Newberry advances to state title game

The dream season continues for the Newberry baseball team.

On Wednesday night at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, the Panthers (24-1) did just enough to edge Hamilton County (Jasper), 3-2, in the FHSAA Class 1A state semifinals.

Senior pitcher Luke Ridley, a Parkland commit, threw 6.1 innings and allowed two unearned runs on just one hit to improve to 8-0.

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“The kid can pitch,” said Newberry coach Mike Spina. “He’s pitched all year long like that. He’s dangerous when he’s on the bump. The team is relaxed when he’s on the bump.”

Ridley set the tone early by striking out the side in order in the top of the first inning.

“It feels amazing,” Ridley said of the opportunity to play for a state championship. “It’s what we’ve been working for all year. I’m speechless right now.”

Newberry left nine runners on base, but they did break through with a 3-run third inning.

Jayden Holcomb, the No. 9 hitter in the order, led off the third with a single to right field. Justen Crews walked, and Caden Massey had an infield hit to load the bases with no outs.

Senior Makai Johnson hit a bloop single to center field to score Holcomb and then Logan Carlisle had a sacrifice fly to score Crews for a 2-0 lead.

Catcher Kaleb Compton brought the third run of the game home on a fielder’s choice.

Hamilton County (18-9) scored two runs in the fifth inning on an error and an RBI double by Julian Garcia to make it 3-2. However, with Garcia at third Ridley got Devin Cherry to ground out to end the inning.

The Trojans put the tying run on third in the seventh inning, but Mason Tomchak struck out Garcia to end the game.

“It was a tight ball game,” Spina said. “We left a lot of guys on base. We didn’t have those timely hits but good teams find a way to win and we found a way to win tonight and we’re going to enjoy that win until we get back to work in the morning and get ready to play for a state title.”

It was the fourth playoff win for Spina, who tied former coach Terry Stroemer for the most playoff wins in school history.

In 1979, Newberry lost, 6-3, to Clearwater Central Catholic in the Class 2A state championship game under Stroemer.

Newberry, which has won 18 in a row, will play No. 1 ranked Chipley for the state title on Thursday night. The Tigers (26-1) advanced with an 11-1 win against Holmes County (Bonifay) in the other semifinal.

Chipley has won 23 games in a row.

“We just need to worry about ourselves, worry about our team, and what we need to do to get better,” Spina said. “Play the game the right way, and we’ll be fine.”

The first pitch is at 7 p.m. The game will broadcast on 106.9 FM “I am Country” beginning with the pregame show at 6:30 p.m.

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