Looking back at 2019-2020

By Marty Pallman
Twitter – @mpallman

The 2019-2020 year in high school sports will never be forgotten in North Central Florida. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it certain the year won’t be forgotten as well across the country and the world.

My top moments of 2019-20

1.Coronavirus cancels last two and half months of school and sports season
T2. Hawthorne boys win state basketball title
T2. Hawthorne girls win state basketball title
4. Columbia boys basketball advances to state semifinals
5. Chiefland beats Newberry and nearly beats Pahokee in football playoffs
6. Trenton softball wins first ten games to extend winning streak to 37 in a row
7. Alissa Humphrey dominance – 4 no hitters, 3 perfect games in 5 starts
8. Santa Fe girls play for state volleyball title again
9. Vanguard football wins nine games and advances to third rounds of playoffs again
10. Defending volleyball champion Vanguard advances back to state title game

A look back at Fall 2019: Three area volleyball teams advance to state championship game…Vanguard, who won 7A state title in 2018, advanced to 5A title game and lost to Ponte Vedra 3-0. Santa Fe made second consecutive state championship game appearance, losing to nationally-ranked Orlando Lake Highland Prep for 4A title. Raiders lost to Merritt Island for 6A title in 2018. Newberry advanced to 2nd state championship game in four years, but lost in four sets to Sneads, who won seventh straight 1A state title. Newberry had lost to Sneads in 1A final in 2016. Bell went 27-2 but was upset in region final by Branford in five sets. And Buchholz went 22-6 and advanced to 6A regional finals where they were eliminated by eventual state champion Tallahassee Leon. Here is a look at our final Prep Zone Power Poll for girls volleyball as 5A champion Ponte Vedra finished on top:

The Prep Zone Power Poll – 2019 Volleyball Poll #11 (FINAL POLL)
(School, city, classification, first-place votes, final record, and total voting points)
1. Ponte Vedra (5A) (6) (25-6) – 157
2. Trinity Catholic (Ocala) (3A) (2) (23-7) – 148
3. Santa Fe (Alachua) (4A) (21-10) – 140
4. Buchholz (Gainesville) (6A) (22-6) – 135
5. Forest (Ocala) (6A) (22-7) – 127
6. Vanguard (Ocala) (5A) (16-11) – 126
7. Bishop Kenny (Jacksonville) (4A) (19-11) – 90
8. Fleming Island (Orange Park) (6A) (16-6) – 82
9. Seven Rivers Christian (Lecanto) (2A) (24-4) – 81
10. Lecanto (5A) (25-4) – 73
11. Bell (1A) (27-2) – 69
12. Bartram Trail (St. Johns) (7A) (19-9) – 67
13. East Ridge (Clermont) (7A) (21-6) – 61
14. Branford (1A) (22-6) – 54
15. Christ’s Church Academy (Jacksonville) (2A) (23-7) – 44
16. Newberry (1A) (18-13) – 40
17. Nature Coast Tech (Brooksville) (4A) (20-10) – 32
18. Yulee (4A) (22-5) – 26
19. Montverde Academy (4A) (15-11) – 25
20. Spruce Creek (Port Orange) (7A) (17-11) – 24
Also receiving votes: Ridgeview (Orange Park) (5A) (18-6) – 22; First Academy-Leesburg (2A) (17-2) – 18; DeLand (7A) (16-7) – 17; Creekside (St Johns) (6A) (14-10) – 8; Menendez (St. Augustine) (4A) (16-8) – 7; Fletcher (Neptune Beach) (6A) (20-5) – 4; Mandarin (Jacksonville) (7A) (20-6) – 2; New Smyrna Beach (6A) (15-12) – 1.

