Countryside Christian makes first postseason in seven years

Countryside Christian won its first district title last week and advanced to the state playoffs for the first time since 2017.
Countryside Christian won its first district title last week and advanced to the state playoffs for the first time since 2017.
Courtesy of Marisha Reese

To say the Countryside Christian School (CCS) softball team was on the bubble of making the FHSAA state playoffs is an understatement.

Heading into last week, the Minutemen were seeded eighth in Class 2A-Region 1, with the top eight teams qualifying for this week’s postseason.

That means that they would have likely had to win at least one game in their district tournament to qualify.

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They did, but it wasn’t easy.

“I am not sure when was the last appearance or district title, but I am glad to contribute to CCS softball program,” said first-year head coach Marisha Neal (Coach Reese).

The last time Countryside Christian made the state playoffs was 2017, which ended with a 7-0 loss at Eagle’s View (Jacksonville) in a Class 2A regional semifinal after entering the postseason as a district runner-up.

Last week at home the top seed Minutemen (9-4) rallied past rival St. Francis Catholic Academy in a big way in the 2A-District 4 Semifinals.

After the No. 4 seed Wolves (7-8) scored four runs in the top of the sixth inning to take an 11-2 lead, putting Countryside Christian on the brink of an ended season, the Minutemen responded with nine runs in the bottom of the sixth to tie the game and they scored a run in the bottom of the seventh to win it 12-11.

“At this point I think that the suspense of a rocky game drives them,” Reese said. “We have talked about how regardless of the situations within the game we have to do the routine things correctly.”

In the title game in Daytona against Father Lopez (Daytona Beach), the Minutemen found themselves in a big hole again after the No. 3 seed Green Wave (6-11) scored six runs in the top of third inning to grab a 9-5 lead.

However, CCS scored four in the sixth and two in the seventh for a walk-off 11-10 win.

“It honestly feels amazing, and very unexpected,” Reese said of the district championship and postseason berth. “I knew that we had a younger team outside of the seniors and we were going to have to do a lot of growing. We have grown a lot but still have more to go. There are some things coming together quicker than expected and it makes me excited for the future of the team.”

The Minutemen earned the No. 7 seed in 2A-Region 1 but also a home game.

They will host No. 7 seed Providence (Jacksonville) at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

“I am from Polk County so I know absolutely nothing about any of the teams that we have played outside of regular season games,” said Coach Reese, whose team will host a Stallions team that lost 10-0 at defending state champion University Christian (Jacksonville) in the District 3 title game. “I am just ready to see what type of competition we have not met yet.”

Providence (9-12), which advanced to the 2A-Region 1 Final last year, is led by sophomores Summer Stearns (.456, 17 RBI, 25 RS, 3 HR) and Kayleigh Cardona (.344, 20 RS).

Countryside Christian, which is batting .416 as a team and has stolen 90 bases this season, is led by senior Brooke Davis (.525, 12 RBI, 11 SB), freshman Riley Keith (.489, 24 RS, 15 RBI, 8 DBL, 1 HR, 16 SB), and senior Gabriella Colon (.486, 15 RS, 14 RBI, 14 SB).

The Minutemen are one of four Alachua County teams in the state playoffs.

Santa Fe (Alachua), which defeated Trinity Catholic (Ocala), 5-0, in Thursday’s 3A-District 5 championship game, will host No. 7 seed Astronaut (Titusville) (14-8) at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.

The Raiders (21-4) earned the No. 2 seed in 3A-Region 2.

Wednesday’s game will be broadcast online (audio only) at Mainstreet Daily News at 6:50 p.m. with Marty Pallman (Play-by-play) and Alex Washburn (Color) calling the action.

Gainesville High earned the No. 4 seed in 5A-Region 1 following the 5A-District 2 title.

Freshman pitcher Leanna Bourdage threw a no-hitter and junior catcher Braylin Cook hit a two-run home run in a 4-0 win against Middleburg in the championship game.

Cook also hit three home runs in a 10-3 win at home against Columbia (Lake City) in Tuesday’s district semifinals.

They were one of seven teams from the area to win a district title.

The Hurricanes (20-4) will host No. 5 seed Deltona (18-5) at 7 p.m. on Thursday.

“I know we will be facing solid teams moving forward in the playoffs, but I definitely think this team has the potential to be a final four team,” said GHS coach Chris Chronister. “I feel like we have a team that is capable of competing with any team in the state.”

Bourdage is a big reason why.

She is 13-3 in the circle with 12 complete games.

In 102.2 innings pitched she has given up just eight earned runs (0.55 ERA) with only 33 walks and 200 strikeouts.

“It always starts in the circle, so Leanna needs to have a good game in the circle, and we have to play solid defense behind her,” Chronister said. “Our offense is clicking right now, so if we continue to hit the way we have in the past couple of weeks, we should be good offensively.”

Newberry is the other Alachua County team in.

The Panthers (17-5), who are led at the plate by senior Hollie Pabst (.593), lost to Chiefland, 4-1, in the 1A-District 7 semifinals but earned an at-large bid.

They are the No. 4 seed and will travel to top seed Trenton (19-2), which defeated Chiefland, 10-0, in the district title game.

2024 FHSAA SOFTBALL STATE PLAYOFFS

All games at 7 p.m. unless noted

Game times are subject to change

Wednesday, May 8

Class 3A-Region 1 Quarterfinals

7 Keystone Heights at 2 Episcopal (Jacksonville)

3 West Nassau (Callahan) at 6 Suwannee (Live Oak)

Class 3A-Region 2 Quarterfinals

7 Astronaut (Titusville) at 2 Santa Fe (Alachua)

Class 2A-Region 1 Quarterfinals

2 Providence (Jacksonville) at 7 Countryside Christian, 4 p.m.

Thursday, May 9

Class 5A-Region 1 Quarterfinals

8 Columbia (Lake City) at 1 Middleburg

5 Deltona at 4 Gainesville

Class 1A-Region 3 Semifinals

4 Aucilla Christian (Monticello) at 1 Branford

3 Madison County at 2 Fort White

Class 1A-Region 4 Semifinals

4 Newberry at 1 Trenton

3 Chiefland at 2 Williston

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to note the Countryside Christian mascot is the Minutemen.

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