Ridaught: Nothing like the first time

There’s always something special about the first time.

You always remember your first kiss, or a first date.

For the Fort White and Dixie County (Cross City) baseball teams, they will always remember their first trip to the Final Four.

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This past Friday both teams advanced to the state semifinals for the first time in school history. 

Dixie County (13-9) defeated district foe Chiefland, 9-1, in the Class 1A-Region 4 Final to advance. It was the third time this season that the Bears had defeated the Indians, who upset defending 1A state champion Newberry in the regional semifinals.

“When I took over the program 18 months ago, these boys bought into a process that was intentional and demanding with the focus on putting the best nine players on the field at any time to give the team the best chance for success,” said first-year coach Shannon Smith. “They have been working hard and grinding it out this year since January, and they continue to work hard even today.”

The Bears, who are ranked ninth in Class 1A by MaxPreps, will play No. 1 Bozeman (Panama City) in the 1A state semifinals at 4 p.m. on Wednesday at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers.

After a 6-8 start to the season, Dixie County has won seven of its last eight games with its only loss coming in a 7-6 Class 1A-District 7 title game loss to Newberry last Thursday.

Fort White defeated two top five teams in the state playoffs to advance, including a 4-2 win at Union County (Lake Butler) in nine innings in the regional semifinals.

“Becoming the first team in school history to reach the final four is an amazing accomplishment for these young men and a great sense of pride for the TIWAHE family,” said Fort White coach Rick Julius.

The Indians (16-6), who are ranked sixth in 1A by MaxPreps, won at No. 2 Lafayette (Mayo), 3-2, on Friday, scoring two runs in the sixth inning after trailing 2-1.

Fort White will play No. 3 ranked Holmes County (Bonifay) at 7 p.m. on Wednesday in the other state semifinal.

The Class 1A state championship game is on Thursday at 7 p.m.

Tonight at 7 p.m. the Columbia (Lake City) baseball team has a chance to reach its first final four in school history.

The Tigers (21-8) host Lincoln (Tallahassee) in a Class 5A-Region 1 Final for the right to advance to Fort Myers. They knocked off defending state champion Mosley (Lynn Haven), 5-2, to advance to their first regional final in 10 years.

“We were fortunate to beat Mosley, got some timely hits and great pitching from (Grant) Bowers and (Matt) Dumas,” said first-year Columbia coach Chris Howard. 

Columbia, which is the top seed in the region, lost to No. 2 seed Lincoln, 4-3, on April 28.

In that game, the Tigers led 3-0 going into the bottom of the seventh inning but the Trojans scored four runs in their final at-bat to walk off with a win.

FSU commit Hayden Gustavson, senior Ty Floyd, and JC commit Brent Howard each drove in a run for the Tigers, who are ranked third in the state in Class 5A by MaxPreps.

“We have to play a complete game to beat Lincoln, have to be good in all phases,” Howard said.

Tonight’s game will be broadcast online at MainStreetDailyNews.com beginning at 6:50 p.m.

In softball, Dixie County and Fort White also have a chance to reach their first final four in program history.

Tomorrow night at 7 p.m. Dixie County will host Taylor (Pierson) in the Class 1A-Region 4 Final.

The Bears, who are ranked second in the state in 1A, rallied for four runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to beat defending 1A state champion Trenton, 6-5, last Thursday. 

Fort White (14-7) hosts Union County (Lake Butler) in the Region 3 Final on Tuesday night.

In order to make it to their first final four in school history, the sixth-ranked Indians will have to win the rubber match against the 1A No. 4 Tigers.

Union County (18-5), which won the Class 1A state title in 2017, defeated Fort White at home, 2-1, in the season opener on Feb. 22. 

The Indians won the second meeting, 4-1, at Fort White on April 1.

In February, the Indians’ girls basketball team claimed its first ever district title, and on Thursday, May 5, the Fort White softball team won its first district championship in school history with an 11-0 victory over Branford.

Last year, Newberry won its first baseball state title in school history, and the area will have a chance to get two first timers in this year’s state title game on Thursday.

You’ve got to love the first times.


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