The race for the Class 1A baseball state championship was competitive in 2022.
And the road to Fort Myers was filled with surprises as defending 1A state champion Newberry lost to Chiefland and 1A No. 2 Union County (Lake Butler) lost to Fort White in the opening round of the state playoffs.
In the end, Fort White and Dixie County (Cross City) made their first state semifinal appearances in program history, and Class 1A dominated the Mainstreet Daily News All Area Baseball Team for small schools, presented by Drummond Community Bank.
A panel of local sportswriters and coaches chose the All Area teams from Mainstreet's eight-county coverage area. All 46 players and coaches will receive commemorative plaques to recognize their accomplishments.
Eight of the 11 selections played for Class 1A schools. Dixie County led the way on the small school All Area team with three players selected—outfielders Luke Thomas and Kolton Hunt, and pitcher Carson St. Laurent.
The Bears (13-10) defeated Fort Meade on the road in the regional semifinals, followed by a 9-1 win against Chiefland in the region final to send them to their first final four.
Dixie County’s season ended with an 8-4 loss to Bozeman (Panama City) in the state semifinals at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers.
Thomas hit .390 and was second on the team with 23 hits.
“Luke has been a quiet assassin at the plate for us this year, he just gets it done,” said Dixie County coach Shannon Smith, who was in just his second season. “In the field, he runs like a gazelle and makes plays like he did against Fort Meade that immediately changed the momentum.”
St. Laurent led Dixie County at the plate with a .441 batting average and 14 runs batted in. The senior was also 3-0 on the mound with a 1.79 earned run average in 11 appearances, including 63 strikeouts in 47 innings pitched.
“Carson is a warrior on the field,” Smith said. “He pitched in our toughest games and he returned to playing after breaking his arm early in the season. He was a terror at the plate and got a lot of key hits for us down the stretch, including two against Bozeman.”
Hunt, who was a nominee for the Florida Dairy Farmers Class 1A Player of the Year, batted .318 with a team-leading eight doubles, 12 hit by pitches, and 27 runs scored. He was second on the team in stolen bases with 16, which was right behind Thomas (17).
The senior only committed two errors and finished with a .975 fielding percentage in center field.
“Kolton has been a workhorse for our program,” Smith noted. “His speed on the bases and ability to put pressure on the other team was a multiplier for us. He has great instincts and is like having another coach on the field.”
Fort White, which lost to Holmes County (Bonifay) in the state semifinals, had two players on the team – pitcher Jonathan Fischer and third baseman Tucker Hardee.
“Jonathan Fischer was the workhorse of the team,” said Fort White coach Rick Julius.
Fischer made 11 appearances in 2022. He finished 8-1 with a 1.15 ERA. He struck out 49 and walked only 11 in 54.2 innings pitched.
While Fischer led the team defensively, Hardee led the Indians offensively with a .431 average.
The junior had a team-leading 22 hits and 16 RBI. He also led the Indians with a .764 slugging percentage and a .540 on base percentage.
“Tucker Hardee carried the team offensively throughout the year,” Julius explained after the Indians batted just .241 as a team.
Catcher Landon Gruenwald helped lead Newberry to a 14-8 record, the 1A-District 7 title, and a state playoff berth.
The junior batted .356 with 21 hits and 15 RBI. Gruenwald had a .982 fielding percentage and was 3-0 on the mound with a 1.24 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 28.1 innings pitched.
“He’s a team player that works hard,” said Newberry coach Mike Spina. “He was a huge piece in the district tournament to help us win. He always does what the coaching staff asks of him. We look forward to seeing him help lead the Panthers in 2023.”
Other 1A members on the team include first baseman Wade Gore of Chiefland and Kyler Cohen of Union County.
“Wade was our leader this year,” said Chiefland coach Chad Brock. “He was the backbone of our defense and had a great season offensively. He makes plays defensively that makes everyone around him better.”
Gore batted .333 with 22 hits and 15 RBI.
“He has only made two errors in two years for us,” Brock said. “Offensively he made huge strides this year and is a threat in the batters’ box every time he is up. He plays the game the right way and leads by example. Very well deserving of being recognized.”
Cohen helped lead the Tigers (14-12) to the 1A-District 6 title and a playoff appearance.
“Kyler has been a baseball fixture for our program, his work ethic has set the standard for other players,” said Union County coach Travis Rimes. “He has been a four-year starter and he was always ready to go and often the last to leave the park.”
The senior, who did not commit an error this season, led Union County at the plate with a .379 average, 24 runs and 21 RBI. He also had four of the team’s six home runs and was second with six doubles.
