Columbia, Buchholz finishes in top 10

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Two years ago, the North Marion (Citra) Colts were six outs away from their first state baseball title at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers. 

But North Marion allowed a six-run fifth inning and ended up dropping the 4A state championship game, 8-4, to North Broward Prep (Coconut Creek). 

The Colts took that memory and brought it into this 2023 season. And this time North Marion finished the job. 

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North Marion (27-5) beat Nature Coast Tech (Brooksville), Hernando (Brooksville), and Bishop Moore (Orlando) to advance back to Fort Myers. The Colts slipped past Sunset (Miami), 5-4, in the semifinals, setting up a matchup with a suddenly red-hot Bishop Kenny (Jacksonville) team.

North Marion took care of business, 5-0, for their first state baseball title. That allows the Colts to move into the top spot of the final Prep Zone Baseball Power Poll for 2023. 

But North Marion is only tied for first. Despite picking up six of nine first-place votes, the Colts shared the top spot with 2A state runner-up St. Johns Country Day (Orange Park). 

For the second time in three years, the Spartans (26-5) advanced to the state semifinals in Fort Myers. And for the second time in three years, St. Johns Country Day came up short in the state title game, this time 5-2 to Lakeland Christian. 

Despite the loss, the Spartans receive a first-place vote and tie North Marion in overall points. 

Providence (Jacksonville), who was previously the top-ranked team, finishes third. The Stallions (25-5) advanced to the 3A state semifinals but were beaten in a heartbreaker in 10 innings by eventual state champion Calvary Christian (Clearwater). Providence also receives a first-place vote. 

One more state semifinal team, Columbia (Lake City), receives the final first-place vote and finishes at No.4. For the second year in a row the Tigers (24-6) advanced to the state semifinals in Fort Myers, this time in 5A. And for the second year in a row Columbia came up short in the semifinal game, this time losing 5-2 to eventual 5A state champion American Heritage (Plantation).

But it was another banner year for the Tigers, who had to rally with a big seventh inning in the region semifinal against Lincoln (Tallahassee), before winning 7-1 at No. 6 Clay (Green Cove Springs) to advance back to Fort Myers. 

Rounding out the top five is Montverde Academy. The Eagles (25-4) lost at two-time defending state champion and eventual 3A state runner-up North Broward Prep 4-1 in the Region 3 final. Montverde stays put from the previous poll to finish in the top five. 

Clay is No. 6. The Blue Devils (23-7) were knocked out the Region 1-5A final by Columbia. 

Buchholz (Gainesville) ends up No. 7. The Bobcats (21-7) move up four spots from the previous rankings despite a tough 10-8 loss to Winter Springs in the Region 1-6A final. 

1A state runner-up Lafayette (Mayo) also moves into the top 10, finishing at No. 8. The Hornets (22-5) defeated Wakulla Christian School (Crawfordville), No. 19T Union County (Lake Butler) and Holmes County (Bonifay) to advance to the state championship game in Fort Myers against Chipley. Lafayette came up short, 10-1, for the state title but still finishes the season in the top of the regional rankings. 

Spruce Creek (Port Orange) jumps from unranked in the previous poll all the way to No. 9 in the final rankings. The Hawks (20-11) won at No. 17 Sandalwood (Jacksonville), Lake Brantley (Altamonte Springs) and Winter Park to advance to a 7A state semifinal game in Fort Myers. But there, Spruce Creek drew the top-ranked team in the nation, Stoneman Douglas (Parkland), who knocked off the Hawks, 5-1, and then won another state title the next day, finishing the season 29-0. 

Another team unranked previously that makes a big jump into the top 10 is Bishop Kenny (Jacksonville). The Crusaders were 3-6 at one point and finished the regular season 12-10. But BK turned it on at the right time, rolling through the District 3-4A tournament.

