Ridaught: Softball, baseball starts this week

Glen Jones via Shutterstock

Last year was a good year overall for softball and baseball teams in the area.

Fort White and Dixie County (Cross City) advanced to their first state semifinals in school history.

The Indians (16-8), who edged the Bears, 7-5, in the Class 1A state semifinals, lost a heartbreaker to Jay in the state championship game.

Fort White pitcher Kadence Compton.
Photo by C.J. Gish Fort White pitcher Kadence Compton.

Kadence Compton is back for her sophomore season at Fort White.

Last year, she was named to the Mainstreet Daily News All Area first team after a 16-6 record in the circle and a 1.66 earned run average. She finished with 212 strikeouts in 144 innings pitched.

The Indians will compete in 1A-District 6 with Union County (Lake Butler), which lost in the region final at Fort White, Bell, Branford, and Lafayette (Mayo).

The Lady Tigers (18-6) are loaded this year with CF/OF Tamia Young (.433 average, 31 RS, 29 hits, 24 RBI, eight doubles, and a team-leading 21 stolen bases) and outfielder Angela Tucker (.493, 36 hits, 32 RS), both of whom made first team All Area, 3B Hayley Rivera (.317, 26 RBI), and SS Leah Clark (.397, 29 hits, 33 RBI).

Bria Hinkle is also back for Dixie County. As a junior, she finished 13-1 with a 0.91 ERA with 130 strikeouts in 108 innings pitched.

Hinkle led the Bears (21-5) offensively with a .434 batting average and 33 runs batted in, along with 22 runs scored, seven doubles and six triples.

Dixie County is in 1A-District 7 with Trenton, Chiefland, Newberry, and Bronson.

Williston, which landed three players on the All Area first team last year,  is also hoping to build on last season’s 18-8 finish which included back-to-back losses to Taylor (Pierson) in the 1A-District 8 championship game (7-6) and the 1A-Region 4 Semifinals (8-6).

First team All Area selections Baylee Cribbs, Raegan Geiger, and Nevaeh Hayes return for the Red Devils.

Keystone Heights narrowly missed its first final four since 2018 with a 3-2 loss to Baldwin in a Class 3A-Region 1 Final.

Two key members of that team, shortstop Kiley Channell and second baseman Alaina Kinsall, are back for the Indians (19-10), who will compete in 3A-District 3 with Bradford (Starke), Palatka, Crescent City, Interlachen, Beachside (St. Johns), and Taylor, which moves up from 1A.

Union County catcher Tamia Young.
Photo by C.J. Gish Union County catcher Tamia Young.

Channell led the Indians in RBI with 29, while adding seven doubles and 36 hits for a .419 batting average, while Kinsall hit .345 with 29 hits, 20 RBI and a team-high nine doubles.

“We have a good core and should be able to feed off that,” said Keystone Heights coach Jessica Marquart, who enters her seventh season with the Indians. “Our schedule will be difficult but Keystone loves a challenge.”

Bradford, which competed in 1A last year, is the newcomer to the district after moving up to Class 3A this season.

The Tornadoes (15-7) have plenty of talent returning, including Masey Padgett (.444, 3 home runs, 28 RBI), Takeirra Bakken (.456, 1.000 slugging percentage, 8 HRs, 29 RBI), and Rylie Blankenship (.456, 31 hits, .542 OBP, 16 RBI).

“We added five freshmen who all have big roles on our team,” said Bradford coach Kaylan Taylor. “We are looking forward to the team growing together and are excited to see how far we can go. We are really confident with the group of girls we have this season.”

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Santa Fe (Alachua) will compete in 3A-District 5 with Eastside, P.K. Yonge, Dunnellon, and Trinity Catholic (Ocala).

Five sophomores and one junior make up the Raiders’ six returning starters.

“This is a very young program this year, but if they buy in they will be successful,” said Santa Fe coach Gene Findley, who has been coaching the Raiders for 16 years.

Class 5A-District 4 champion Gainesville High advanced to the second round of the Class 5A state playoffs last year, falling to eventual state champion Middleburg, 5-1, in the regional semifinals.

The Hurricanes (13-14), who won their second straight district title, return five starters from last year’s team but they had some key losses too.

“Replacing two hitters that had batting averages over .400 (Parris Wiggs and Jayla Clark) and replacing a pitcher that pitched every game last season (Kyra Hornsby) will be a challenge,” said Gainesville coach Chris Chronister.

Gainesville's Karter Thorp (12) and Jayla Clark score the Hurricanes' first two runs to tie the game against Milton on a Parris Wiggs triple.
Photo by C.J. Gish Gainesville’s Karter Thorp.

GHS will lean on its seniors Karter Thorp (.318, 6 doubles, 2 triples), Claflin University signee Michaela Cromarty (.219, 4 doubles, 1 HR) and Kam Sumler (.212, 3 doubles) at the plate but Chronister said the biggest unknown is how they will do in the circle.

“Very inexperienced at the varsity level,” he said. “If the pitchers are effective we will have a chance to repeat as district champs.”

Will Hooper enters his second season with Buchholz, which will compete in 6A-District 3 with 7A regional finalist Oakleaf (Orange Park), Nease (Ponte Vedra), First Coast (Jacksonville), and Fletcher (Neptune Beach), which made the 6A playoffs last year.

The team will be led by seniors Lindsey Orton (committed to ABAC College in Tifton, GA) and Kayla Hooper (committed to Florida Gateway College in Lake City).

“This is a very young and talented Bobcats team as nine of the 14 rostered players are underclassman (9th/10th grade),” he said. “Defensively, this could be one of the best defensive teams the Bobcats have put on the field in many years.”

