Ridaught: Buchholz softball is turning the corner

Buchholz softball coach Will Hooper (right) and the Bobcats softball team have double digit wins this year for the first time since 2014
Buchholz softball coach Will Hooper (right) and the Bobcats softball team have double digit wins this year for the first time since 2014.
Photo by C.J. Gish

Some of the athletic programs at Buchholz High School have been flourishing as of late.

The Buchholz football team was in the state semifinals in December, the basketball team won its first playoff game in 15 years in February, and the baseball team just missed its first final four appearance in program history last May.

Plus, the Buchholz cross country team won its third straight state title in November.

Now the Bobcats’ softball program is starting to turn the corner.

On March 26, Buchholz defeated rival GHS, 16-5, for the first time in 10 years.

They snapped a 19-game losing streak in the series.

“Ending that 10-year losing streak with Gainesville was huge for us, it really motivated the girls,” said Buchholz softball coach Will Hooper, who is in his third season. “Everybody marks that game on their calendar. We want to beat Gainesville, and they’ve been dominant for years, so it’s definitely exciting to finally break that streak. It felt good to finally knock them off this year.”

Hooper noted that GHS (17-3), which is ranked fifth in Class 5A in the latest FHSAA rankings, wasn’t at their best because their No. 1 pitcher, Leanna Bourdage, was out.

“It still felt pretty good to end that streak and move forward,” he said.

The Lady Bobcats (10-11) also won double-digit games for the first time since 2014 when they finished 17-8 following a 5-4 loss at home to East Ridge (Clermont) in the Class 7A Regional Quarterfinals.

Buchholz is one win away from matching its win total from the two previous seasons combined (5-18 in 2023 and 6-20 in 2022).

“We’re starting to gain a little bit of confidence,” Hooper said. “When I first got here, we had the talent here, we just didn’t have the confidence as a team. They’re so used to that losing mentality because they never felt like they could beat somebody. I think that win over Gainesville really boosted their confidence.”

Offense has not been a problem for the Lady Bobcats, who are averaging 11.2 runs per game.

Sophomore Madison Blackford leads the team with a .464 average. She is one of four players batting over .400 for a team that carries a .375 average.

Junior Juliana Abraham (.463), a Mainstreet Daily News All Area selection last year, senior Amelia Collins (.418) and junior Kylee Wilson (.409) are also a part of that elite club.

Abraham (team-leading four home runs) leads the team with 28 RBI, followed by Collins (25), Blackford (34) and junior Jayda Cooper (.349, 20 RBI).

“We have some girls that are really fast that can bunt and run, and steal bases, really put the ball in play,” Hooper said.

They also have a young pitcher in sophomore Jurnee Reed, who is in her first year as a true pitcher, according to Hooper.

Last year, Buchholz didn’t have a JV program because they didn’t have enough girls.

“It makes a huge difference having a JV program,” said Hooper, who has one this year. “I really saw it this year. Eight of the 10 girls we have had never played softball before. Some of them are really starting to improve…it’s huge for a program, for any program to be able to have a JV and a varsity in their school system. It’s definitely helped us.”

They’ve come a long way from a program that had juniors playing JV ball in Hooper’s first season.

“It was behind,” he said. “I don’t want to point fingers, but it was behind. I think the biggest thing, if you go back in the last 10 years, how many coaches has Buchholz softball had? So, I think consistency is the key to a lot of that. There’s finally somebody that’s committed, determined, and willing to do everything they can to turn this program around.”

Hooper’s oldest daughter, Kayla (.343, 14 RBI), graduated last year, but he’s excited about what’s ahead.

“I’ve got a younger girl that’s in seventh grade right now,” he said. “She’s pretty special. We’ve got three or four seventh graders that are zoned for Buchholz that are coming here, a couple of them play on my travel team. They would probably start on our varsity team right now. That’s how good they are.”

The future is bright for Buchholz, which returns most of the team next season.

“I truly feel like Buchholz softball is finally making a turn,” said Hooper, who praised assistant JC Rosario, the father of former Buchholz baseball player Mike Rosario. “A lot of it is the coaches, the players, they’ve finally bought into the system that we’re trying to run and develop, and just having a sense of pride in playing for their school and the name that’s on their chest and the name on the back of the jersey.”

Buchholz, which will be without its three seniors tonight (Amelia Collins, Taylor McClain and Morgan Campbell) due to Grad Bash, will host Keystone Heights at 6 p.m.

Hooper didn’t know if Collins, who also swims for Buchholz, would come back this year after getting hurt two years in a row.

“For her to come back and have that determination and commitment to finish out her senior year speaks dividends about her, her character, and the type of person she is and her work ethic,” he said. “She’s someone that has turned the corner who could play at the next level, not only defensively, which has always been her strong point, she’s reading the ball really well, but offensively she’s putting the ball in play…she’s been producing all year. We’re definitely going to miss her.”

The Lady Bobcats will close out the regular season next Tuesday at Fleming Island (Orange Park) and at Belleview next Thursday.

Postseason begins on Monday, April 29, with district tournament play.

“We scheduled some pretty tough opponents toward the end of the season to help us get ready for districts,” Hooper said. “We feel pretty confident about making a deep run in districts this year.”

The Class 6A-District 3 tournament, which will be hosted by Oakleaf (Orange Park), includes Nease (Ponte Vedra), Fletcher (Neptune Beach), Tocoi Creek (St. Augustine), and First Coast (Jacksonville).

Buchholz’s softball record the last 10 years:

5-18 (2023)
6-20 (2022)
9-8 (2021)
3-5 (2020)
8-13 (2019)
6-17 (2018)
9-18 (2017)
5-18 (2016)
3-20 (2015)
17-8 (2014)

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