The Crusaders edged Santa Fe (Alachua), 1-0, at home in the opening round before pulling off the 3-1 upset at top-seed South Walton (Santa Rosa Beach). After pulling another surprise with a 3-2 win at No. 13 Baker County (Glen St. Mary) in the Region 1 Final, Bishop Kenny defeated Jefferson (Tampa), 4-1, in the state semifinals before losing 5-0 to North Marion in the state title game. The Crusaders (19-11) had allowed only four runs in four state playoff games before the loss in the championship game. 

Among teams in the Mainstreet Daily News area in the poll is No. 18 Newberry. The Panthers (16-9), who won the 1A state title in 2021, advanced back to Fort Myers before dropping a 1-0 game in eight innings to eventual state champion Chipley in the state semifinal game. 

Union County (Lake Butler) finishes in a tie for No. 19. The Tigers (18-9) saw their season come to an end in the regional final, 14-3, to eventual 1A state runner-up Lafayette. 

Newberry is new to the poll this week along with 16th-ranked Trinity Catholic (Ocala).

The Celtics (21-9), who were ranked earlier in the season, move back into the rankings after advancing the Region 1-3A final and nearly knocking off Providence, losing a tough one 4-3. 

Oakleaf (Orange Park), Fleming Island (Orange Park), Ridgeview (Orange Park), Creekside (St. Johns), and Santa Fe drop out from the previous poll. 

The Prep Zone Power Poll ranks the top 20 high school football, girls volleyball, girls basketball, boys basketball, softball & baseball teams (regardless of FHSAA classification) across 26 counties in North Florida (Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Citrus, Clay, Columbia, Dixie, Duval, Flagler, Gilchrist, Hamilton, Hernando, Jefferson, Lafayette, Lake, Levy, Madison, Marion, Nassau, Putnam, Sumter, St. Johns, Suwannee, Taylor, Union & Volusia counties). It is voted on bi-weekly by sportswriters and sportscasters and it is powered by Anytime Fitness of Gainesville.

THE PREP ZONE POWER POLL POWERED BY ANYTIME FITNESS OF GAINESVILLE – 2023 BASEBALL POLL #6 (FINAL POLL)

(School, followed by classification, first place votes, final 2023 record, and total voting points)

Teams in bold are inside the Mainstreet Daily News coverage area.

1T. North Marion (Citra) (4A) (6) (27-5) – 170

1T. St. Johns Country Day (Orange Park) (2A) (1) (26-5) – 170

3. Providence (Jacksonville) (3A) (1) (25-5) – 166

4. Columbia (Lake City) (5A) (1) (24-6) – 156

5. Montverde Academy (3A) (25-4) – 136

6. Clay (Green Cove Springs) (5A) (23-7) – 121

7. Buchholz (Gainesville) (6A) (21-7) – 111

8. Lafayette (Mayo) (1A) (22-5) – 103

9. Spruce Creek (Port Orange) (7A) (20-11) – 98

10. Bishop Kenny (Jacksonville) (4A) (19-11) – 95

11. Trinity Christian (Jacksonville) (3A) (22-5) – 88

12. Lake Minneola (Minneola) (6A) (21-6) – 75

13. Baker County (Glen St. Mary) (4A) (22-7) – 72

14T. Fernandina Beach (3A) (21-5) – 53

14T. Hernando (Brooksville) (4A) (23-5) – 53

16. Trinity Catholic (Ocala) (3A) (21-9) – 47

17. Sandalwood (Jacksonville) (7A) (18-6) – 37

18. Newberry (1A) (16-9) – 32

19T. Union County (Lake Butler) (1A) (18-9) – 31

19T. Wolfson (Jacksonville) (3A) (21-6) – 31

Also receiving votes: Ridgeview (Orange Park) (5A) (20-7) – 23; Fleming Island (Orange Park) (6A) (16-9) – 17;  Bolles (Jacksonville) (3A) (15-13) – 8; Creekside (St. Johns) (7A) (18-9) – 7; Oakleaf (Orange Park) (6A) (17-5) – 7; Oak Hall (Gainesville) (2A) (18-6) – 2; Santa Fe (Alachua) (4A) (18-10) – 1. 

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