Branford, Williston highlight small school team

Branford's Laila Arnold (left) and Williston's Raegan Geiger
Branford's Laila Arnold (left) and Williston's Raegan Geiger.
Photos and graphic by C.J. Gish
Editor’s Note: This is the first of five stories unveiling the 2023 Bosshardt Realty All Area Softball and Baseball Teams.

It was another big year for small school softball in the Mainstreet Daily News coverage area.

Dixie County (Cross City) advanced to its second straight Class 1A state semifinal and Branford played in its first-ever state championship game.

Plus, the Williston softball team was ranked number one in Class 1A for most of the season and only lost three games all year.

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The trio dominated the 2023 Bosshardt Realty Small School All Area Softball Team, filling nine of the 11 positions with three players from each school.

Perhaps the best player in the area was Peyton Hatcher of Dixie County.

The Florida Gateway College signee had a team-best .513 batting average for the Bears (21-6), who lost to eventual state champion Liberty County (Bristol) in the Class 1A state semifinals.

The senior also led the team with a .606 on base percentage and a .995 fielding percentage, with just one error in 212 total chances.

“Peyton is the type of player that’s going to give 100% effort and aggression in practice and in games, she is the soul of our team,” said Dixie County coach Greg Wimberley. “Every person on the team, coaches included, knew if it came down to her to win the game, then we were going to win.”

Such was the case in the 1A-Region 4 Final at Williston.

With the bases loaded and two outs, Hatcher popped it up into right center field. The ball ended up dropping and Hatcher cleared the bases with a double which proved to be the winning run in a 5-3 win against the Red Devils (26-3).

Hatcher also led the Bears in hits (39), doubles (16), RBI (27) and slugging percentage (.881).

Senior catcher Peyton Hatcher (left) and senior pitcher Bria Hinkle are two big reasons why the Dixie County (Cross City) softball team is back in the Final Four. The Bears will play Liberty County at 1:30 p.m. in the Class 1A state semifinals in Clermont.
Photo by C.J. Gish Senior catcher Peyton Hatcher (left) and senior pitcher Bria Hinkle are two big reasons why the Dixie County (Cross City) softball team advanced to consecutive Class 1A state semifinals.

“She meant so much to this year’s team, she was the one everyone turned to,” Wimberley added. “She didn’t always speak on everything. She picked the most important things to speak on and when she spoke the team listened. She was definitely one of the main reasons we made it as far as we did. I am going to miss her very much.”

Her pitcher, senior Bria Hinkle, also made the team after another stellar season in the circle.

Hinkle, who was second on the team with a .424 batting average and 19 RBI, finished 21-5 with a 1.38 earned run average.

“Bria is going to give you everything she has, she is going to take games on her shoulders, and she is going to put the team on her back when we are struggling,” Wimberley said. “She is going to exude confidence so that all of her teammates know that we will be ok, and they trusted her to carry us through some tough games this year.”

Hinkle only walked 12 batters while striking out 212 in 157 innings pitched.

“What she meant to the team was confidence because they knew when she was in the circle that we just had to do the little things right and we would be in a great position to win every game,” Wimberley said. “Everyone on the team knows that without her there is no way we make it to the state playoffs. I’m going to miss her very much.”

Outfielder Shylee Brown joined her teammates on the All Area team.

“Shylee is probably the most outspoken leader on the team, she is going to take the outfield over and demand 100% effort from everyone out there and she leads by example,” Wimberley said. “When you’re a pitcher and you know you have a centerfielder out there that’s going to have everyone in the right position to make a play it gives you the confidence that you can throw the ball a little harder because if you miss your spot you have that leader behind you that has your back.”

Branford's Madyson Sikes
Photo by C.J. Gish Branford’s Madyson Sikes hit .330 with 31 RBI, 16 doubles and six home runs.

The stats speak for themselves for the senior (.423, 11 doubles, 2 HRs, .718 SLG%) but they don’t tell the whole story of her value to the team.

“What she means to the team is an extra coach on the field,” Wimberley said. “She knows the game so well and she moves players around and gets them where they need to be. She definitely was a very big reason why our outfield was one of the best in the state and one of the reasons we made it to the final four. I will miss her very much.”

Class 1A state runner-up Branford (25-5) rode the arm of sophomore Laila Arnold all the way to the state championship game, their first in program history.

Arnold was 21-4 in the circle with a 1.65 ERA. She had a 4-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio with 258 Ks and 61 walks in 165.2 innings pitched.

“She’s a rock star, gives it 110% all the time,” said Branford coach Oscar Saavedra. “She puts in the work needed to improve and it shows. She was definitely one of the reasons we were able to be as successful this season. I can always count on her to give it everything she’s got.”

Third baseman Madyson Sikes joined her on the team following a big sophomore campaign.

Sikes, who batted .330 and a team-best .660 SLG %, led the team with 31 RBI, 16 doubles, and six home runs.

She also finished with a .969 fielding percentage with only five errors all season.

“Madyson stepped up this year as one of the main leaders on the team,” Saavedra said. “Even though she played through injury all season she gave it her all. As her discipline at the plate continues to improve, I see many more HRs in her future.”