The football season was a mixed bag in Alachua County. Hawthorne, who advanced to the state semifinals in 2018, had another successful season, making it back to the playoffs and advancing to the second round. It was a tough year for the Gainesville-area public schools, as Gainesville, Buchholz, and Eastside all failed to advance to the postseason after all three made the playoffs the previous year. Santa Fe also missed the postseason. Eastside was expected to have a big year with University of Florida signee Anthony Richardson at quarterback, but Richardson was injured halfway through the year and the Rams struggled to a 2-8 record, and head coach Cedderick Daniels was let go and replaced by Buchholz assistant Alex Deleon. Gainesville fired Patrick Miller and replaced him with Dock Pollard from Santa Fe. Meanwhile Newberry, who was only had 1 win in 2018, rebounded to a 9-1 record under first-year coach Ed Johnson and was the #1 seed in Region 4-1A. Unfortunately, Newberry was knocked out in the second round of the 1A playoffs by Chiefland, who started the season 1-4 under another first-year coach in John Palmer, but rebounded to win their next seven games and advanced to the Region 4-1A final. Led by quarterback Ty Corbin, who was the Gainesville Sun’s Small School Player of the Year, Chiefland nearly pulled off another upset at Pahokee before being downed 32-27 in the region final. Chiefland’s run through the second half of the season and the playoffs was my top story of Fall 2019 in the Gainesville area. Oak Hall won their first playoff game in many years, but a tough offseason brought many transfers and with it came the announcement that the Eagles will be playing 8-man football this fall for the 2020 season. Also advancing to the third round in football was Bradford in 4A and Union County in 1A.

In Marion County, 2019 was another big year for the Vanguard Knights, as they advanced to the playoffs for the fifth straight year, where the advanced to the 5A region final, beating North Marion along the way. After a state runner-up finish in 2018, North Marion finished last year 9-3 after knocking off Dunnellon in the opening round of the 5A playoffs and then losing at Vanguard in the second round. and coach Willie Offord announced recently he is stepping down as Colts coach. Dunnellon had quite a season, finishing 9-2 and won District 6-5A with wins over Vanguard and North Marion during the regular season. Trinity Catholic made it back to the playoffs, and upset Jacksonville Trinity Christian before losing in the second round at Pensacola Catholic. And with that Andrew Thomas left Trinity Catholic for Union County, and John Brantley is back for his second stint as the coach of the Celtics.

Here is a look at the final Prep Zone Power Poll for the 2019 football season. Madison County, who won it’s third straight 1A state title, finishes on top of the final rankings:

THE PREP ZONE POWER POLL – 2019 FOOTBALL POLL #14 (FINAL)
(School, followed by classification, first-place votes, final record, and total voting points)
1. Madison County (1A) (7) (12-2) – 177
2. Bartram Trail (St. Johns) (8A) (2) (11-1) – 160
3. Bolles (Jacksonville) (4A) (11-2) – 158
4. Vanguard (Ocala) (5A) (9-3) – 149
5. Fleming Island (Orange Park) (7A) (10-1) – 138
6. North Marion (Citra) (5A) (9-3) – 131
7. Robert E. Lee (Jacksonville) (6A) (9-4) – 126
8. University Christian (Jacksonville) (2A) (11-2) – 124
9. Columbia (Lake City) (6A) (8-4) – 108
10. Dunnellon (5A) (9-2) – 85
11. South Sumter (Bushnell) (9-3) – 79
12. Raines (Jacksonville) (5A) (6-5) – 66
13T. Lake Minneola (Minneola) (6A) (9-4) – 65
13T. Trinity Catholic (Ocala) (3A) (8-4) – 65
15. DeLand (8A) (7-3) – 52
16. Mainland (Daytona Beach) (6A) (7-5) – 40
17. Flagler Palm Coast (8A) (8-3) – 32
18. Bradford (Starke) (4A) (6-6) – 21
19. Ponte Vedra (6A) (7-3) – 18
20. The Villages (4A) (8-3) – 15
Also receiving votes: Chiefland (1A) (8-5) – 13; Trinity Christian (Jacksonville) (3A) (5-6) – 12; Newberry (1A) (9-2) – 10; Episcopal (Jacksonville) (3A) (10-2) – 9; Oakleaf (Orange Park) (8A) (7-3) – 9; Mandarin (Jacksonville) (8A) (7-4) – 6; Taylor County (Perry) (1A) (7-4) – 5; West Nassau (Callahan) (4A) (8-3) – 5; Atlantic (Port Orange) (5A) (8-4) – 3; Lafayette (Mayo) (1A) (9-2) – 2; Union County (Lake Butler) (1A) (7-6) – 1.

