Ridaught: Final four streak continues

Newberry baseball with coach Mike Spina and players at dugout
Newberry baseball coach Mike Spina (far right) and the Panthers are headed back to the final four. Newberry, which won the Class 1A state title in 2021, will play Chipley in the state semifinals at 10 a.m. on Wednesday at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers. Newberry advanced with a come-from-behind 7-4 win against Chiefland in the region final on Saturday night.
Photo by C.J. Gish

In the three biggest boys’ high school sports, the area has quite the streak going.

This past Saturday night, the Newberry baseball team advanced to its second state semifinal appearance in three years. They overcame a 4-3 deficit with a 4-run sixth inning to defeat visiting Chiefland, 7-4, in the Class 1A-Region 4 Final.

It marks the third straight school year that a team from the Mainstreet Daily News coverage area has advanced to a final four in football, boys basketball, and baseball.

The Panthers (16-8), who won the Class 1A state title in 2021, will play No. 3 seed Chipley at 10 a.m. on Wednesday in the Class 1A state semifinals at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers.

Newberry is the No. 2 seed and Lafayette (Mayo) is the top seed.

The Hornets (21-4), who eliminated Union County (Lake Butler), 14-3, in five innings in the Region 3 Final, will play No. 4 seed Holmes County (Bonifay) in the other semifinal. The Blue Devils (11-18) eliminated Jay, 9-7, in the Region 1 Final.

Before the teams were reseeded, Spina said it didn’t matter who the Panthers would play this week.

“When you get there, you’re playing four good teams,” he said. “The four teams who got there are hot, they’ve got good pitchers, they’ve got good hitters, so we’re excited. We’re not just excited to go. We’re going to go there with a meaning, we’re going to play hard, and we’ll see what happens.”

The last time they were there, Newberry edged Hamilton County (Jasper), 3-2, in the state semifinals.

It was their first trip to the final four since 1979, when they lost, 6-3, to Clearwater Central Catholic in the Class 2A state championship game.

They finished the task with a 7-5 victory against Chipley in the Class 1A state championship game to win their first state title in program history. Newberry ended the year with a 25-1 record and a 19-game winning streak.

“It was an awesome experience,” Spina said about the Panthers’ first trip to Fort Myers two years ago. “We had a bunch of those boys, alumni, came back tonight (Saturday) and supported us. This program is building that. We’re building the support of our alumni and the tradition here is we’re going to play hard, we’re going to give a lot of effort and we’re going to try and win.”

But it was Newberry’s first trip to the state semifinals in over 40 years in 2021 that helped keep a streak alive that has completed the trifecta for three straight years.

Last year, Columbia (Lake City), Fort White and Dixie County all advanced to their first baseball final four.

Columbia has had a flair for the dramatic against Lincoln (Tallahassee).

In last year’s Class 5A-Region 1 Final, the Tigers trailed 4-2 entering their final at-bat. They responded with three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to stun the Trojans, 7-6, and earn their first-ever baseball trip to the state semifinals.

This past Saturday afternoon in a 5A-Region 1 Semifinal against Lincoln, they trailed 4-2 and were down to their final three outs of the season. They tied the game at 4-4, and then with two outs senior Joshua Fernald hit a walk-off grand slam to send the Tigers (23-5) to Tuesday’s region final at Clay (Green Cove Springs).

There were no spring championships in 2020 due to COVID-19 but since then the area has flourished, bringing home four state titles.

Following Newberry’s state title, the 2022 Bradford (Starke) boys basketball team won the Class 1A state title, their first in program history, followed by Hawthorne’s first football state title in program last December and the Williston boys basketball team’s first state title in program history this past March.

But to win it, they had to get to the state semifinals.

Bradford defeated Hawthorne in last year’s final four
 in Lakeland. It marked back-to-back state semifinal appearances for the Hornets, who lost a heartbreaker to Chipley in this year’s state semifinals.

Santa Fe (Alachua) boys basketball also advanced to the state championship game in 2021. They lost to Pine Crest (Fort Lauderdale), 90-83 in double overtime, in the FHSAA Class 4A state championship game.

The Hawthorne football team defeated Blountstown
 in early December in the Class 1R state semifinals to advance to their third straight state semifinal.

They joined Suwannee (Live Oak) and Union County (Lake Butler) as just the third team in area history to make three straight state title game appearances.

Suwannee won four straight state titles from 1987-90 and Union County won three straight (1994-96) and finished with a then state-record 52 wins in a row.

The Buchholz football team has made back-to-back state semifinal appearances.

The Bobcats lost at Venice in the Class 4S final four
 this past December, and they lost at St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale) in the 2021 Class 7A state semifinals.

All streaks come to an end but it may be the most impressive run the area has ever had.

State Semifinal appearances the past three years in football, boys basketball, and baseball:


Buchholz & Hawthorne football
Hawthorne & Williston basketball
Newberry baseball


Hawthorne & Buchholz football
Bradford (Starke) & Hawthorne basketball
Columbia (Lake City), Dixie County (Cross City), & Fort White baseball


Hawthorne football
Santa Fe (Alachua) basketball
Newberry baseball

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bruce kritzler

track/field is biggest boys sport locally (and nationwide). even though main street and sun continue to ignore it.