Another sophomore, Ellie Frierson, made the team as an outfielder after leading the Bucs with a .432 batting average, a .481 OBP, and she was second on the team with a .621 SLG%.

“She’s a true force to be reckoned with in the field,” Saavedra said. “Her strength at the plate and in the field keeps getting better. Each game she gives it her all. There are bright things in Ellie’s softball future.”

Livie Davis of Williston edged honorable mention selection Cloey Criggall (32 runs, 37 stolen bases) of Branford at the shortstop position.

Davis, an Eastern Florida State College signee, led the Red Devils with a .515 OBP, 8 HRs, 36 R, 37 RBI, and an .882 SLG%.

Nevaeh Hayes made the team as an outfielder but the junior played several positions including pitcher and first base.

The University of West Florida commit was among the leaders on the team with a .426 batting average, a .505 OBP, and an .829 SLG%.

Williston pitcher Nevaeh Hayes
Photo by C.J. Gish Williston’s Nevaeh Hayes played infield, outfield and pitcher for the Red Devils.

Hayes led the Red Devils with 40 hits, 15 doubles and tied with a team-best four triples. She was second with 34 RBI and 34 runs scored.

Hayes’ spot in the outfield made room for teammate Raegan Geiger to make the team as the first baseman.

The College of Central Florida signee led Williston with a .432 batting average. She was second on the team behind Hayes in hits (38) and doubles (10) and was third on the team with five home runs.

The senior finished with a .480 OBP and a .750 SLG%.

Rounding out the All Area infield is second baseman Malana Kennard of Newberry High School.

The sophomore helped lead the Panthers (15-9) to a Class 1A state playoff appearance by leading her team with a .493 batting average, a .639 OBP, and 54 runs scored. She also led Newberry with 17 stolen bases and was second on the team with a .948 fielding percentage.

“Malana has all the tools needed to be a very successful softball player,” said Newberry coach Ed Johnson. “In the leadoff role she can beat out an infield single with her speed, or show some pop hitting in the gaps. Defensively, she has smooth, quick hands and an above average softball IQ. She is going to be fun to watch develop even more over the next two years.”

The final member of the team is utility player Addison Allaire of Trenton.

The 8th-grader helped lead the Tigers (16-9) to a 1A playoff appearance by batting a team-leading .446. She led the team with 33 hits, 30 RBI, and six home runs.

Allaire was also 5-4 in the circle with a 1.62 ERA. She only walked 27 and struck out 144 in 82.1 innings pitched.

Small School (1A-2A)

C – Peyton Hatcher (Sr./Dixie County)

1B – Raegan Geiger (Sr./Williston)

2B – Malana Kennard (So./Newberry)

SS – Livie Davis (Sr./Williston)

3B – Madyson Sikes (So./Branford)

OF – Ellie Frierson (So./Branford)

OF – Shylee Brown (Sr./Dixie County)

OF – Nevaeh Hayes (Jr./Williston)

Utility – Addison Allaire (8th/Trenton)

P – Laila Arnold (So./Branford)

P – Bria Hinkle (Sr./Dixie County)

Honorable mentions:

Bell – Alaina Thomas (So.), Ashlee Thomas (Sr.)

Branford – Alexandria Whitfield (So.), Morgan Brennan (So.), Cloey Criggall (So.), Makayla Williams (Sr.)

Bronson – Julianne Lampton (8th), Tatum Gibson (Jr.), Austine Howard (Jr.), Maci Thomas (Jr.)., Presley Thomas (Jr.), Bristol Howard (6th)

Chiefland – Emma Swain (Jr.), MacKenzie Fisher (8th), Grace Quincey (Sr.), Anna Meeks (Fr.)

Dixie County (Cross City) – Gracie McKinnon (Sr.), Ava Bechtold (So.), Jaicee Brown (Fr.)

Fort White – Madison Brown (Sr.), Kadence Compton (So.), Morgan Kelly (So.), Gracie Clemons (Jr.), N’Coreyia Atkins (Jr.)

Hawthorne – Madisyn Gillins (So.), Synteria Williams (Jr.), Chole Feagle (Jr.), Kaelyn Williams (7th), Alaina Auld (8th), Kamiah Brooks (Sr.)

Newberry – Hollie Pabst (Jr.), Paige Bankston (Sr.), Danielle Olivera (Sr.), Natreana Akkani (Jr.), Lauren Heitzler (Sr.)

Trenton – Brandy Dees (Jr.), Presley Atkins (Fr.), Olivia Weaver (So.), Hailey Blankenship (Jr.), Payton Campbell (So.), Emmalee Brideson (So.)

Union County (Lake Butler) – Tamia Young (Sr.), Leah Clark (Sr.), Angela Tucker (Sr.), Hannah Rivera (Sr.)

Williston – Luna Asencion (8th), Karley Jerrels (Sr.), Baylee Cribbs (Fr.), Maci Vonderstrasse (Sr.), Cheyenne Boggs (Sr.).

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