For the Dixie County athletic program, it’s felt like the first time a lot lately.
First last Friday, the Bears baseball team pummeled rival Chiefland 9-1 to advance to their first state semifinal appearance in school history.
Tuesday night in Cross City, the Dixie County softball team joined them in making history.
Junior pitcher Bria Hinkle pitched a three-hit shutout and added three hits and two RBIs as the Bears (21-4) blanked Taylor (Pierson) 9-0 to win the Class 1A Region 4 title and advance to the state semifinals at Legends Way Ballfields in Clermont next Tuesday.
Dixie County’s opponent is still to be determined and will play at either 12 p.m. or 2 p.m. in Clermont.
A year ago, the Bears advanced to the region final but lost for the third time that season to eventual 1A state champion Trenton, 4-0. Dixie County defeated Trenton last week in the region semifinal, the fourth time they had beaten the Tigers in 2022. But Dixie County had to score four runs in the bottom of the seventh to win 6-5, with the winning run scoring on a Trenton error.
“I think that getting past Trenton last week, I think the girls’ fire was finally lit,” Dixie County fifth-year coach Greg Wimberley said. “We were a little timid last week and didn’t play up to their standards, but once they got past that game I have seen fire in their eyes.”
Dixie County had no such trouble against Taylor. The Bears scored in every inning but the first frame, when they left the bases loaded.
After the first three Bears’ hitters reached in the first against Taylor starter Hailey Whidden on two singles and a walk, shortstop Juliann Smith hit a hotshot liner that the Wildcats (14-6) shortstop Deana Cunningham caught and threw out Peyton Hatcher at third for a double play.
Whidden eventually walked another batter before getting Madisyn Langford to pop up to Cunningham with the bases loaded.
This was the only mistake for the Bears’ offense though as they pounded 12 hits for the game.
“They swung the bat but they were swinging the bat at good pitches,” Wimberley said. “We were letting bad pitches go tonight and we were swinging against good pitches and we did not do that last week (against Trenton).”
Hinkle allowed three singles with no walks and six strikeouts in the complete-game shutout. She also drove in the first two runs, bringing in Gracie McKinnon and courtesy runner Charleigh Philmon with a two-out double.
Hinkle was 3-for-4 at the plate while pitching her masterpiece. Wimberley knows there is another key to his star pitcher’s success.
“She’s (Bria) awesome but she will tell you she’s backed up by probably the best defense in the state in 1A,” Wimberley said. “The defense behind her she knows if she gives up a hit she has the best defense backing her up. She doesn’t lob it, she fires it in there. But she would be the first to tell you that the defense gives her confidence.”
After the Bears added a run in the third on a groundout to make it 3-0, they started to really open things up in the fourth inning. Kylie O’Steen led off with a single and McKinnon brought her home with a double to increase the Dixie County lead to 4-0, then McKinnon scored the Bears’ fifth run of the game after a Taylor error.
Junior center fielder Shylee Brown singled in senior second baseman Aubrey Thomas to extend the lead to 6-0 in the fifth. Then the Bears added on again in the sixth with three more runs, as Dixie County pounded out four more hits. Hinkle had her third hit of the game, and later in the inning, an RBI double by freshman right fielder Ava Bechtold gave the Bears a 7-0 advantage.
They scored two more runs in the sixth on a sacrifice fly by Smith and a one-single by Thomas.
The Dixie County baseball team takes on Bozeman (Panama City) Wednesday at 4 p.m. at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers.
Now the softball team will have a shot at their own glory next Tuesday in Clermont.
“How many times in how many places can you say your baseball team and softball team to make it to the Final Four in the same year is quite an accomplishment,” Wimberley said. “This town deserves it. Dixie County supports their kids in everything they do.”
Regional Playoffs – Tuesday, May 17
Class 1A-Region 3 Final
No. 1 Dixie County (Cross City) 4, No. 3 Union County (Lake Butler) 0
Class 1A-Region 4
No. 1 Dixie County (Cross City) 9, No. 2 Taylor (Pierson) 0
Class 3A-Region 1 Semifinals
No. 3 Keystone Heights 3, No. 2 Providence (Jacksonville) 1
Class 5A-Region 1 Semifinals
No. 2 Middleburg 5, No. 3 Gainesville 1
Class 4A-Region 1 Final
No. 1 Suwannee (Live Oak) 5, No. 2 Bishop Kenny (Jacksonville) 3