As we moved on to the winter sports season, boys and girls basketball dominated the news.

But some area soccer teams had success as well. P.K Yonge, Buchholz, Eastside, and Gainesville boys soccer teams all advanced to the playoffs. Gainesville was the only team to advance past the first round, and they made it to the 5A regional final before losing to Jacksonville Stanton.

In girls soccer, Oak Hall, P.K. Yonge, Eastside, Vanguard, and Buchholz all advanced to the playoffs but all lost in the opening round.

Top moment of winter 2019-2020: Basketball season on the other hand saw plenty of success. What a season it was in Hawthorne. Starting in girls basketball where the Lady Hornets won their first state basketball title in school history. It started in 2019, as Cornelius Ingram led the Hawthorne girls to their first state semifinal appearance for the program. Hawthorne came up short against Holmes County, but it set the stage for this season. Hawthorne dropped only two games during the regular season, to 2A playoff team Jacksonville University Christian and 3A playoff team P.K. Yonge. In the state playoffs, Hawthorne knocked off the top-ranked team in Wildwood 47-41 in the region final to advance back to Lakeland, then won a rematch with Holmes County 50-48 to advance to their first state title game appearance. Against Port St. Joe in the 1A state title game, the Lady Hornets turned up the defense again and won a squeaker 33-32 for the first state title in program history. Hawthorne finished the season 29-2.

Here is a look at the final Prep Zone Power Poll rankings for girls basketball. Jacksonville Bishop Kenny, who finished as the state runner-up in 4A, finished at the top:

THE PREP ZONE POWER POLL – 2019-20 GIRLS BASKETBALL POLL #7 (FINAL)
(School, followed by classification, first-place votes, final record, and total voting points)
1. Bishop Kenny (Jacksonville) (4A) (6) (22-10) – 158
2. Raines (Jacksonville) (4A) (28-2) – 144
3. Father Lopez (Daytona Beach) (3A) (26-3) – 142
4. Spruce Creek (Port Orange) (7A) (1) (24-6) – 140
5. Ribault (Jacksonville) (4A) (23-9) – 124
6. Hawthorne (1A) (1) (29-2) – 123
7. Middleburg (5A) (19-7) – 105
8. Wildwood (1A) (25-3) – 93
9T. Flagler Palm Coast (7A) (18-7) – 78
9T. University Christian (Jacksonville) (2A) (21-5) – 78
11. Bolles (Jacksonville) (4A) (18-10) – 77
12. P.K Yonge (Gainesville) (3A) (18-9) – 71
13. St. Augustine (5A) (19-6) – 54
14. Creekside (St. Johns) (6A) (16-9) – 52
15. Sandalwood (Jacksonville) (7A) (16-12) – 47
16T. Columbia (Lake City) (6A) (21-8) – 36
16T. Mainland (Daytona Beach) (6A) (13-12) – 36
18. Madison County (1A) (22-7) – 26
19. Orange Park (5A) (20-8) – 17
20. Vanguard (Ocala) (5A) (16-9) – 15
Also receiving votes: Atlantic (Port Orange) (4A) (17-9) – 10; Lafayette (Mayo) (1A) (17-10) – 8; Bartram Trail (St. Johns) (7A) (13-12) – 6; Eustis (4A) (19-8) – 6; Hernando Christian Academy (2A) (25-2) – 4; Trenton (1A) (21-6) – 3; North Marion (Citra) (4A) (19-9) – 1; Providence (Jacksonville) (3A) (19-8) – 1.

