As expected, the strong finish to last springs softball season transferred to strong local representation statewide pre-season state rankings.
Four area teams were included in the South Carolina Softball Coaches poll, released Monday evening. Among the expected early contenders for state titles were Carolina Forest (No. 3, Class AAAA), Georgetown (No. 5, Class AAA), Aynor (No. 8, Class AA) and Green Sea-Floyds (No. 3, Class A).
Those should surprise few, if any, followers of the sport in the area.
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Last year, Carolina Forest came within one victory of winning the Class AAAA championship. The Panthers defeated Hillcrest in the first game of the three-game series before losing the final two games.
All-State honorees Marisa Runyon and Sara Sweatt will both be back, as will pitcher Emily Merriam, who last year took the mound for approximately half of the teams games.
Georgetown, Aynor and Green Sea-Floyds also bring back the bulk of their teams after each qualified for its respective Lower State tournament last spring.
Aynor and Green Sea-Floyds will return their primary pitcher. Blue Jackets senior Shelby Culler was perfect in the District tournament, spurring the run to the Lower State tournament. Trojans senior Hope Elliott was 17-3 on the as a junior and finished with a stellar 0.34 ERA.
As for Georgetown, the Bulldogs will be led by returning centerfielder Kellie Howard. A member of the 2012 Class All-State team, Howard batted .500 as a junior and committed just one error all season.
Hillcrest (Class AAAA), Hartsville (Class AAA) and Dillon (Class AA) were No. 1 for their class preseason poll. East Clarendon and Latta split the top spot in Class A.