WESLEY CHAPEL — The Wiregrass Ranch softball team is off to a 6-2 start, beat Mitchell for the first time in seven years, beat arch-rival Wesley Chapel in dramatic fashion and boasts a trio of .400 hitters.
So, the Bulls are happy.
But satisfied? Not even close.
“I don’t think we have taken off yet,” says catcher Juliana Snyder.
The county’s reigning Sunshine Athletic Conference Player of the Year, Kylie Johnson, is one of those players on the launching pad.
Johnson is putting up good numbers in 2023 after putting up great numbers — .506 average and eye-opening power numbers of 12 doubles, 10 triples and eight home runs — last year.
But before you look at her .409 average and one home run and think she is in a slump, consider that last year through the same number of games, she was also hitting .409 with one home run.
The rest was, well, historic as she rewrote the Wiregrass Ranch softball record book.
“I didn't have the best start last year and same with this year, so I'm not really getting down on myself too much right now,” said Johnson, whose big 2022 earned her a scholarship to play softball at Clemson next fall.
Johnson crushed her first home run of the season off FSU-signee Mimi Gooden in a 2-1 loss to Gaither on March 21, but she thinks it may have lit her fuse.
“Definitely,” she said.
Regardless of how hot her bat may get, the slick-fielding shortstop contributes in other ways. She has a team-high eight steals and is a senior leader whose presence is felt every game.
“She been pitched around and not given much to hit, but we’re not concerned,” said coach Yamani Vazquez. “Yes, her numbers are lower than last year, but I feel like she still has the same impact on the team. She is hands down the best player that we've seen … and arguably the best player in the program since the school opened in 2006. She's just incredible, a great person, fabulous personality and great leadership tools. And she does it all with grace.”
Johnson, who hits leadoff for the Bulls, has plenty of help thanks to a lineup loaded with talent.
Pitcher Stephanie Daly is batting .417, outfielder Gracie Bethel is hitting .400 and catcher Juliana Snyder, a Jacksonville University-signee, has three home runs, including a seventh-inning bomb that tied the game against Wesley Chapel, sending into extra innings where the Bulls won it 6-5.
“I still rewatch it every night,” Snyder said, laughing.
Freshman pitcher Kylie Glatfelter, who helped keep the team competitive early in the season, has been a revelation. The Bulls lost their pitchers from a year ago to graduation, but Glatfelter stepped in and exceeded expectations.
With Daly nursing an injury early in the season and unable to pitch, the newcomer threw three straight complete games for the Bulls.
“She's really stepped up for the team, and it's been very refreshing,” Vazquez said.
The Bulls have started well against a competitive schedule, and big games against teams like Academy of Holy Names, Academy at the Lakes and East Lake still loom.
But with a team-bonding trip tubing down Rainbow River in Dunnellon coming up, more experience for the younger players and hotter bats for the veterans in the future, players like Snyder don’t think you seen anything yet.
“I think we can clutch up and do something in the district tournament,” she said. “We’re getting better every game. We just need to keep doing that.”
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