The softball and baseball seasons ended with a flourish as the area produced state champions in both sports. Now, a panel of local sports writers and coaches have named the head coaches for those teams as two of the four 2021 Mainstreet Daily News/The Prep Zone All Area Coaches of the Year.
The Trenton softball team won its second straight Class 1A state title this season, finishing on top in 2019 and 2021 around a pandemic-canceled 2020 season.
Head coach Todd Bryant, the Florida Dairy Farmers Class 1A Coach of the Year, was recognized as the small school (1A-2A) softball All Area Coach of the Year.
“I am certainly grateful for the award, but our players and other coaches are the reason for our success,” he said. “I’m just smart enough to know when to stay out of the way and let the ship stay on course.”
“Everyone knows what a great job Darian Ingram [FAU] did for us in the circle and what Keeli Zingaro [Stetson University] did for us at the plate, but what most people miss is how important it was for us to get Lillian Wilkerson [Florida Gulf Coast University] back from her ACL injury just before the playoffs,” Bryant said. “She gave Darian confidence and shut down the running game. Missing most of the season hurt her stats and chances to receive more accolades, but in my opinion, she was the missing piece that we had to have to win it.”
Bryant, who announced his retirement following the Tigers’ state title, had a 57-1 record the past three years—a run that followed a state runner-up finish in 2018.
“Winning state championships in Small Town USA is a big deal,” Bryant said. “These kids won’t remember the sacrifices they made to get better, but they will remember the thrill and excitement that winning that final game brought. I’m thankful for the opportunity to be part of this. Go Tigers.”
Head coach Mike Spina, who was also recognized as the Florida Dairy Farmers Class 1A Coach of the Year, earned the small school All Area Coach of the Year award.
“I am honored to have been named the small school All Area Coach of the Year for the 2021 season,” Spina said. “I have been blessed with a special team of hardworking and hungry ball players.”
The Panthers (25-1) had Co-Class 1A Players of the Year in Luke Ridley and Justen Crews, who were two of the three Newberry players on the All Area team.
Newberry will enter 2022 with a 19-game winning streak under Spina. In four years at Newberry, Spina has posted a 63-25 record.
“As a Newberry High School alum, I am excited to continue coaching and building a competitive and successful baseball program at NHS,” he said.
The district champion Santa Fe (Alachua) baseball team also had a record-setting year, setting a school mark for regular season winning percentage with a 23-3 record.
The historic season propelled head coach Travis Yeckring to All Area Coach of the Year honors for big schools (4A-7A).
“Great honor, but in my honest opinion it’s a program award,” Yeckring said. “I’m fortunate to have some really good assistant coaches combined with players who worked hard every day and believed in our vision.”
Some of the highlights included a pair of wins against Suwannee (Live Oak), which was ranked No. 1 in the state at the time, and a 6-3 win against Baker County (Glen St. Mary) to win the Class 4A-District 2 title.
“A lot of fun,” Yeckring said when describing this past season. “All the obstacles we had to overcome to ensure we even had a season made what we were able to accomplish that much more rewarding.”
Meanwhile, Gainesville softball coach Chris Chronister took home the All Area Coach of the Year award for big schools, after leading the Hurricanes to an 18-7 record, a district title, and another playoff appearance.
“I really give credit to the girls because without them, their dedication and hard work, and the practices, it wouldn’t be possible,” Chronister said. “I really appreciate that (recognition), and it’s a great honor.”
GHS defeated Middleburg, 2-1, to win the Class 5A-District 3 title. However, the Hurricanes, who placed four players on the All Area team, lost 1-0 to Matanzas (Palm Coast) in the first round of the Class 5A state playoffs.
“Losing in regionals was tough,” Chronister said. “They were a good team, but a 1-0 game and it could have gone either way. Overall, for the season, I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
The 2021 All Area team was chosen from Mainstreet’s eight-county coverage area. All 44 players and coaches will receive a commemorate plaque in recognition of their accomplishments.
This is the fifth story in a five-part series on the 2021 All Area baseball and softball teams, presented by Mainstreet Daily News and The Prep Zone. To see the softball rosters and stories, click here. To see the the baseball rosters and stories, click here.