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The Williston Middle School Red Devil baseball team capped off its outstanding season with a 5-1 win over Bradford County in the championship game of the Suwannee Middle School Athletic Conference (SMSAC) Tournament, which was held in Lake Butler last Thursday night.
'We went into this season with high expectations and it was nice to have those expectations fulfilled by winning the championship. This team was very special and I've enjoyed coaching them," said first-year head coach Jason Odom. "I would like to thank the parents for their support, and assistant coaches Johnson and Spikes for their help this season."
Throughout this season the team has been led by strong pitching, good bats, and consistent defense. Williston ended its season with a 14-1 record, and pounded its opponents by an average score of 11-2. This included two regular season wins and a tournament win over archrival Chiefland Middle School. According to Athletic Director, Greg Yancey, Chiefland had not lost to Williston Middle School in at least five years. The team's only loss was in the second game of the season to Fort White, by three runs in the pouring rain.
The team is made up of eighth graders Austin Etheridge, Bradley Jones, Jared Caswell, Justin Baker, Kevin Sketo, Kenny Cowart, and Max White. Seventh graders are Damien Strange, Dylan Blaylock, Dylan Moody, Justin Forsythe, and T.J. Jackson. Sixth graders on the team are Jared Carson, Dalton Spikes, and Trent Johnson.
Experience played a major role in the success of this team. Many of these boys have played together since their tee-ball days. In addition to local recreation leagues, many of the boys have played competitive baseball on several area AAU and USSSA baseball teams including the Williston Warriors, Gainesville Thunderboltz, Florida Select, Ocala Express, Santa Fe Redsox, Santa Fe Lightning, Gainesville Dog Pack, Lake City Lightning, and the Marion Mob. These teams play year-round, which allows the boys to play 60 to 80 games of baseball a year in addition to school and city recreation ball games.
The championship game last Thursday started slowly for Williston. White was on the mound for the Devils. Bradford's leadoff hitter smacked a double to left field and would eventually score on a fielder's choice. The bottom of the inning was a one, two, three out attempt for Williston.
The second inning was scoreless for Bradford with White getting his first of nine strikeouts for the night. To lead off the second for Williston, Baker reached first base on an error by the shortstop but was left stranded after a fly ball and two ground ball outs.
The bottom of the order got things started for Williston in the third inning as Blaylock started with a single to right field. Caswell kept it going by laying down the perfect bunt to advance the runner, and reaching first base. An error on Etheridge's fly ball to right field allowed both runners to score, putting Williston ahead by one.
In the fourth Bradford was retired with three consecutive ground ball outs. Williston added to their runs with Jones getting on base with an error, Strange getting on with a fielder's choice and both eventually scoring on a passed ball and an RBI from Caswell, making the score 4-1.
The fifth inning would bring on the heat with White striking out the next three batters. The bottom of the fifth would have Etheridge single to left field, White hit a steamer out to deep left scoring Etheridge, but would be thrown out at third base. A fly out and ground out would end the fifth for the Devils with the score 5-1.
The top of the sixth had White striking out three batters on 10 pitches to retire Bradford. The bottom of the sixth saw Williston held scoreless with two fly outs and a groundout.
In the top of the seventh, White had two more strikeouts, which made eight straight batters in innings 5, 6, and 7 to go down. Second baseman Sketo caught a fly ball to end the game.
The team next year will have big shoes to fill as seven eighth graders will move up to Williston High School. "This was a special group of eighth graders that helped provide leadership throughout the season" said Odom, "I'm looking forward to watching them play at the next level."