Not to be outdone, the Hawthorne boys basketball team advanced to Lakeland a week later looking for an elusive state title. This was the Hornets fifth trip to Lakeland in nine years under coach Greg Bowie and they had finished as state runner-up twice. But this time Hawthorne brought their first boys state basketball title since 1987 back to eastern Alachua County. Hawthorne dropped only three games during the regular season, at Crystal River, by one point to Jacksonville North Florida Educational Institute and at Eastside on January 25, which was the Hornets last loss. Hawthorne won their final eight games, and in the playoffs knocked off Ole Miss signee Marcus Niblack and Wildwood 69-59 in the region final before a standing-room only crowd at the Hornets Nest to advance back to the state semifinals. In Lakeland, Hawthorne rolled past Paxton 70-58 in the state semifinal and then once again used their defense to hold off Hilliard 42-38 in the state championship game. Hawthorne was led by Gainesville Sun co-player of the year Torey Buie, who averaged 19 points and four rebounds a game along with two steals and scored 32 points in the state semifinal win and 26 points in the state championship game triumph. Greg Bowie was the state Class 1A Coach of the Year. The COVID-19 pandemic started shutting things down about a week or so after the Hawthorne boys won their title so the celebration was muted, but they still plan on a parade for the girls and boys basketball teams at some point in Hawthorne. To me it’s hard to choose between the two, so the Hawthorne boys and girls state championship basketball teams are tied for the top moment of the winter sports season.

In other boys basketball news, Columbia made some history as well as the Tigers finished 28-3 and advanced to the state semifinals for the first time in 52 years. Head Coach Steve Faulkner led his team to Lakeland on an 18-game winning streak to Lakeland, and they won a tough Region 1-6A win a two-point win over Chiles (Tallahassee), a one-point squeaker against Lincoln (Tallahassee), and a five-point victory over Mainland (Daytona Beach) to advance to the Final Four. Columbia just missed advancing to the state title game, as Dillard (Fort Lauderdale) took advantage of a controversial buzzer-beater to force overtime and eventually defeated the Tigers in double OT. But what a season in Lake City as basketball took center stage for the first time in many years at Columbia. Eastside also caught fire, winning 17 of 19 games at one point after starting the season 5-5 and winning District 5-4A while advancing to the Region 2-4A final.

This is the final Prep Zone Power Poll for boys basketball, as 3A state runner-up Jacksonville Andrew Jackson edged 4A state semifinalist Jacksonville Paxon for the top spot. Columbia finished third.

THE PREP ZONE POWER POLL – 2019-20 BOYS BASKETBALL POLL #6 (FINAL)
(School, followed by classification, first-place votes, final record, and total voting points)
1. Andrew Jackson (Jacksonville) (3A) (4) (25-4) – 175
2. Paxon (Jacksonville) (4A) (2) (25-6) – 169
3. Columbia (Lake City) (6A) (1) (28-3) – 162
4. Robert E. Lee (Jacksonville) (5A) (23-5) – 143
5. Hawthorne (1A) (2) (25-3) – 140
6. Impact Christian Academy (Jacksonville) (2A) (19-9) – 135
7. Bishop Kenny (Jacksonville) (4A) (24-5) – 126
8. North Florida Educational Institute (Jacksonville) (2A) (23-5) – 109
9. Providence (Jacksonville) (3A) (19-10) – 99
10. Eastside (Gainesville) (4A) (22-8) – 89
11. Mainland (Daytona Beach) (6A) (19-11) – 77
12. Wildwood (1A) (21-8) – 74
13. Hilliard (1A) (23-4) – 72
14. Palatka (4A) (19-8) – 70
15. The Villages (4A) (21-7) – 60
16. Fleming Island (Orange Park) (6A) (20-9) – 53
17. Bolles (Jacksonville) (4A) (19-9) – 43
18. Mount Dora Christian Academy (2A) (27-2) – 31
19. Leesburg (5A) (17-10) – 17
20. Forest (Ocala) (6A) (20-8) – 15
Also receiving votes: Madison County (1A) (20-6) – 14; Eustis (4A) (15-12) – 3; Orange Park (5A) (15-11) – 1; St. Augustine (5A) (16-9) – 1.

