The Prep Zone Insider – Wednesday, March 23

Mike_Ridaught_photo at SouthernBy Mike Ridaught
Twitter – @ridaught

Wednesday, March 23

Hard to believe it but we are only two months away from the high school sports season coming to an end. The good news is that you can get your prep sports fix on the radio every week heading into the final games of the season.

Tune in to ThePrepZone.com Sports Report presented by SunState Federal Credit Union every Monday, Wednesday & Friday at 7:30 a.m. on WOW-FM 104.9 in Gainesville. The two-minute vignettes will let you know what happened in high school sports the previous night (link to archives). Then, every Wednesday around 4:20 p.m. on WRUF-FM 95.3 & AM-850 in Gainesville, we bring you an extended version of ThePrepZone.com Sports Report presented by SunState Federal Credit Union on “The Tailgate” with Jeff Cardozo and Adam Schick.

Today, I spoke about recent football & basketball coaches’ hires, the No. 2-ranked baseball team in the state (Class 1A Chiefland) and Santa Fe High School baseball. Here’s a little football, basketball and baseball news from Alachua County and the surrounding areas.

FOOTBALL:

We’ve had a few changes since the end of the football season. Eastside hired former Gainesville assistant Cedderick Daniels as its head football coach back in mid-December. Former Gator QB Shane Matthews, who was the offensive coordinator at Buchholz (Gainesville), but will now be the OC at Gainesville. That way he can coach his son, Luke, who could take over for Caelan Christian at QB next season as a sophomore.

But in the past couple of weeks there have been more coaching changes. Bill Wiles, who turned around Santa Fe High’s football program, has left to return to Trenton as head football coach. In his four years, the Raiders went 1-9 the first year, then 6-4 in the second year, 7-3 in year three but missed the playoffs because they were in a tough district with Live Oak Suwannee & North Marion, and then last year finished 9-4 and reached the state semifinals for the first time in 21 years. They had to knock off the #1 team in the state, Dunnellon, to get there.

Wiles takes over for Andrew Thomas at Trenton, who went 60-5 in his five years with two state titles and a state runner-up trophy, so he’s got some big shoes to fill. However, Wiles has coached at Trenton before from 1997-2001 and Trenton will get a proven coach who can win. In fact, back in 1993, in his first year as head coach, Bill Wiles led Graceville to a state title.

Andrew Thomas leaves April 1 to become the football coach and athletic director at T.R. Miller High in Brewton, Alabama.

BASKETBALL:

Billy Donovan III is coming home. That’s right. The son of former Gator basketball coach Billy Donovan will be coaching in Gainesville. Billy D 3 was hired as the head boys’ basketball coach at St. Francis Catholic this past Friday. He’s been at Trinity Catholic (Ocala) as an assistant.

Despite its best record in school history this year, St. Francis Catholic coach Brian Shea agreed to step down so Donovan’s first head coaching experience will be at his alma mater. Ironically, the same day that Donovan was hired, Trinity Catholic varsity coach Matt Greathouse stepped down.

It was also announced earlier this year that former Gator assistant basketball coach Monte Towe, who was an assistant under Norm Sloan in the 80s, has been named the head coach at Oak Hall – which is a rival of St. Francis Catholic. Even though they will be in different districts, a Billy Donovan vs. Monte Towe match-up next season will be pretty cool.

BASEBALL:

Chiefland (13-3 overall, 7-0 Class 1A-District 7) – The one baseball team in the area that has been pretty consistent is Chiefland. The Indians are currently ranked 2nd in the state in Class 1A and are undefeated in their district.

Chiefland lost to Williston last year in the regional finals. If it weren’t for UF signee Austin Langworthy, they would have likely gotten back to Fort Myers. Williston went on to win the Class 1A state title. The Indians also lost to Trenton in the state championship game in 2013. The Chiefland softball team has won back-to-back state titles, but the Chiefland baseball team has never won a state title.

This could be their year. But, it’s likely they will have to go through Williston, which is led by Langworthy and has won back-to-back state titles. Chiefland defeated Williston 1-0 back on Feb. 12 in Chiefland. They travel to Williston on Tuesday, April 12, for a non-district game.

The key for Chiefland this year, in my opinion, is Zach Barker & Trevor Castell. They are both seniors. Barker bats .593 and is 2nd with 13 runs driven in, but he also brings value to their pitching staff. He’s 2-1 with a 1.62 ERA and has 24 strikeouts in 13 innings pitched. Trevor Castell is batting .533 but he’s probably even better on the mound. He had a perfect game with 15 strikeouts earlier this season against Bell and hasn’t allowed an earned run in 20 innings pitched. Castell is not as good as Langworthy, a potential high draft pick, but he’s good enough to beat him. It will take two guys, I think, to win a state title and Barker& Castell give Chiefland a nice 1-2 punch on the bump. By the way, this Chiefland staff has a 1.31 team ERA which is pretty good considering they’ve played teams like 7A Ocala Vanguard & 5A Santa Fe. If pitching and defense wins championships, then don’t count out Chiefland.

Alachua Santa Fe (8-8 overall, 4-2 in 5A-District 5) has been up and down but they have a legitimate chance to make the postseason, as they’re currently 2nd in the district standings. This is a deep district too with Bradford (Starke) on top of the league standings at 4-1, followed by Santa Fe, Palatka (3-2) and Keystone Heights (2-2). P.K. Yonge (Gainesville) is in the district too, and while they have been competitive at times, they lost their coach before the season began and they’re still looking for their first district win of the year.

On the other hand, Santa Fe has beaten Chiefland & Williston and lost by only two to 7A Gainesville. They’ve got two tough games coming up at Belleview (3/23), which is an honorable mention in the 6A state rankings, and at Chiefland (3/24) – which is currently riding an 8-game winning streak.

Of the Raiders’ eight losses, six have been by three runs or less, including three one-run losses. Their two losses in district play have been at Bradford – who they split with this season – and at Keystone Heights – who they also split with. They still have two games against Palatka, but it just goes to show you how balanced 5A-District 5 is with Santa Fe, Bradford, Palatka & Keystone Heights all within a half a game or a game of each other. The #1 seed could come down to April 7th when the Raiders travel to Palatka or the following day (4/8) when Bradford travels to neighboring county rival Keystone.

Santa Fe’s got a pretty good pitcher too in Spencer Haire, who has thrown two no-hitters this season (one was against Newberry in which he was a hit batsman away from a perfect game and the other was against Keystone Heights in which he struck out 13). He is 4-0 with a .22 ERA with one earned run allowed in 31 innings pitched.

The biggest concern for Santa Fe is hitting. They bat just .223 as a team. But their team ERA is at 1.57 so pitching is going to keep them in some games. If you can get ‘timely hitting,’ good pitching and solid defense, then you don’t have to be a great hitting team to win.

By the way, Chiefland will host Santa Fe tomorrow night so it will be a good measuring stick for both teams with just three weeks left in the regular season. The baseball district tournaments begin the week of April 18 so we’re less than a month away from the postseason.

With ‘Good Friday’ approaching, our final broadcast this week will be at Sonic on Easy Street in Ocala. Join myself and Marty Pallman for “The Prep Zone” show on Thursday night from 6-7 p.m. with our guests: North Marion (Citra) baseball coach Dale Hall and members of the Colts’ baseball team. You can listen to the show online at www.theprepzone.com. It’s part of our Marion County coverage in the month of March.

Have a Happy Easter & be safe!