Oak Hall, Newberry players lead small school team

Newberry's Landon Gruenwald (left) and Oak Hall's Jack Kuzmicki
Newberry's Landon Gruenwald (left) and Oak Hall's Jack Kuzmicki.
Photos and graphic by C.J. Gish
Editor’s Note: This is the second of five stories unveiling the 2023 Bosshardt Realty All Area Softball and Baseball Teams. Click here to read about the Small School Softball Team.

When you think of high school baseball in the Main Street Daily News area, you probably think of the 1A schools and their success over the last 10 years.

But there is a team in 2A that is getting noticed as well.

The Oak Hall Eagles lead the Bosshardt Realty Small School All Area Baseball Team with three selections.

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The Eagles (18-6), who won the 2A-District 4 title in 2023, advanced to the second round of the 2A playoffs, picking up their first postseason win in 12 years.

They were led by senior Jack Kuzmicki, who played third base and pitcher and is the choice for the utility position on this team.

St. Francis Catholic's Mason Bell hit .338 with 27 runs.
Photo by C.J. Gish St. Francis Catholic’s Mason Bell hit .338 with 27 runs.

Kuzmicki batted an almost absurd .591 with 47 RBI, 30 runs, nine doubles and 13 steals.

On the mound, he was 5-2 with a 4.37 ERA with 39 strikeouts in 33.2 innings.

Meanwhile, the right-side tandem on the infield for Oak Hall were both selected.

First baseman Jack Steen, a junior, hit an even .400 with 28 RBI and 15 doubles, and he was also 4-3 with a 2.70 in 36.1 innings pitched, striking out 40 batters.

Second baseman Jackson Beach, a junior, batted. 471 with a team-leading 45 runs, 33 hits, six doubles and 20 RBI. He added 29 stolen bases while manning the Eagles’ middle infield along with his twin brother, shortstop Harrison Beach.

Saint Francis Catholic Academy, another 2A school, is represented by catcher Mason Bell.

The Wolves had a 9-14 record and missed the postseason, but Bell was a bright spot with a .338 average, a team-high 27 runs and 10 doubles with nine runs batted in.

“Mason was the foundation of our team,” said St. Francis Catholic coach Daniel Bell. “He is an excellent defensive catcher who quarterbacked our team and gave our pitchers the confidence to throw any pitch in any count. At the plate he was the spark plug for our offense. He always seemed to be in scoring position, ending the year with more extra base hits than singles and sprinkled in 16 stolen bases.”

Bell was the only senior on the Wolves’ roster in 2023.

“Never getting too high or too low, Mason was a great example for our young team this year,” Daniel Bell said. “His leadership and toughness will be hard to replace, but because of Mason, that high standard has been passed down to his teammates. Wolves Baseball will be better for years to come because of the example he set.”

Class 1A still had the deepest run among area teams.

The Newberry Panthers, who won the 2021 1A state title, came up just short this year. They advanced to the 1A Final Four in Fort Myers before bowing out in a 1-0 loss in 10 innings to eventual state champion Chipley.

Mike Spina’s Panthers were led in 2023 third baseman Braxton Brady and pitcher Landon Gruenwald.

“Both guys played a huge role in our program this year,” Spina said.

Brady led Newberry with a .342 batting average, 26 hits and 22 RBI.

Trenton's Johnny Scott had a 1.84 ERA and struck out 77 batters.
Photo by C.J. Gish Trenton’s Johnny Scott had a 1.84 ERA and struck out 77 batters.

The junior was also busy on the mound, with a 1.65 ERA, 51 strikeouts and only 15 walks in 51 innings pitched.

“He was the guy at the plate and the guy on the mound for us all year long,” Spina said. “He led our team in both offense and pitching. He was a huge reason for our success down the stretch and he did everything we asked from him all year. We look forward to him having an even bigger senior season next year.”

Gruenwald, who helped lead the Panthers to the state title as a sophomore, finished off a stellar high school career with a 1.80 ERA in 42.2 innings on the mound with 68 strikeouts and only 11 earned runs.

“He did everything we asked of him from hitting with guys in scoring position, pitching, playing outfield, infield and catching,” Spina said. “He was a true senior leader for us this year.”

Trenton placed two players on the team.

The Tigers, who started the season 15-2, ended up 19-8 with a District 7-1A title and a trip back to the state playoffs, where they were upset, 7-2, in the regional semifinals by Chiefland, a team they had beaten three times earlier in 2023.

The Tigers had a good mixture of youth and experience, and that showed as senior pitcher Johnny Scott was selected along with 8th-grader outfielder Mason Vuncannon.

