The high school softball season in Florida wrapped up last week with the FHSAA State High School Championships in Clermont.
There were six first-time state champions with the only team to repeat from 2021 the third-ranked team in the country according to Max Preps, Lakewood Ranch (Bradenton).
For the teams in the Prep Zone Power Poll area, there was one first-time champion who wasn’t much of a surprise. But the second state champion was quite a story.
The Deltona Wolves (20-3) worked hard for their first state title. First, they had to win a Region 2-4A final at defending state champion Eustis, ranked No. 1 in the previous poll. The Wolves pulled off the 4-3 win to advance to Clermont, then scored four runs in the bottom of the sixth to break a scoreless tie in the state semifinal game against No. 15 Clay (Green Cove Springs).
In the state championship game, Deltona had four triples in the first three innings and settled down after a high-scoring start to beat Lake Wales, 6-3.
Deltona just missed being the unanimous top-ranked team in the final Prep Zone Power Poll, receiving six of the seven first-place votes.
Hernando (Brooksville), who lost the 4A state title game to Eustis a year ago, dropped down to 3A and once again advanced to the state championship game. Unfortunately for the Leopards (25-5), they fell short, losing 7-4 to Calvary Christian (Clearwater).
Tying for second with Hernando is the biggest story of the state softball finals, 5A champion Middleburg. The Broncos (20-11) won at Lincoln (Tallahassee) 2-1 to win Region 1-5A and advance to their first state semifinal appearance in Clermont.
In the state semifinals, the Broncos were no-hit by Naples but won 1-0 on a double steal. Then in the state championship game against No. 7T South Lake (Groveland), Middleburg only managed one hit. But that hit was a solo homer and behind another shutout performance by Mallory Forrester in the circle, the Broncos again prevailed 1-0 for their first state softball title.
Middleburg received the other first-place votes. The Broncos weren’t even receiving votes in the previous rankings.
State 3A semifinalist Baldwin finishes No. 4. The Indians (26-3) knocked off Florida High (Tallahassee) and then nipped No. 12 Keystone Heights 3-2 to win Region 1-3A. In Clermont, Baldwin lost in eight innings 5-3 to Calvary Christian.
Previously top-ranked Eustis rounds out the top five. The Panthers (25-3) came up short of advancing back to Clermont to defend their 4A title from a year ago, dropping the region final to eventual 4A state champion Deltona.
Spruce Creek (Port Orange) finishes No. 6. Spruce Creek’s season ended against Pace in the Region 1-6A semifinal. University (Orange City), who finished tied for No. 7 with South Lake, lost in the region final to Pace.
As for South Lake, they scored only seven runs in the region playoffs but allowed only two runs to advance to their first state semifinal. The Eagles (19-12), playing about seven miles from their school in Clermont, edged East Bay (Gibsonton) 1-0 in the semifinal before dropping the decision to Middleburg in the state championship game. South Lake was receiving votes previously.
Rounding out the top are No. 9 Oakleaf (Orange Park) and No. 10 University Christian (Jacksonville). The Christians (19-9), unranked in the previous poll, advanced to the 2A state championship game for the second year in a row. Unfortunately for the second year in a row, University Christian came up short, losing 8-2 to The First Academy (Orlando).
Leading off the second 10 is 1A state runner-up Fort White. The Indians (16-8), much like their baseball team, advanced to their first softball Final Four by beating No. 18 Union County to win Region 3-1A and edged fellow first-time state semifinalist Dixie County (Cross City), 7-5, to advance to the state championship game.
After trailing 5-0 going into the fifth inning against Jay, Fort White rallied to tie the game before giving up a run in the bottom of the sixth to drop the state title game 6-5. The Indians were not even receiving votes in the previous rankings.
Keystone Heights (19-10) ended at No. 12 in the final poll. The Indians fell to Baldwin, 3-2, in the Region 1-3A Final contest and their best finish since advancing to the 2018 state semifinals.
Dixie County ends up dropping seven spots to finish at No. 14 despite the Bears’ first state softball semifinals. Dixie County (21-5) had to rally past two-time defending state champion Trenton with three runs in the seventh inning of the region semifinal game to win 6-5. After easily dispatching of receiving votes (RV) Taylor (Pierson), 9-0, to win their first region title, the Bears came up short in Clermont against rival Fort White.
Another state semifinalist, 4A Clay (Green Cove Springs), moves into the ranking at No. 15. Trinity Christian (Jacksonville) also moves into the rankings at No. 19.
Dropping out from the previous poll are Williston, Palatka, Springstead (Spring Hill), Creekside (St. Johns), Bartram Trail (St. Johns), and Lafayette (Mayo).
Palatka and Bartram Trail failed to qualify for the state playoffs.
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 weekly by sportswriters and sportscasters and it is powered by Anytime Fitness of Gainesville.
THE PREP ZONE POWER POLL – 2022 SOFTBALL POLL No. 6 (FINAL POLL)
(School, followed by classification, first-place votes, final 2022 record, and total voting points)
1. Deltona (4A) (6) (20-3) – 139
2T. Hernando (Brooksville) (3A) (25-5) – 119
2T. Middleburg (5A) (1) (20-11) – 119
4. Baldwin (3A) (26-3) – 114
5. Eustis (4A) (25-3) – 108
6. Spruce Creek (Port Orange) (6A) (21-5) – 88
7T. South Lake (Groveland) (5A) (19-12) – 82
7T. University (Orange City) (6A) (20-8) – 82
9. Oakleaf (Orange Park) (7A) (17-8) – 78
10. University Christian (Jacksonville) (2A) (19-9) – 73
11. Fort White (1A) (16-8) – 69
12. Keystone Heights (3A) (19-10) – 62
13. West Nassau (Callahan) (3A) (16-8) – 60
14. Dixie County (Cross City) (1A) (21-5) – 50
15. Clay (Green Cove Springs) (4A) (17-12) – 43
16. East Ridge (Clermont) (6A) (19-9) – 42
17. Ridgeview (Orange Park) (5A) (14-7) – 26
18. Union County (Lake Butler) (1A) (18-6) – 20
19. Trinity Christian Academy (Jacksonville) (2A) (14-9) – 19
20. Providence (Jacksonville) (3A) (19-7) – 17
Also receiving votes: Mount Dora Christian Academy (2A) (20-10) – 7; Creekside (St. Johns) (7A) (16-10) – 6; Williston (1A) (18-8) – 5; South Sumter (Bushnell) (3A) (17-10) – 4; Springstead (Spring Hill) (5A) (19-7) – 3;Taylor (Pierson) (1A) (14-6) – 3; Bartram Trail (St. Johns) (7A) (15-8) – 2; Episcopal (Jacksonville) (3A) (14-8) – 2; Lafayette (Mayo) (1A) (13-7) – 2; Bishop Kenny (Jacksonville) (4A) (15-10) – 1; Gainesville (5A) (13-14) – 1; Montverde Academy (3A) (17-9) – 1.