (19-10) – 21
Also receiving votes: Gainesville (5A) (18-7) – 19; West Port (Ocala) (7A) (18-6) – 16; Belleview (4A) (21-8) – 15; Keystone Heights (3A) (14-9) – 8; Paxon (Jacksonville) (4A) (17-8) – 5; Middleburg (5A) (15-15) – 5; Bartram Trail (St. Johns) (7A) (17-11) – 4; Taylor (Pierson) (1A) (19-4) – 4; Bishop Kenny (Jacksonville) (4A) (16-6) – 3; Lecanto (5A) (16-7) – 1; Union County (Lake Butler) (1A) (12-9) – 1; Forest (Ocala) (6A) (13-13) – 1.