So with the FHSAA boys basketball state championships wrapping up in Lakeland on March 7, that was the end of the winter sports season. Here in North Central Florida, Mike Ridaught worked our first baseball broadcast of the spring sports season on March 10 as P.K. Yonge defeated Eastside 12-0. Little did we know that would be the last Prep Zone broadcast of the 2019-2020 school year. The win improved P.K. Yonge to 7-1, and they won two more games that week 10-4 at Interlachen on Thursday, March 12 and 16-1 against St. Francis Catholic on Friday, March 13 to improve to 9-1. On that day, March 13, the Florida Department of Education and Governor Ron DeSantis shut down schools statewide. The last high school events in Florida for the school year were played that evening. At the time in baseball, Buchholz was off to a 6-2 start, North Marion was 6-1, Dunnellon was 7-2, and Keystone Heights was 6-2. Palatka was also off to an 8-1 start as well. Here is a look at the only Prep Zone Power Poll for high school baseball for the 2020 season:

The Prep Zone Power Poll – 2020 Baseball Poll #1
(School, followed by classification, first place votes, record in 2020, 2019 final record, and total voting points)
1. Creekside (St. Johns) (6A) (8-2) (5) (23-7) – 136
2. Spruce Creek (Port Orange) (7A) (10-1) (2) (24-4) – 135
3. Episcopal (Jacksonville) (3A) (7-1) (17-13) – 94
4. Oakleaf (Orange Park) (7A) (6-2) (15-9) – 92
5. North Marion (Citra) (4A) (6-1) (17-12) – 83
6. Buchholz (Gainesville) (6A) (6-2) (17-9) – 78
7. Fletcher (Neptune Beach) (6A) (5-2) (20-4) – 77
8. Flagler Palm Coast (7A) (6-1) (10-16) – 62
9. Bartram Trail (St. Johns) (7A) (6-3) (23-6) – 60
10. Atlantic Coast (Jacksonville) (6A) (7-3) (14-14) – 58
11. Clay (Green Cove Springs) (4A) (8-3) (16-9) – 56
12. St. Johns Country Day (Orange Park (2A) (7-1) (19-8) – 51
13. Suwannee (Live Oak) (4A) (5-3) (20-10) – 42
14. Ridgeview (Orange Park) (4A) (5-3) (13-13) – 39
15. Dunnellon (4A) (7-2) (23-6) – 38
16T. Fleming Island (Orange Park) (6A) (5-3) (18-8) – 34
16T. Keystone Heights (3A) (6-2) (11-15) – 34
18. Providence (Jacksonville) (3A) (7-5) (16-9) – 32
19. Mandarin (Jacksonville) (7A) (6-2) (16-10) – 29
20. Sandalwood (Jacksonville) (7A) (6-2) (21-7) – 28
Also receiving votes: Bolles (Jacksonville) (3A) (4-4) (24-3) – 23; Fort White (1A) (6-1) (8-15) – 23; P.K Yonge (Gainesville) (3A) (9-1) (9-14) – 23; Palatka (4A) (8-1) (13-13) – 23; Real Life Christian Academy (Clermont) (2A) (7-1) (20-3) – 15; Trinity Christian Academy (Jacksonville) (3A) (4-5) (20-8) – 15; Bishop Kenny (Jacksonville) (4A) (5-4) (13-13) – 13; Williston (1A) (5-4) (20-9) – 11; Forest (Ocala) (6A) (6-3) (7-18) – 9; Hernando (Brooksville) (4A) (8-3) (18-8) – 9; Santa Fe (Alachua) (4A) (6-4) (20-7) – 9; South Lake (Groveland) (6A) (6-4) (18-9) – 9; Trinity Christian (Deltona) (2A) (6-2) (14-9) – 8; Columbia (Lake City) (6A) (4-4) (13-13) – 5; East Ridge (Clermont) (7A) (8-3) (15-9) – 5; Chiefland (1A) (3-3) (14-11) – 4; Terry Parker (Jacksonville) (5A) (7-2) (11-14) – 4; Lake Minneola (Minneola) (5A) (6-3) (18-10) -1.

Top moments of spring 2020: As for softball, Trenton was off to quite a start as they were defending their 1A state title from 2019. The Tigers won their first ten games this season, extending their winning streak to 37 games in a row after going a perfect 27-0 in their state title season the year before. Trenton has outscored their ten opponents 133-8 and were fifth in the MaxPreps XCellent Top 25 when the season came to a halt due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Four of the top five in the first Prep Zone Power Poll were unbeaten including third-ranked West Nassau, #4 Gainesville, and fifth-ranked Belleview. Oakleaf, who was ranked #2, was 7-1.

