Newberry, Williston, Union County eye final four

At least two area baseball teams have a chance to reach the state semifinals.

A total of three area high school baseball teams are playing tonight for a spot in the FHSAA final four—but only two of them have a chance to advance to Fort Myers for the state semifinals.

Newberry, which beat Crescent City, 7-1, last week, will host Williston.

Sophomore Landon Gruenwald struck out 10 batters against the Raiders in the regional semifinals.

“Landon put our team in a great position to win,” said Newberry coach Mike Spina. “He came in and threw strikes and for the most part pitched ahead in the count. It was nice to see a young guy do this. The stage was pretty big and for him to dominate the zone and keep guys off balance was nice to see.”

Spina said his team was also able to take advantage of some pitching mistakes by Crescent City.

“We have been aggressive with our hitting approach and we are looking to do damage at the plate when a ball is left over the plate,” Spina said. “At any given time, guys in our lineup can really hurt you. That’s the confidence we have had all year long. Our defense is really good so that gives our pitchers confidence to attack hitters.”

The Panthers (22-1) defeated the Red Devils, 8-7, in the District 7 championship game on April 29.

Newberry, which is ranked fourth in the state in Class 1A, has beaten Williston three times this season. The winner will head to Fort Myers for the state semifinals.

Spina said nothing will change in the approach tonight against the Red Devils and they will stay with what they have been doing all year.

“Being a team player and doing what we need to do at the time to help the team be successful,” he noted. “Whether that’s moving a runner, scoring a guy or even laying a bunt down. We are looking forward to matching up with them again this time at our place for the chance to move on to the final four. The guys have worked extremely hard to get to this point.”

Williston (14-13) advanced with a wild 14-13 win in nine innings at Fort Meade in the other regional semifinal.

“Our guys fought the whole way,” said former Vanguard (Ocala) coach Mike Bullock, who is in his first season as head coach of the Red Devils. “We gave up a big lead in the bottom of the seventh. They had the winning run at third base with only one out, but we got out of that and then scored five in the ninth inning. 

Fort Meade had runners at second and third, with the winning run on second base, when Williston made the last out of the game 

When asked what the key to victory was tonight against the Panthers, Bullock was initially stumped.

“That is a good question,” he said. “Newberry is a very good ball club. To beat them we need to play clean defense and score one more run then them on offense.”

Union County, which is ranked No. 1 in the state in Class 1A by MaxPreps, will travel to Hamilton County for a rematch of the District 6 championship game. The Trojans defeated the Tigers 6-2 on April 29 to win their first district title in 19 years.

The Tigers (20-4) blasted Liberty County in Bristol last week, 19-2, to advance to tonight’s regional final.

“I believe a lot of our offensive success at Liberty County was a result of our players seeming to be really focused,” said Union County coach Travis Rimes. “The main factor was the players relaxed and had unselfish approaches at the plate. Many times, when we had runners in scoring positions, the players had great at-bats to capitalize on getting runs across the plate.”

Union County put the game away with an 11-run sixth inning.

“We were really successful on what we call ‘situational hitting’,” Rimes said. “The coaching staff of Jiwan James, Denver Ripley, Kyler Cohen, and Joey Osteen did a great job at preparing the players last week and it played a huge part in our success.”

Since they lost to Hamilton County (17-8) in the district championship game, the Tigers will have to travel to Jasper.

“The key to competing with and beating Hamilton County, which seems to be hot right now, at their place, will be to just stay relaxed and have good, consistent approaches with our at-bats,” Rimes said. “We will have to take every advantage of the opportunities when they present themselves. Our situational hitting will be key, and we have to get those timely hits when we have runners in scoring positions.” 

Regional Finals 

Tuesday, May 11

Class 1A – Union County (Lake Butler) at Hamilton County (Jasper), 7 p.m.

Class 1A – Williston at Newberry, 7 p.m.

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