By PATRICK CASEY
The end of another school year brings to a close yet another chapter in local athletic history. For some, the look ahead to next year brings hope for improvement, for others, the realization that a repeat of success may be a near impossible task.
After looking back on the school year that was, 10 items stand out from what was a solid athletic year for all five of our area high schools that the DeFuniak Herald tries to cover on a daily basis.
This week, we wrap up our look back with the final five events readers might have missed, or just might enjoy remembering before we move on to the next school year in athletics.
5. Paxton girls basketball goes to state- The Paxton girls basketball team earned a trip to the Final Four in Lakeland for the first time since winning the 1997 Class A state championship. The Bobcats entered the season with a lot of question marks after graduating several key players from the 2007 squad. Maryllyn Gilbert and Stevie Davidson had very strong seasons with Gilbert capturing several Player of the Year honors as Paxton defeated Tallahassee FAMU High 44-27 to earn a berth to the Final Four. Unfortunately, the Bobcats fell to Lake Worth Trinity Christian 44-30 in a state semi-final contest to snap an 8-0 record in Lakeland. Paxton dominated their district yet again, and got revenge on Malone with a 47-43 win over the Tigers in the second round in February. Coach Herb Haddock’s tenacious defense will gives Paxton a chance to win 20 games most every season, as it did in 2007-08.
4. South Walton softball team- South Walton had never been in the state softball playoffs, let alone won a district title in the sport. That changed in 2008 as sophomore Shelby Watson led the team to a 23-2 record, a district title and a pair of playoff games. Watson pitched the Seahawks into the playoffs and provided pop with her bat as South Walton rallied to beat Pensacola Catholc 3-2 to earn the District 1, Class 3A title. The Seahawks then defeated Holmes County 2-1 to win their first playoff game before falling to Chipley 3-0 in the second round. Casey Ogden and Brittany Jay had solid seasons at the plate and coach Phil Tisa should have an experienced squad on the field when the Seahawks begin their district title defense in 2009.
3. The Walton golf team goes to state, again- Walton High School followed up their first trip as a team to the state golf tournament with another berth to the event in 2007. The Braves improved upon their 16th place finish in 2006 as they moved up to 13th out of 16 schools in attendance as the squad shot a 655 over the two-day event held at the Southern Dunes Golf and Country Club in Haines City, the site of the boys Class A event. Paul McClure led the way as he shot a 73 on the opening day, then followed with a 74 to earn a tie for sixth place overall at the event. The good news is that McClure and Heath Morgan will be back for the 2008 golf season, but replacements must be found for Aaron Timmons, Sean Carter and Dylan Laird. Stan Bosenberg has been the Walton golf coach for nearly as long as Bobby Bowden has been at Florida State. Bosenberg has guided the squad to consecutive trips to the state tournament, something this is very rare for a public school in this sport. The question this fall will be whether Walton can do it for a third straight year.
2. Paxton baseball back in Region final for the second straight year- The Paxton baseball team continued to make history in the county in 2008 as the Bobcats made their second consecutive trip to the Region finals in the sport of baseball. The Bobcats, who lost to Jacksonville Eagle’s View in 2007 by an 8-4 score at home, won the dubious honor of making the trip to Jacksonville for a rematch with the private school in 2008. While the outcome of the three game series did not go Paxton’s way (they lost 13-3 and 18 0), the Bobcats showed the rest of the state that they have a championship program among the public schools.
The Bobcats returned a team in 2008 that had no seniors and saw several prominent starting roles handed to young players. Coach Jeff Bradley overcame a slow start to win the district and a pair of playoff games, including four wins against arch-rival Laurel Hill during the season, using “Bradley-ball”. The Bobcats emphasized bunting, base-running and sound fielding decisions to earn wins with a young squad. The scary part for Bobcat opponents: they all should be back to play again next season.
1. Paxton boys basketball fall to FAMU at the buzzer- The Paxton Bobcats came within a few second of becoming the first Area 5 boys basketball squad to make the Final Four since 1972. In what was the game of the year in Walton County, FAMU’s Marquise Richardson hit a floating, lateral jumper on the left side of the key that found nothing but net as time expired as FAMU High stole a 63-61 victory over the Paxton Bobcats in the Region I, Class A boys basketball final played in Paxton in February. The game may have had the largest attendance of any sporting event held at Paxton in the school’s history as the campus was turned into a giant parking lot 90 minutes before the game started.
“You hate to see it end like that,” Coach Jeff Bradley said after the game. “We were hoping to get the turnover off the out-of-bounds play, but the arrow was not in our favor when the officials couldn’t decide who the ball went off of out of bounds. We had a great run and are blessed with such a supporting community and family.” Jeff Bradley and the Paxton Bobcats had a great basketball season in their new gymnasium and will have to replace Blake Zessin and Chaze Russell to make another run at a Final Four trip next season. Paxton recorded a 27-3 record and joined Walton and Ponce de Leon in playing in a Region final over the last four years. Though none could advance on to the Final Four, next year’s Bobcat squad may be the one to break a 36-year drought.