A total of four high school baseball teams in the Mainstreet Daily News coverage area advanced to the state semifinals last year – Fort White and Dixie County (Class 1A), Suwannee (Live Oak) in 4A, and Columbia (Lake City) in 5A.

It was the first final four in program history for Fort White, Dixie County, and Columbia.

The Indians (16-7) will compete in 1A-District 6 with Union County, Branford, Hilliard, Hamilton County (Jasper), and Lafayette (Mayo), which was upset by Fort White, 3-2, in last year’s 1A-Region 3 Final.

Union County has a new coach in Jiwan James.

The Tigers (14-12) were the No. 1 seed in Region 3 but lost to Fort White, 4-2, in the regional semifinals.

They return Ayden Elixson (.382, 9 doubles, 25 RBI) and Tre’von Lee (.371, 22 RBI, 21 RS), two of their top three hitters at the plate last season, but they must replace two of their top arms in No. 1 starter Lucas Johns and top reliever Eli Rimes, their overall best hitter (Kyler Cohen), and the double play tandem of Quinten Rawls and Jake O’Steen.

Harrison Beach
Oak Hall short stop Harrison Beach

“I expect us to compete at a high level all season,” James said. “We’re playing another tough schedule this season, as we only have one 1A game all year long. I’m sure there will be some challenges in there along the way.”

Dixie County, which must replace several key seniors, will compete in what should be a competitive 1A-District 7 with 2021 state champion Newberry, Trenton, Chiefland, and Bell.

Chiefland defeated Newberry, 4-3, in the regional semifinals before falling at Dixie County, 9-1, in the region final.

“We are expecting to have a good year and at least repeat how far we went last year,” said Chiefland coach Chad Brock, who returns five starters. “In order for us to have a great year we need to have some guys step up on the mound and give us some quality innings as well as play sound defense with some timely hitting.”

Oak Hall advanced to the 2A state tournament despite a 7-4 loss to St. Joseph Academy (St. Augustine) in the 2A-District 4 title game.

All nine starters are returning this year for the Eagles (14-4), including twins Jackson (.357, team-leading 36 runs, .630 OBP, 20 SB), and Harrison Beach (.426, 33 RS, four errors defensively in 52 total chances), and utility player Jack Kuzmicki (.534, 31 hits, 35 RBI, .965 slugging percentage, 11 doubles, and four triples), all of whom made the small school All Area first team last year.

Kuzmicki was also 5-0 on the mound with a 1.52 earned run average and a .926 fielding percentage.

“We look to build off the season we had last year with the talented players I have returning and continue to strive to go deep into the playoffs at the end of the year,” said Oak Hall head coach Kevin Maris, who won his 300th game last season.

Dylan Evans
Photo by C.J. Gish Santa Fe pitcher Dylan Evans

Despite missing the playoffs last year in Class 3A, P.K. Yonge (12-6), which lost in the 3A-District 2 quarterfinals in 2022, is seeking its fourth straight winning season.

Head coach Rob Brunson returns senior pitcher/outfielder Aiden Mansfield (.396, 20 runs scored, 15 stolen bases, 11 RBI), catcher/pitcher Jacob Pridgen (.340), infielder Zander Sanetz (.306, 11 RBI) and outfielder/pitcher Lane Sparkman (.367, 2 home runs, 18 RBI) in hopes of making a run at a postseason bid.

Eight starters are back for Santa Fe (Alachua), which defeated Dunnellon, 3-1, to win the 4A-District 4 title but lost to Clay (Green Cove Springs), 12-9 (10 innings), in the 4A regional quarterfinals.

Dylan Evans (.357, .491 OBP, 6 doubles), Kyler Nowling (.273, 23 RBI, 4 doubles, 3 HRs) look to pick up where they left off offensively, while UNF signee Zane Starling (injured a majority of last season), Dawson Card (27.2 IP, 3-2, 2.78 ERA, 42 K/21 BB) and Joey Malphurs (29 IP, 3-0, 1.21 ERA, 28 K/ 10 BB) will lead the Raiders (20-7) on the mound.

“Our expectation is to compete for a district title and then compete with the best teams our state has to offer in our classification of the state playoffs,” said Santa Fe coach Travis Yeckring. “We can have a high level of success as long as we keep the entitlement and complacency out of the building.”

Seven starters return for Adrian Ramos, who begins his first season as head coach of the Gainesville Hurricanes.

Tyler Guarino (.385, 30 hits), Nate Kemph (.511 OBP, 21 stolen bases), Colton Kelly (22 runs, .626 slugging percentage), and Alex Meert (2.82 ERA) are among the leaders returning for GHS, which will challenge Columbia, Rickards (Tallahassee), and Lincoln (Tallahassee), who Columbia defeated in a wild region final last year, in 5A-District 2.

Columbia's Matt Dumas dives back to first base under Buchholz's Anthony Wilkie's tag attempt on Tuesday.
Photo by C.J. Gish Buchholz first baseman Anthony Wilkie.

“The seniors will be passing the torch, and have the biggest impact on the trajectory of this program,” Ramos said. “But if everyone focuses on what they can control, execute when the time comes, stay even through the highs and lows, and support each other, then I will consider this a successful season and a step in the right direction for the GHS baseball program.”

Buchholz lost to Chiles (Tallahassee) in the 6A-District 2 championship game and missed the playoffs despite a 17-9 record.

Junior P/1B Anthony Wilkie (Clemson commit), junior C Noah Hayse (UCF commit), junior infielder Cooper Collins (Davidson commit), senior Donny Hiebert (FSU football commit), and junior P/OF Austin Cardozo, give the Bobcats a strong nucleus to work with.

“We have a strong pitching staff and a very athletic lineup,” said Buchholz coach Ron Brooks. “If we can execute offensively we have a chance to have a really good year with the way I feel we can pitch and play defense.”

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