Ridaught: Lots of memorable moments from 2023-24

Mainstreet's top 12 sporting events of the 2023-24 high school year.
From state runner-up finishes to team state championships, here is Mainstreet's top 12 sporting events of the 2023-24 high school year.

The past couple of years I’ve narrowed my list of top high school sports moments for the year to 10.

But for 2023-24, I’m going to list my top 12.

However, it should be noted that there were a lot of great accomplishments which deserved to be on this list but because there were so many I wasn’t able to include them, but I do want to mention some of them.

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I could have easily made a list of the top 20.

For example, some of the events that did not make my list include but are not limited to the GHS volleyball team winning its first district title in 12 years, Braydn Smith of Buchholz finishing as state runner-up at the FHSAA Class 3A Girls Golf state championships, and University of Texas signee Lillie Nesty of P.K. Yonge winning a pair of individual state titles and setting a pair of state records in the process.

Other outstanding moments that I need to highlight include the Buchholz boys basketball team winning its first playoff game in 15 years, Keystone Heights’ Trey Jeffries winning a pair of individual state weightlifting titles, Williston’s Quinyon Mitchell getting drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft, and the Countryside Christian softball’s first postseason in seven years, and St. Francis Catholic Academy baseball’s first playoff appearance since 2015.

There were other big moments, like the FHSAA’s decision to do away with the Suburban/Metro football playoff system and the recent approval of NIL and the Championship Division.

So lots to choose from but I chose to put emphasis on team state titles, championship game appearances, and first-time achievements.

Once again, I’ve decided not to rank my top moments since each one was special.

Instead, I’ll list them chronologically by season.

The fall dominated my list with half of the dozen.

In November, the Eastside boys swimming team finished as state runners-up, their highest placing in program history. That was highlighted by individual state titles and school records.

In fact, it was a fall season to remember for Alachua County athletics.

While Buchholz football making it to its third state semifinal is not on my list, the Bobcats still made several of my top 12 moments.

How about a three-peat?

The Lady Bobcats won the FHSAA Class 4A state title to claim their third straight state championship.

“This was hard, man,” Buchholz girls cross country coach Mike Maren said after the meet. “The first year we were a total surprise. The second year we had a target, so that was difficult. This time it was tough.”

Meanwhile, the boys finished as state runners-up.

University of Florida signee Riley Smith won an individual state title and was one of three Buchholz boys’ runners who finished in the top 10.

The Branford volleyball team advanced to its first state championship game in school history.

The Bucs swept Newberry
 in the Class 1A state semifinals, but they lost in four sets to Baker. They finished the season 25-5 and 1A state runners-up.

Then, in December, Hawthorne became the first Alachua County football team to win back-to-back state titles. The Hornets went wire-to-wire, finishing 13-0 following a 22-13 win against Madison County to win the Class 1R state title for the second consecutive year.

Bradford (Starke) rode an undefeated season all the way to the Class 2S title game, marking their first appearance in a state championship game since 1985. The Tornadoes (14-1) lost to defending state champion Cocoa, 20-6, and came up short of their first state football title since 1966.

In 2024, the third time was the charm for the P.K. Yonge girls’ soccer team.

The Lady Blue Wave defeated Episcopal (Jacksonville), 2-1, in the FHSAA Class 3A-Region 1 Final to advance to their first final four in program history. P.K. Yonge finished 16-4-3 following a hard-fought 3-0 loss to nationally ranked Montverde Academy in the 3A state semifinals.

In March, we had a pair of basketball teams repeat.

The Hawthorne girls won their second straight Class 1A state title.

Junior De’Mya Adams scored 15 of her game-high 17 points in the second half as the Lady Hornets (22-3) rallied past Graceville, 43-40, to repeat.

It was their third state title in program history, including a 1A state championship in 2020.

The Williston boys also went back-to-back.

The Red Devils went on an 8-0 run midway through the fourth quarter and held on from there for a 61-53 win over Hilliard in the 1A state championship game at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland.

The Hawthorne girls and the Williston boys joined a special group.

The Lady Hornets became the first area team to win consecutive state titles since Keystone Heights almost 30 years ago, while the Red Devils became the first area boys hoops team to win back-to-back since Gainesville High did it almost 25 years ago (1999 and 2000).

My three biggest moments of the spring were Buchholz boys track and their top five finish at the FHSAA Class 4A state championships, Buchholz baseball and GHS softball making it to the final game in their respective classification and ending the year with a state title by the Trenton softball team.

If not for an injury to Riley Smith in April, the Bobcats would have likely finished third in the state at the FHSAA track and field state championships.

However, senior Evan Fleming scored 20 points on his own by winning the 800-meter run (1:54 minute, 50 seconds) and 1600-meter races (4:14.96). His win in the 1600 was the first for a Buchholz boys’ athlete since 1983 and the 800 win was the first for a Buchholz boy since 1977.

Eastside just missed my top 12 with a sixth-place finish
, which was highlighted by FAMU signee Kennith Martin’s state title in the 100-meter dash with a time of 10.57 and a state runner-up finish in the 200 (20.99).

After a heartbreaking loss in last year’s regional final, the Buchholz baseball team finally broke through and advanced to their first state semifinal in program history with a 1-0 win against Hagerty (Oviedo) in the 6A-Region 1 Final.

The Bobcats crushed Bloomingdale (Valrico), 12-0, in the 6A semifinals and finished as state runners-up with a 10-3 loss to Dwyer (Palm Beach Gardens) in the 6A state title game.

“Seeing them (Dwyer) pile on the field really gives us the hunger to come back and not have this feeling again,” Buchholz coach Ron Brooks said in the press conference at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers. “We think we have established our program as one of the best in the state and we want to continue to have that tradition about us.”

GHS advanced to its first state semifinal since winning the 7A state title eight years ago.

The Lady Hurricanes knocked off Archbishop McCarthy (Southwest Ranches), 5-2, in the 5A state semifinals in Clermont and had their own heartbreaker in a 3-2 loss in eight innings to defending state champion Parrish Community in the championship game.

GHS, which only won six games all of last season, finished 24-5 and state runners-up.

“It was really a special season, that’s the best way to say it,” said Gainesville coach Chris Chronister. “I’m so proud of these girls because the expectations were very low coming into the season. I’m sure nobody anywhere, except for our group, that’s what I told the girls, ‘Nobody expected us to be here except for us.’ We knew we had a good team, and we might have surprised some people earlier on in the season, but I think as we got later on into the season, getting to the district playoffs, beating Middleburg twice, beating some of the teams that we beat, I think it became clear that everybody knew that we had a good team at that point.”

One of the last softball state championship games of the year was certainly one of the best.

Following a 3-2 walk-off win against Holmes County (Bonifay) in the Class 1A state semifinals, Trenton (23-2) had a miracle comeback against Branford (24-7), which lost its second straight state championship game.

The Lady Tigers, who were down to their final out and trailing 4-0, rallied for four runs to tie it and then won it, 6-5, in extra innings to win their third state softball title since 2019.

What a great way to end the 2023-24 sports seasons.

Congratulations to all the student-athletes and coaches who put in the time to achieve greatness and worked hard to get better each day.

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