Speaking of Gainesville, senior pitcher Alissa Humphrey, who signed with Jacksonville University, was off to another fantastic start when her senior season was brought to an end. She ended up 5-0 with an 0.00 ERA, and in 47 innings allowed only seven hits with zero runs, two walks and 106 (?!?!) strikeouts while throwing four no-hitters and three perfect games. Unfortunately we won’t get to see her play for a state title in her senior year, but look forward to see her pitching at JU. What a career at Gainesville High.

This was the only Prep Zone Power Poll for the 2020 high school softball season. Defending 1A state champion Trenton was at the top, with four of the top five unbeaten when the season came to a halt on March 13:

THE PREP ZONE POWER POLL – 2020 SOFTBALL POLL #1
(School, followed by classification, last year’s record, first-place votes, current record, and total voting points)
1. Trenton (1A) (27-0) (3) (10-0) – 117
2. Oakleaf (Orange Park) (7A) (25-5) (1) (7-1) – 105
3. West Nassau (Callahan) (3A) (17-12) (6-0) – 100
4. Gainesville (5A) (19-8) (1) (7-0) – 99
5. Belleview (4A) (22-7) (1) (11-0) – 94
6. Ridgeview (Orange Park) (4A) (22-9) (8-1) – 88
7. East Ridge (Clermont) (7A) (22-8) (7-0) – 79
8. Bartram Trail (St. Johns) (7A) (22-5) (7-1) – 76
9. Nature Coast Tech (Brooksville) (4A) (16-11) (9-0) – 65
10. Dixie County (Cross City) (1A) (12-12) (8-1) – 55
11. Hernando (Brooksville) (4A) (27-4) (7-2) – 43
12. Atlantic Coast (Jacksonville) (6A) (14-9) (4-1) – 41
13. Creekside (St. Johns) (6A) (25-5) (5-3) – 36
14. Santa Fe (Alachua) (3A) (22-7) (7-4) – 28
15. Columbia (Lake City) (5A) (14-9) (9-3) – 27
16. Trinity Christian (Jacksonville) (2A) (20-6) (3-3) – 24
17. Keystone Heights (3A) (16-10) (6-3) – 18
18. Episcopal (Jacksonville) (3A) (10-6) (7-2) – 17
19T. Palatka (3A) (16-11) (9-2) – 16
19T. South Sumter (Bushnell) (3A) (18-10) (8-2) – 16
Also receiving votes: DeLand (7A) (6-18) (6-2) – 15; Lecanto (5A) (11-15) (5-1) – 15; Mount Dora Christian (2A) (26-5) (7-5) – 14; St. Johns Country Day (Orange Park) (2A) (12-6) (5-2) – 14; Bishop Kenny (Jacksonville) (4A) (13-10) (6-2) – 12; Lafayette (Mayo) (1A) (11-13) (8-4) – 8; Providence (Jacksonville) (3A) (16-11) (4-3) – 8; Middleburg (5A) (11-13) (6-6) – 7; Branford (1A) (5-14) (5-2) – 6; Mandarin (Jacksonville) (7A) (24-3) (4-2) – 6; Baker County (Glen St. Mary) (4A) (20-7) (1-6) – 6; Williston (1A) (14-14) (5-3) – 5; Madison County (1A) (20-6) (4-4) – 1.

And so that led us to life after March 13. Governor DeSantis announced school would be virtual only first through April 15, then through the end of April. Then it was announced at the end of April that there would be no more in-person school the rest of the 2019-2020 school year. It has been a different time for students, student-athletes, teachers, parents, administrators, you name it. And it’s definitely been different for us here at The Prep Zone. It has already been almost three months since I have broadcast a game, February 29. Mike Ridaught has not broadcast a game since that last baseball broadcast on March 10. Like many who have had their lives changed, we are watching with great anticipation what is going on. We hope there will eventually be school and high school sports, but only when it is safe to do so. Until then we are waiting in anticipation like everyone else.