“Kyler will be difficult to replace,” Rimes said. “He was like a kid I raised. I have known him since he started playing baseball in 9U.. Kyler has always been a pleasure to watch.”
The other three players to make the team are from Class 2A Oak Hall School (Gainesville).
The Eagles, who had no seniors on their roster this season, finished 14-4 and made the 2A state playoffs.
They were solid up the middle with the combination of twin brothers Jackson and Harrison Beach. The sophomores made an impact offensively and defensively.
“Jackson Beach was a solid performer from the leadoff spot in the lineup drawing 29 walks as well as hitting for average,” said Oak Hall coach Kevin Maris. “His defensive play was solid.”
Jackson, who played second base, batted .357 with a team-leading 36 runs and a .630 OBP. He also tied for the team lead with 20 stolen bases.
Harrison finished third on the team with a .426 average and he was second with 33 runs scored. In 52 total chances, he only committed four errors.
“Harrison Beach had an outstanding year at the plate while playing spectacular defense up the middle at shortstop,” Maris said. “He came up big in many games defensively while showing his creativity as a defensive player.”
The duo combined to commit just seven total errors in 18 games played together.
The final member of the team is utility player Jack Kuzmicki, who led the Eagles this year with a .534 hitting average, 31 hits and 35 RBI, and a .965 slugging percentage.
The junior also led Oak Hall with 11 doubles and four triples, and he had both of the team’s two home runs.
“He was the 2A-District 7 Player of the Year because of his aggressive approach to hitting this year,” Maris said. “He also pitched and played first and third base defensively. He was solid and clutch all year long.”
Kuzmicki was 5-0 on the mound with a 1.52 ERA. In 27.2 innings pitched, he struck out 32 and walked nine. He only committed two errors all season and finished with a .926 fielding percentage.
2022 MainStreet Daily News All-Area Baseball teams presented by Drummond Community Bank
Coverage area – Alachua, Bradford, Columbia, Dixie, Gilchrist, Levy, Suwannee, and Union County counties and Keystone Heights.
SMALL SCHOOL (1A-2A)
C – Landon Gruenwald (Jr./Newberry)
1B – Wade Gore (Jr./Chiefland)
2B – Jackson Beach (So./Oak Hall School)
SS – Harrison Beach (So./Oak Hall School)
3B – Tucker Hardee (Jr./Fort White)
OF – Luke Thomas (Sr./Dixie County), Kyler Cohen (Sr./Union County), Kolton Hunt (Sr./Dixie County)
UTIL – Jack Kuzmicki (Jr./Oak Hall School)
P – Carson St. Laurent (Sr./Dixie County)
P – Jonathan Fischer (Sr./Fort White)
Branford - Haiden Ward (So.), Caden Coker (Jr.), Tanner Miller (Sr.)
Bradford (Starke) - Luke Stucky (So.)
Bronson - Peyton Lake (Fr.), Kasey Weeks (Jr.), David Runion (Jr.)
Chiefland - Junior Brown (Jr.), Seth Campbell (Jr.), Trey Meeks (Fr.), Taylor Brown (Fr.), Tyler Bass (Jr.)
Dixie County (Cross City) - Nick Chesser (Sr.), Kade McCaskill (So.), Sheldon Hoover (Sr.)
Fort White - Brad Sullivan (Jr.), Easton Flynn (Sr.), Dylan Lovelace (So.), Daniel Gonzalez (Sr.)
Newberry - Jackson McDavid (Fr.), Jayden Holcombe (So.), Austin Compton (Sr.), Zachary Cetin (Sr.), Mason Tomchak (Sr.)
Oak Hall School (Gainesville) - Neil Ruth (Jr.), Emory Ezzell (So.), Ethan Szlachetka (So.),Troy Freeman (So.)
St. Francis Catholic Academy (Gainesville) - Luke Fariborzian (So.), Mason Bell (Jr.), Jack Steen (So.), Cooper Lieffers (So.), Ty Powell (So.)
Trenton - Johnny Scott (Jr.), Brant Bivens (7th), Maddox Gilliam (Jr.), Mason Craft (Jr.)
Union County (Lake Butler) - Trevon Lee (Jr.), Ayden Elixon (Jr.), Quinten Rawls (Sr.), Blake Agner (Jr.), Jake O'Steen (Sr.), Lucas Johns (Sr.)
Williston - Talin Sandquist (Sr.), Ryan Braddock (Sr.), Colby Casse (Sr.)