The 2021 season was historic for the Newberry baseball team. Coach Mike Spina’s Panthers lost only one game during the regular season, capturing a district and region title and advancing to Fort Myers for their first state semifinal appearance since 1979.
Newberry (25-1) dispatched Hamilton County and Chipley—rallying from a 5-1 deficit in the championship game—to win the school’s first-ever baseball state title.
Three of the stars who led the Panthers to their historic success headline the inaugural Mainstreet Daily News/The Prep Zone All Area Baseball Team for small schools (1A-2A). A panel of local sports writers and coaches selected the team from Mainstreet’s eight-county coverage area. Each honoree will receive a commemorative plaque.
Senior outfielder Justen Crews highlights the Newberry representatives after earning the Florida Dairy Farmers co-Player of the Year award for Class 1A. Crews batted an impressive .584 for the 2021 season, with 52 hits (two per game), 46 runs, six homers, 29 RBI and 11 doubles. He also led the Panthers with 26 stolen bases in 26 games.
“He, in my opinion, is the most dangerous leadoff hitter I’ve seen,” Spina said.
Senior pitcher Luke Ridley, who has committed to Parkland College in North Carolina, joins Crews on the All Area team—after joining him as the Florida Dairy Farmers Co-Player of the Year. Ridley finished 7-0 with a sparkling 1.02 ERA and 110 strikeouts in 55 innings and pitched a one-hitter in the win over Hamilton County in the state semifinal game in Fort Myers.
“The kid can pitch,” Spina added. “He’s dangerous when he’s on the bump.”
Senior shortstop Makai Johnson is the final Newberry selection on the team. Johnson, who will join his teammate Crews playing at Tallahassee Community College next spring, hit .494 on his way to logging 42 hits, 38 runs, a team-high 34 RBI, 11 doubles and four home runs. Johnson—who scored the winning run in the state championship game—finished second on the team with 18 stolen bases.
Union County, which finished 21-5 and advanced to the Region 3-1A final, actually landed four players on the team, one more than Newberry.
The right side of the infield is manned by Tigers, with senior Whip Davis at first base and junior Jake O’Steen at second base.
Davis committed only four errors at first base, while batting .356 with 26 hits, 24 runs scored, 25 RBI and 13 stolen bases. He also contributed on the mound, compiling a 5-1 record with a 1.71 ERA for Union County.
O’Steen led the Tigers with a .418 average and 22 stolen bases, along with 33 hits, 31 runs and 20 RBI.
Outfielder Jay Cohen also represents Union County on the team after hitting .416 on 32 hits, with 27 runs scored, 25 RBI and nine doubles.
Senior starting pitcher Tripp Davis is the final Tiger on the team. Davis, who was nominated for the Florida Dairy Farmers 1A Player of the Year award, led the Tigers with a 7-2 record and 2.35 ERA while striking out 75 in 53 2/3 innings. He also hit at a .350 clip and drove in 26 runs.
“Tripp really had a great year,” Union County coach Travis Rimes said. “He was our bulldog on the mound. He really set the tone for us in a lot of the close wins early in the season. He also struck out only eight times in 102 plate appearances and had a great two-strike approach.
Williston, who won the 1A state title in 2019, advanced to the Region 4-1A final this season but ran into Newberry. It was the final of four losses to Newberry this season.
Despite that, catcher Logan Head and third baseman Mikey Rey represent the Red Devils on the All Area squad.
Head, a senior, hit .405 on 32 hits, with 17 RBI and nine doubles. Rey, another senior, hit for exactly the same batting average and also had 32 hits but drove in 21 runs with 14 stolen bases and nine doubles.
Trenton’s senior outfielder Jacob Guthrie rounds out the team. Despite a disappointing 11-12 season in which the Tigers failed to qualify for the state playoffs, Guthrie had a standout season while batting .333 with 25 runs, 22 hits and 15 RBI, along with five triples and three home runs. He also finished second on the team in stolen bases with 14 in 16 attempts.
This is the third 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.