This past season was unique in that the Dixie County (Cross City) and Fort White softball and baseball programs all advanced to their first final four in program history.
Despite losing to Fort White in the Class 1A softball state semifinals, Dixie County (Cross City) coach Greg Wimberley earned Mainstreet Daily News Coach of the Year honors for small school softball.
A panel of local sportswriters and coaches chose the All Area teams from Mainstreet's eight-county coverage area. All players and coaches will receive commemorative plaques to recognize their accomplishments.
Wimberley edged the husband-and-wife team of Chad and Michele Padgett, who won Fort White's first district title in program history, based on the entire body of work.
The Bears finished 21-5 this season and won two of three against the Indians (16-8), who lost to Jay in the state championship game.
“It’s an honor to be selected as the small school coach of the year,” Wimberley said. “I believe that some of the best teams in the state are in the small school division, so it’s an honor. I think most coaches that receive this honor will tell you that great players make coaches look great and, in my case, I know that to be true.”
Pitcher Bria Hinkle made the small school All Area team after finishing with a 13-1 record and a 0.91 ERA with 130 strikeouts in 108 innings pitched. She also led the Bears offensively with a .434 batting average and 33 runs batted in.
Seniors Madisyn Langford, Aubrey Thomas, and Kyrie O'Steen, and juniors Peyton Hatcher, Gracie McKinnon, and Shylee Brown, were all honorable mention selections for the Bears, who had a 10-game win streak snapped in the state semifinals.
“I have awesome young ladies and players that allow me to do what I love and that’s coach,” Wimberley said. “I’ve always said they make me look way better than I am, so for that I want to thank them very much.”
Jim Godwin of Union County (Lake Butler) was also an honorable mention selection after leading the Tigers to an 18-6 record and a spot in the 1A-Region 3 Final, where they lost to Fort White.
Keystone Heights coach Jessica Marquart was named the big school coach of the year.
The Indians (19-10) just missed their first state semifinal in four years with a 3-2 loss at Baldwin in the Class 3A-Region 1 Final.
“I am honored to be named the big school COY,” Marquart said. “My players always left it out on the field, gave 100%, and played for each other. As a coach you can't ask for a better group of athletes to coach.”
The Indians struggled at the beginning of the year, starting 4-7, but finished strong by winning 15 of their final 18 games, including nine in a row in April.
“Our expectations did not match our work ethic,” Marquart said. “When we realized it was more about ‘my teammate’ than ‘my stats’ or ‘myself’ is when they turned it around. They played for each other and for Keystone softball.”
Four Indians—Senior catcher Emma Rogel, sophomore second baseman Alaina Kinsal, junior shortstop Kiley Channell, and senior starting pitcher Madison Mitzel—made the big school All Area team.
Seniors Jaiden Robinson and Kinley Carlton, along with sophomores Abbie Roach and Delia Johnson, were honorable mention selections.
“We never spoke about the future, always took one game at a time and it led us to the Elite 8,” Marquart said. “I'm so proud of how hard this team worked to get to where they did. Even though it ended differently than we wanted it to, in my eyes, it was still a successful year.”
Gainesville coach Chris Chronister was an honorable mention selection after the 5A-District 4 Hurricanes (13-14) won their second straight district title, including a 12-2 win against Milton in the 5A state playoffs, before losing 5-1 at eventual state champion Middleburg.
Fort White baseball coach Rick Julius was named the small school COY after the Indians advanced to Fort Myers for their first state semifinal in school history.
The Indians (16-7) upset 1A No. 2 Union County on the road in extra innings to start the postseason, avenging a 6-3 loss to the Tigers in the district tournament.
They defeated Lafayette (Mayo) on the road in the region final, before falling to eventual state champion Holmes County (Bonifay) in the state semifinals.
“It is with great gratitude and appreciation that I receive this honor,” Julius said. “This team never ceased to amaze me. Each and every day we showed up at the ballpark, and it showed at the end of the year with a trip to the final four, being the first time in Fort White history.”
Fort White had two players on the small school All Area team—senior pitcher Jonathan Fischer and junior third baseman Tucker Hardee—while seniors Easton Flynn and Daniel Gonzalez, along with junior Brad Sullivan and sophomore Dylan Lovelace, were honorable mention selections.
Other consideration was given to second-year coach Shannon Smith of Dixie County, who led the Bears (13-10) to their first state semifinal appearance, Kevin Maris of Oak Hall School (Gainesville), who led the Eagles (14-4) to the 2A state playoffs, and Travis Rimes of Union County, which finished 14-12 against one of the toughest schedules in the state and also took home the 1A-District 6 title.
The Indians weren’t the only Columbia County team to advance to Fort Myers.
Columbia (Lake City) coach Chris Howard was named the big school COY after leading the Tigers’ baseball team to their first state semifinal in program history.
“It's truly a blessing to be recognized as the coach of the year, I'm honored and can't thank our players, coaches, administration, alumni, fans, and boosters enough,” said Howard, who was in his first season as head coach of the Tigers. “I'd also like to thank my wife for supporting me through everything. Also, a big thank you to principal Trey Hosford and athletic director Steve Faulkner for giving me the opportunity to be the head coach of Columbia High School baseball. Being a Tiger is truly special.”
The Tigers (22-9) were undefeated in May until they lost to Eau Gallie (Melbourne) in the Class 5A state semifinals.
Columbia advanced to Hammond Stadium with a wild 7-6 home win against Lincoln (Tallahassee) in the region final, sending the Tigers to their first-ever final four in baseball.
“This season was like a dream, great kids and assistant coaches that really believed in the process and hopefully set the foundation for more successful seasons,” Howard said. “Making the first final four appearance for Columbia High School is very special for the alumni and the community. The support we received throughout the season from the school administration and the community was overwhelming.”
Columbia, which finished on top of the final regional rankings poll, had three players on the big school All Area team—rising senior Hayden Gustavson, an FSU commit, Hillsborough Community College commit Matt Dumas, and Brent Howard, who is signed to play at Jacksonville University.
Seniors Truitt Todd, Ty Jackson, and Kade Jackson, along with junior Brayden Thomas, were honorable mention selections.
“Many kids and coaches set the goal for Columbia High to have success like this before in baseball and hopefully they know they're a big part of this as well,” Howard said.
Suwannee (Live Oak) coach Justin Bruce, who led the Bulldogs(24-5) to the 4A state semifinals, and Travis Yeckring of Santa Fe (Alachua), who led the Raiders (20-7) to the 4A-District 4 title, were honorable mention selections.
2022 Mainstreet Daily News All Area Baseball and Softball Coaches of the Year presented by Drummond Bank
Coverage area – Alachua, Bradford, Columbia, Dixie, Gilchrist, Levy, Suwannee, and Union County counties and Keystone Heights.
Coach of the Year (1A/2A) – Greg Wimberley (Dixie County)
Honorable mention: Chad & Michele Padgett (Fort White), Jim Godwin (Union County)
Coach of the Year (3A-7A) – Jessica Marquart (Keystone Heights)
Honorable mention: Chris Chronister (Gainesville)
Coach of the Year (1A/2A) – Rick Julius (Fort White)
Honorable mention: Shannon Smith (Dixie County), Kevin Maris (Oak Hall), Travis Rimes (Union County)
Coach of the Year (3A-7A) – Chris Howard (Columbia)
Honorable mention: Justin Bruce (Suwannee), Travis Yeckring (Santa Fe)