Ridaught: Trenton, Branford seek All Area title matchup

Branford's Laila Arnold (left) and Trenton's Addison Allaire are two of the top pitchers in the state in Class 1A. They've each helped lead their team back to the FHSAA state semifinals.
Branford's Laila Arnold (left) and Trenton's Addison Allaire are two of the top pitchers in the state in Class 1A. They've each helped lead their team back to the FHSAA state semifinals.
Photos by C.J. Gish

In February, I wrote that “Branford looks to complete the mission as softball season starts.”

With the season almost complete, the Buccaneers are just two wins away from finishing the goal and winning their first softball state title in program history.

With all nine starters back from last year’s state runner-up team, No. 2 seed Branford (23-6) will again match up with No. 3 seed Liberty County (Bristol) in Friday’s state semifinals (1:45 p.m.) in a rematch of last year’s title game.

Become A Member

Mainstreet does not have a paywall, but pavement-pounding journalism is not free. Join your neighbors who make this vital work possible.

“Not really revenge but vindication,” said Branford coach Oscar Saavedra. “Last year’s game was really tough with all the rain delays. We really want to show them what we are made of without delays and of course bad calls.”

Branford almost didn’t make it back.

It took a walk-off home run by junior Madyson Sikes in the region final against Fort White, a 1-0 win, to advance to their third final four in the past four years.

“We have focused playing until the last out this year,” Saavedra said. “The girls have really dialed in and made things happen when we needed too.”

In 2023 the Branford softball team advanced to its second final four in school history.

The Bucs (25-5) knocked off defending state champion Jay, 2-1, in the state semifinals to advance to the Class 1A state championship game at Legends Way Ball Fields in Clermont.

However, in the title game they came up short as Liberty County scored late to win, 7-4, in a game that was delayed to the following day due to weather.

That next morning, the Bulldogs’ Chesnee Hires, a junior this season, hit a two-out, three-run home run in the top of the fifth inning as the Bulldogs won their second state title and their first since 2013.

Saavedra said that there has been “no added pressure” to return to Clermont, but they’re back.

“We set our goal at the beginning of the season to return and that is what we did,” he said. “The girls know it is not a given, you have to work hard and want the opportunity to play with the best.”

The leading hitters are all juniors.

Jesse Frierson (11 doubles, 9 HR) leads Branford with a .421 average, followed by Cloey Criggall (.398) and Morgan Brennan is third (.372).

In the circle, junior Laila Arnold is 16-3 with a 1.56 ERA in 26 appearances.

In 139.1 innings pitched she has allowed just 31 earned runs with 46 walks and 161 strikeouts.

The team does have power with 21 home runs, but they also like to run with 105 stolen bases.

This year’s Liberty County team is 20-6 and is batting .356 with a pair of .400+ hitters in sophomore Cha’Miya Williams (.473, 44 H, 46 R, 27 SB) and senior Gabrie Flowers (.462, 42 H, 40 RBI).

The Bulldogs also have 21 home runs.

Senior pitcher Kallan Mercer is 7-1 and leads the team with a 1.39 ERA, and as a team Liberty County has a 1.75 ERA.

“Liberty is a great team, well coached,” Saavedra said. “They have a lot of speed on the bases. We just have to play our game, limit the errors, and we should be fine.”

Trenton is the top seed and will play No. 4 seed Holmes County (Bonifay) at 12:30 p.m. in the first 1A state semifinal.

The Tigers (21-2) are back in the final four for the first time since winning the state title in 2021.

They have several players on this season’s roster that were on that last championship team, including freshman Addison Allaire.

As a sixth grader, Allaire went 2-for-4 during the final four.

“We had great pitching and some big hitters at the top, but we won this with a sixth grader at second,” former head coach Todd Bryant said the day the Tigers defeated Jay, 5-4, to win the Class 1A state title three years ago.

Now, as a freshman, Allaire is back in the final four with a chance to win it all again.

This season she is leading the team in batting average (.463), on base percentage (.536), home runs (7), runs (31), hits (29), RBI (32), slugging percentage (.850), and doubles (7), while also leading the pitching staff with a 13-2 record and a 0.72 ERA.

In 87.2 innings pitched, she has allowed only nine earned runs with 22 walks and 189 strikeouts.

Senior Brandy Dees, who was also on that championship team, is second in hitting (.344), hits (22), and slugging percentage (.484).

Junior Olivia Weaver, who was an eighth grader on that team, is third on the Tigers with a .310 average and she’s second with 18 RBI.

Both games will be streamed online (pay-per-view video via NFHS Network).

The two winners will play at 2 p.m. on Saturday for the Class 1A state title.

Gainesville High is the only other area team remaining, but the Hurricanes are just one win away from their second state title in school history.

On Thursday afternoon, GHS rallied from a 2-0 first-inning deficit against Archbishop McCarthy (Southwest Ranches) to win 5-2 and advance to Friday’s title game.

The No. 3 seed Hurricanes (24-4) will play the top seed and defending 5A state champion Parrish Community (19-8) at 4:30 p.m. on Friday.

The Bulls (19-8) advanced with a 6-1 win against Horizon (Winter Garden) in the other 5A state semifinal.

You can listen to the game online at Mainstreet Daily News (free audio play-by-play) beginning at 4:20 p.m.

Enjoying our local sports coverage? Get Mike Ridaught's twice weekly sports newsletter in your inbox.
Sports Newsletter Form
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments