The Newberry baseball team is back in the state playoffs, except this time they are back in Class 1A.
The Class 1A-District 7 champions defeated district runner-up Williston, 12-6, on Tuesday night in the FHSAA regional finals to advance to their first state semifinal in more than 40 years.
Newberry will play Hamilton County (Jasper), which eliminated Union County (Lake Butler), in the Class 1A state semifinals on Wednesday at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers.
“It’s exciting for our program,” said Newberry coach Mike Spina, who is in his fourth season with the Panthers. “It’s exciting for our kids. It means a lot to our school. We look forward to getting down there and seeing what we can do.”
Newberry has had a relatively brief baseball playoff history. The Panthers are 11-16 all-time.
Newberry did make the state playoffs under Spina in 2019, but that team played in Class 5A.
The Class 5A-District 5 champions defeated Mount Dora, 5-4, in the opening round of the 2019 playoffs, but the Panthers (20-10) lost at The Villages in the regional semifinals.
They also had a playoff win under T.J. Spina, Mike’s younger brother, in the 2016 Class 1A state playoffs.
Following a 7-5 win against Madison County, Newberry lost 14-4 in six innings, against eventual 1A state champion Lafayette (Mayo), ending its season at 17-9.
The win against the Cowboys in the 2016 playoffs was Newberry’s first in the postseason since coach Des Hamilton’s team won a Class 3A state playoff game in 1997.
In 1979, Newberry lost, 6-3, to Clearwater Central Catholic in the Class 2A state championship game under coach Terry Stroemer.
Stroemer has the most playoff wins (four) amongst Newberry coaches. However, Spina is close behind with three wins.
Newberry has only won six playoff games since the ’79 season and two of those came this season under Spina (Crescent City and Williston).
To get to the state semifinals, Newberry had to beat 2019 Class 1A champ Williston a fourth time this season.
“It’s hard enough to beat a team three teams, and if you beat a team a fourth time you know you have a special group,” Spina said. “But Mike Bullock and those guys over at Williston do a great job. That’s a great team over there. They fought hard in all four games against us.”
Included in that four-game win streak was an 8-7 Panthers’ win in the District 7 championship game on April 29, which gave Newberry home field advantage in the playoffs.
“Home field advantage is definitely a key when you get to the playoffs,” Spina said.
Now the Panthers will play at a neutral site needing just two more wins to capture the first baseball state title in school history.
First pitch is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 19, in semifinal action against the Trojans. The Class 1A state championship game will be at 7 p.m. on Thursday.
Editor's note: To hear Mike Spina and the Panthers on The Prep Zone sports show at Sonic Drive-In Wednesday night, click here.