It was a banner year for baseball in the West
By Mike Ridaught
It was a banner year for baseball in the West.
Williston won the Class 1A state title. It was the Red Devils’ third championship in the past six years. They defeated Chiefland in an all-Levy County state final.
Suwannee (Live Oak) advanced to the Class 5A state semifinals for the first time in over 50 years. The Bulldogs (22-10) defeated defending state runner-up Bolles (Jacksonville) in the 5A Regional Semifinals and advanced to the state semifinals with an 8-2 win against Walton (Defuniak Springs) in the Region Final.
Newberry advanced to the second round of the 5A state playoffs & Trenton only lost five games, falling to eventual state finalist Chiefland in a tough Class 1A-District 7 tournament.
Now they will all come together to represent the West during the inaugural North Florida All-Star Series.
The West squad is managed by Trenton head coach Scott Hall, who won two state titles as Williston manager in 2014 and ‘15 and led the Tigers to the state semifinals in 2018. He will be assisted by Madison County head coach Jason Fletcher and Suwannee head coach Justin Bruce.
Fletcher took the Cowboys to back-to-back 1A state runner-up finishes in 2017 and ’18 but lost to Williston in this year’s Class 1A Region Final. And Bruce led the Bulldogs to their first Final Four appearance since 1967.
Madison County, which lost to Williston in the Region Final, leads the way with four players on the team – Dawson Rutherford, Tallahassee Community College commit Dilan Lawson, Daquarius Thompkins & Logan Lepper.
Lawson, who won a state basketball title with the Cowboys this year, batted .350 while finishing with a sparkling 0.61 ERA.
“He is probably one of the best pitchers I have seen throw in a while,” said Fletcher. “He throws three pitches for strikes and the fastball has the ability to break 90.”
Bo Bonds, a Chipola College signee, leads a trio of Suwannee players, along with Dalton Croft & Josh Wharton.
Bonds, who carries a 3.6 GPA, broke the single-season record for strikeouts with 110 and finished with a 9-2 record and a 0.94 ERA.
“Bo is a team leader who always leads by example,” said Bruce. “He never gets into trouble and is always team first.”
Three players from Williston are also represented: Parker Seay (College of Central Florida), Jake Elder, and Ethan Davis. Seay (0.96 ERA) finished the season with 101 strikeouts in only 58 innings pitched.
Payne Parnell (Chiefland), a 3-sport player in football, basketball and baseball, is one of three Indians on the team. Parnell (avg. 378 & .935-Fielding percentage) is an FFA officer and active member of FCA and Interact Club. He joins Kelby Osteen and Keegan McLelland on the West team.
“Each of these players have been 3-year starters,” said Chiefland coach Kyle Parnell, who retired in May after 21 seasons. “They are outstanding young men on and off the field. They all work on their game year-round and have been excellent role models for our younger players.”
A pair of Trenton players made the team. Hall’s son, Blake, batted .361 with 16 RBI, and Zach Hardee was among the team leaders for the Tigers with a .384 average and a team-leading 35 runs scored.
Newberry, Class 5A-District 5 champions, also has a pair of players on the West team – Parker Aultman & Dee Covey.
Baker County (Glen St. Mary) 4-year varsity starter Hunter Noblitt (Seminole State), Jeremiah Vaughn of Bradford (Starke), and Cody Morgan (Fort White) are the only individual players to represent their school.
The West will play the South on Tuesday, June 4, at 10 a.m. The loser will play for 3rd-place at 4 p.m. while the winner will play for the region championship at 7 p.m. For more on the North Florida Baseball All-Star games, click here.