By Mike Ridaught
Of the nine state champions crowned at last week’s FHSAA Softball Finals at Historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach, four were first-time winners.
Lake Butler Union County (1A), Land O’ Lakes (6A), Ft. Myers (7A) and Orange Park Oakleaf (8A) won their first fast-pitch state softball title in school history. In the process, two of them knocked off defending champs or No. 1 teams to do so.
Union County, which had a walk-off win against Chipley in the state semifinals, defeated 3-time defending state champion Chiefland in the 1A state championship game, 5-1.
It completed a 3-game season sweep of the Indians, who had a chance to become the first 4-peat champions since Miami Gulliver Prep in 2013. Bartow holds the record with five straight from 2002-2006.
Land O’Lakes had to beat the top-ranked team in Class 6A to win its first title.
The No. 3 Gators defeated No. 1 Plantation American Heritage, 3-1, as sophomore Callie Turner tossed a five-hitter and struck out eight in the complete-game victory. Turner, who struck out 21 in a game this season, is a Gatorade Player of the Year finalist.
Fort Myers was a favorite in Class 7A based on the Miracle Sports state softball poll, which had the Green Wave ranked No. 1 in its classification. They defeated No. 3 Niceville, 7-1, for the state title.
In the 8A state title game, nationally-ranked Oakleaf defeated Wellington, which had defeated defending state champion Bartow in the regional quarterfinals. The Knights (30-2), who are in their seventh year as a program, won the second state softball title in Clay County history and finished the season with the state’s longest winning streak at 26 games.
Only two teams repeated.
Nationally-ranked Coral Springs Charter (30-1) won the Class 5A state title, becoming the first Broward County team to 3-peat.
“This team is not as talented from top to bottom as some of our prior teams so it’s been more gratifying to witness the success,” said fifth-year coach Mark Montimurro.
Defending 9A state champion Winter Garden West Orange won its second straight title with a 1-0 win against Palm Harbor University. Last year’s Miss Softball, Lauren Mathis, tossed a complete-game 4-hitter with only one walk and 13 strikeouts.
One of the highlights in their win against top-ranked Miami Palmetto in the state semifinals was Lexie Blair’s inside-the-park home run. Blair, who has verbally committed to Michigan, scored the game-winning run in the title game.
Mathis, a Georgia signee, pitched four innings against the Panthers in the semifinals and allowed just one hit and no walks with eight strikeouts in the 11-0 win.
St. Petersburg Canterbury won the Class 2A state title. It was the Crusader’s fourth state title in the past seven years and they denied Monticello Aucilla Christian of a third straight title.
Ft. Pierce John Carroll, which won the 3A state title, won its second state title but its first since 1996. They avenged their loss to defending state champion Lakeland Christian in last year’s state semifinals with a 4-1 win in the 2017 title game.
Miami Westminster Christian had a walk-off win against Jacksonville Trinity Christian in the 4A state semifinals, scoring the winning run on an error in the bottom of the 7th. That helped propel the Warriors (26-5) to the state title, as they went on to defeat West Palm Beach Oxbridge Academy, 4-2, in the championship game to win their fourth title overall and second in the past four years.