Santa Fe 8U World Series bound

The Santa Fe 8U will be playing in the Babe Ruth Softball World Series in Treasure Coast, Florida on July 26 through Aug. 4.
The Santa Fe 8U will be playing in the Babe Ruth Softball World Series in Treasure Coast, Florida on July 26 through Aug. 4.
Courtesy of Gene Findley III

Eight years ago, the Santa Fe High School softball team advanced to its first final four in program history.

That 2015 team, which finished 22-8 and advanced to the Class 4A state semifinals, was coached by Gene Findley.

His son, Gene Findley III, was an assistant on that team.

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“It was a great experience,” Findley III said. “It was the first time ever in Santa Fe High School history that a group made it to the final four. We were nationally ranked. We had a lot of great athletes on that team, a lot of girls committed to go play softball, continue their careers and advance, and now it’s kind of cool that they’re all grown up and living their life now and I’m starting over with my daughter.”

After 15 years at the high school level, the younger Findley is in his second year as the head coach of the Santa Fe 8U team, which will be participating in the Babe Ruth Softball World Series in Treasure Coast, Florida (July 26 to Aug. 4).

“Taking a step back, my daughter wanted to play so I’m starting all over again,” the younger Findley said with a smile. “It’s been an experience, it’s been a little learning curve because these kids are brand new. They’re learning the game and the good thing is we’re able to be at the bottom to build a foundation for them moving forward.”

It’s a seven- and eight-year-old team, along with girls who are turning nine this summer. It’s comprised of local youth mainly from Alachua, but also High Springs and Union County or about a 14-mile radius of the school.

All-Star tryouts began at the end of April. They’ve been to three tournaments, winning a tournament at Champion’s Park and the district tournament.

The Santa Fe 8U advanced to Babe Ruth Softball World Series.
Courtesy of Gene Findley III The Santa Fe 8U advanced to Babe Ruth Softball World Series.

Santa Fe, which was state runners-up, received an at-large bid to the World Series and will represent District 3 in their bracket, which will include New Hampshire, Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Indiana, Alabama, and Puerto Rico among others.

District 3 averages between 33 to 40 teams encompassing all of the age groups, which is the largest district that Babe Ruth has in the nation.

Pool play begins on Saturday, July 29. The teams will be seeded following pool play and will begin bracket play on Monday, July 31.

“They’re extremely excited,” Findley III said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime dream for them and to be on a big stage like that and go play at this age, they’re all excited. They’re excited about staying at the hotel, hanging out, doing all of that fun stuff that they love to do.”

It’s also been fun for Findley and his daughter.

“It’s a little challenging at times but at the end of the day I wouldn’t want it any other way,” Findley III said. “She’s a little like me and a lot like her grandpa, so it’s been a learning experience. But at the end of the day, she does what I ask her to do and she gives me everything she’s got.”

Faith said, “he’s fun to play with” but added, “he’s pretty easy to deal with” to which her dad replied, “Oh really?”

In addition to his daughter, who plays in right field, Findley has a former high school coach and former teammate, who each have daughters on the team, who are on the coaching staff.

Findley said one of his greatest experiences as a coach is to be able to watch a child that has never played before and advance to where they’re at right now.

“I’m very happy for these kids, the parents, everybody who puts in the time, and it’s good to see the love of the game, especially back in our area,” he said.

At this level, they hit off of a machine pitch, which throws 32 to 34 miles per hour. It’s their final season before they see live pitching.

“With their age, how they develop, the more success that they have at a younger age, the likelihood of them continuing to play down the road is greater because they know and they feel that excitement,” Findley III said. “You’ve got your parents cheering for you, you’ve got the girls cheering for you, and they just feed off of that.”

One of the advancements put in by the Babe Ruth League this year is the opportunity to lead off the base, which helps prepare them for the next level.

The Santa Fe 8U will be playing in the Babe Ruth Softball World Series in Treasure Coast, Florida starting July 26.
Courtesy of Gene Findley III The Santa Fe 8U will be playing in the Babe Ruth Softball World Series in Treasure Coast, Florida starting July 26.

Third baseman Karter Norris is one of the team’s leading hitters, while second baseman and shortstop Haidyn Ford is “very fundamentally talented,” according to Findley.

“I’m looking forward to the experience and I think it’s going to be cool,” said Ford, who missed the district tournament because of a foot injury (turf toe) but is back at full capacity. “I think we’ve played really well overall.”

Second baseman Chloe McCray, who is seven years old, is “very excited” about playing in the World Series but there is one thing she is looking forward to the most.

“Winning,” she said, adding that they need to “smash the ball.”

Nine-year-old Lacey Grunder, who plays catcher and pitcher, said the team “has to give it 100%” in order to win the World Series.

Members of that 2015 final four team won the Babe Ruth Softball 12U World Series. The Raiders are hoping history repeats itself.

“The youth looks bright for Santa Fe going forward,” Findley III said. “As long as these kids continue to develop, love the game, progress in their craft, whatever school they choose to play with, and they continue to play, is going to be lucky to have them.”

It’s certainly a great feeder system for the Raiders’ softball program.

“We’re trying to bring back the youth sports really hard in this area,” Findley III said. “Just with the resources that are in this area, it’s phenomenal. We’re trying to bring a lot of the old people back into the program as far as coaches, connections within the area, and within the softball community.”

But first, they’re trying to bring back a trophy.

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