The little things can help a baseball team—whether it be pro, college, or high school—be successful.
Those same little things can cost a team and on Tuesday night in the Class 1A Region 4 semifinal game, those things cost the defending state champion Newberry Panthers (14-8) a shot at repeating as state champs.
The host Panthers gave Chiefland (11-11) three unearned runs on four errors and a late rally for Newberry fell short as the Indians eliminated them, 4-3.
The two teams combined for only six hits, but errors, walks and hit batters were plentiful and there were plenty of base runners throughout the night.
Chiefland got on the board in the first inning as Newberry committed three errors in the first and walked another batter. It looked like the Panthers would get out of the jam as Newberry starter Landon Gruenwald struck out Indians’ Wade Gore with two runners on and two outs.
But Newberry catcher Kaleb Compton threw the ball away down the first-base line trying to complete the strikeout and Trey Meeks scored to give Chiefland a 1-0 lead.
While Newberry was quiet offensively against Chiefland starting pitcher Tyler Bass—managing only one hit over the first five innings—the Indians were missing opportunities.
In the third, Chiefland loaded the bases on a double, a walk, and a fielder’s choice to drive Gruenwald from the game. Newberry reliever Mason Tomchak entered the contest and immediately induced Braden Smith to line into an unassisted double play on a line drive to Panthers’ second baseman Jonathan Moore to keep the deficit at one run.
Bass was thrown out on the plate in the fourth on a bunt attempt by Reece Emmons when Newberry third baseman Jackson McDavid picked up the tip and flipped it home to get Bass out at the plate and keep the score at 1-0.
Chiefland finally broke through for a run in the fifth inning. Taylor Brown walked to lead off the inning and, with two outs, Gore blooped a single in front of Newberry center fielder Jayden Holcombe to drive in Brown for a 2-0 Chiefland lead.
And then in the top of the sixth, Chiefland picked up two more runs on another crucial Newberry error. Chiefland loaded the bases with two outs on a walk, hit batter, and an infield hit. Meeks then bounced a ball to Moore at second, who booted the ball, scoring Colton Brown from third and Seth Campbell came all the way home from second to score and make it a 4-0 Chiefland advantage.
Newberry has been known as a come-from-behind team, winning their two games in the District 7-1A tournament last week on walk-off hits in the bottom of the seventh against Williston and Dixie County. On Tuesday night, the Panthers made things interesting in the bottom of the sixth.
With the bases loaded and two outs, McDavid came through with a two-run single to right field to cut the deficit in half. Braden Smith replaced Bass on the mound and walked Landon Wilcox with the bases loaded to make it 4-3.
But Smith struck out Josiah Hagland to end the sixth, and then retired the first three hitters in the Newberry order in the seventh to end Newberry’s title run.
Chiefland will play in the Region 4-1A final on Friday night at Dixie County (Cross City) after the Bears blanked Fort Meade 7-0 to advance. Dixie County beat the Indians twice this season, including a 7-4 victory at Chiefland last week in the district tournament semifinals.
For Newberry, it’s a disappointing ending to their title run. The Panthers had to replace plenty of talent from the 25-1 squad that won the first state baseball title in school history in 2021 after winning another district title last week.
FHSAA Baseball playoffs
Class 1A Regional Semifinals
Tuesday, May 10
No. 4 Fort White 4, No. 1 Union County (Lake Butler) 2 (9) (Region 3)
No. 4 Chiefland 4, No. 1 Newberry 3 (Region 4)
No. 3 Dixie County (Cross City), 7, No. 2 Fort Meade 0 (Region 4)
Tuesday, May 10
Class 5A – No. 1 Columbia (Lake City) 4, No. 8 St. Augustine 0
Wednesday, May 11
Class 2A – No. 7 Oak Hall School (Gainesville) at No. 2 North Florida Christian (Tallahassee), 4 p.m.
Class 4A – No. 8 Baker County (Glen St. Mary) at No. 1 Suwannee (Live Oak), 7 p.m.
Class 4A – No. 5 Clay (Green Cove Springs) at No. 4 Santa Fe (Alachua), 7 p.m.