Scott was selected as a pitcher. He was 5-4 with a 1.84 ERA and 77 strikeouts with only 24 walks in 64.2 innings over 16 appearances.

But Scott also shined at the plate, leading the Tigers with a .440 average and 37 hits, and adding 36 runs, nine doubles and a team-high 25 stolen bases.

Vuncannon hit .418 with 33 hits, 21 runs and 20 RBI while adding 17 steals.

He was a perfect 6-0 on the mound with a 1.91 ERA and only nine earned runs allowed in 33 innings with 45 strikeouts.

Another Tigers team, Union County (Lake Butler), was 18-9 and advanced to the Region 3-1A final, where they lost, 14-3, to eventual 1A state runner-up Lafayette (Mayo).

Union County’s only selection to the small school team is outfielder Ayden Elixson.

Union County's Ayden Elixson led the Tigers with a .415 batting average, 39 hits and four home runs.
Photo by C.J. Gish Union County’s Ayden Elixson led the Tigers with a .415 batting average, 39 hits and four home runs.

The senior hit a team-high .415 and led the Tigers in hits with 39, runs (34), and doubles (9). He also had 11 steals.

“Ayden is one of the most humble and hardworking kids I’ve coached,” Union County coach Jiwan James said. “His great senior season came as no surprise, being that he showed up every morning for 6 a.m. workouts in the fall and winter. His work ethic and confidence led to a great season this year and I think the same mindset will lead to continued success at the college level as well.”

Despite an 8-19 record, the Williston Red Devils won District 8-1A and advanced to the state playoffs, where they were edged, 4-2, by Newberry.

Williston was led by shortstop Hunter Bullock.

The senior batted a team-high .405 with 34 hits and 17 runs batted in. He also made 13 appearances on the mound.

“Hunter was extremely valuable to our team,” Williston coach Mike Bullock said. “He really matured and was a great leader. He would do whatever the team needed. Defensively, he played at least one inning at every position except second base. He was voted our offensive MVP. He worked really hard on his offensive game in the offseason, and it really showed this year. He was our most productive offensive hitter.”

The final member of the 2023 small school team is outfielder Trey Meeks of Chiefland.

The Indians were 14-9 and upset Trenton, 7-2, in the opening round of the 1A playoffs before seeing their season end with a 7-4 loss at Newberry in the Region 4-1A Final.

The sophomore led Chiefland with 24 runs, 25 hits and 16 stolen bases while driving in 11 runs.

Small School (1A-2A)

C – Mason Bell (Sr./St. Francis Catholic)

1B – Jack Steen (Jr./Oak Hall)

2B – Jackson Beach (Jr./Oak Hall)

SS – Hunter Bullock (Sr./Williston)

3B – Braxton Brady (Jr./Newberry)

OF – Mason Vuncannon (8th/Trenton)

OF – Ayden Elixson (Sr./Union County)

OF – Trey Meeks (So./Chiefland)

Utility – Jack Kuzmicki (Sr./Oak Hall)

P – Johnny Scott (Sr./Trenton)

P – Landon Gruenwald (Sr./Newberry)

Honorable mentions:

Branford – Caden Coker (Sr.), Dawson Cannon (Fr.), Andres Maysonet (Jr), Camden Gaskins (Jr.), Austin Humphries (Jr.)

Bronson – David Runion (Sr.), Peyton Lake (So.), Kasey Weeks (Sr.)

Chiefland – Saia Wilson (Jr.), Junior Brown (Sr.), Tyler Bass (Sr.,), Wade Gore (Sr.), Seth Campbell (Sr.)

Newberry – Mason Smith (Sr.), Jackson McDavid (So.), Jayden Holcombe (Jr.), Benjamin Beck (Jr.)

Oak Hall – Gavin Jones (So.), Neil Ruth (Sr.), Harrison Beach (Jr.), Darion Medley (Jr.), Troy Freeman (Jr.)

St. Francis Catholic – Nicolas Gomez-Vera (Jr.), Christopher Durstine (Fr.), Cooper Leifers (Jr.)

Trenton – Dax Becker (Jr.), Brant Bivens (8th), Colby Wilson (Sr.), Ethan Elmore (Sr.), Mike Gillam (Sr.), Zaiden Bon (Jr.)

Union County (Lake Butler) – Trevon Lee (Sr.), Erick Lasseter (Fr.), Tucker Hardee (Sr.), Jeremy Miller (Sr.), Preston Bonsall (Jr.), Blake Agner (Sr.)

Williston – Trace Clemenzi (Sr.), Koleby Benson (8th), Taylor Bice (So.), Tristen Weathers (So.), Breeden Celemenzi (So.)

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