The Newberry baseball team is headed to the state final four at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers.
The Panthers can hit, run, pitch and play defense. That’s several reasons why the Class 1A Panthers advanced to their first state semifinal in over 40 years.
Their only loss this season was at Class 4A West Port (Ocala), 5-3, almost two months ago. They’ve won 17 in a row since then.
Newberry (23-1) is batting .394 as a team and has stolen 97 bases in 24 games. Five of their eight senior players have already signed to continue their education and baseball careers collegiately.
“This season has been a record season for Newberry High School baseball,” said head coach Mike Spina, who is in his fourth season with the Panthers. “It has truly been a pleasure to coach this group of young men. They are incredibly talented, disciplined, and their work ethic is unmatched.”
Senior shortstop Makai Johnson, a Tallahassee Community College commit, is batting .519 with a team-leading 11 doubles, four home runs, and a team best 33 RBI.
Senior Justen Crews, who is committed to TCC, hasn’t struck out all season. He has a .598 average, a team-leading six home runs, and a team-leading 22 stolen bases. Crews, who played wide receiver last the fall, is second on the Panthers in doubles (10) and RBI (29).
“He, in my opinion, is the most dangerous lead-off hitter I’ve seen,” Spina said.
Fellow senior Logan Carlisle, who is committed to Weber University, is tied for second on the team with four home runs.
“This kid has a tremendous amount of pop and can change the game with any given swing,” Spina said.
Sophomore first baseman Josiah Haglund “has been on fire” as of late for the Panthers, Spina said, logging hits in 13 of his last 19 at bats.
Newberry has a team fielding percentage of .939 and a team earned run average of 1.11, with all but one pitcher with a 1.80 ERA or lower.
Spina is undecided on a starter to face the Trojans. He said whoever takes the mound for the Panthers “will have to be able to pound the zone consistently.”
“We have a few that can do this, but our staff hasn’t decided who yet will take the mound,” Spina said.
Sophomore Landon Gruenwald struck out 10 batters against Crescent City in the regional semifinals, while senior Luke Ridley struck out 11 Williston batters in a 12-6 win in the FHSAA Class 1A Region Final.
Gruenwald is 5-0 with a 0.65 ERA, while Ridley, who is committed to Parkland, is 7-0 with an ERA of 1.15.
In order to make the state championship game, the Panthers will have to beat a Hamilton County team that knocked off Class 1A Union County three times this season, including a 6-3 win in the regional final.
The Trojans (18-8) enter the game on a four-game winning streak. They are only batting .280 as a team, but they have a team ERA of 2.14 and have stolen 133 bases this season.
“The keys to getting to the state championship game are to play clean defense and to consistently hit the baseball like we have done all year long,” Spina said. “We are looking to do damage with pitches over the plate and speed the game up over our opponent.”
Newberry is seeking its first state championship in baseball. In 1979, Newberry lost, 6-3, to Clearwater Central Catholic in the Class 2A state championship game under coach Terry Stroemer. On Wednesday Spina will look to tie Stroemer for the most playoff wins (four) in the school’s coaching history.
The winner will play either Holmes County (Bonifay) or Chipley in the Class 1A state championship game at 7 p.m. Thursday.
Thanks to sponsor Florida Elite Baseball, Wednesday’s game will be broadcast on 106.9 FM “I am Country” beginning at 6:30 p.m. If the Panthers advance, the championship game will also be carried on 106.9 FM.