By PATRICK CASEY
The history of baseball in the Northwest Florida region of the state is brighter than its sister sport, softball. Teams from the Pensacola to Monticello region have captured 36 state championships according to the archives of the Florida High School Athletic Association.
Baseball has crowned a state champion every year since 1922 with Monticello claiming our region’s first title in the sport with a 4-1 win over Mulberry in 1933. Of the 258 state championships handed out in the history of baseball at the high school level, 36 titles have been claimed by schools between Pensacola and Monticello, or about 14 percent of the championships.
Tallahassee Leon claimed three titles from our region with championships in 1940, 1944, and 1951. The first year in which two schools were awarded state championships was in 1949 when the state was split into two classes. In 1964, the state was split into three separate classes of competition. In 1971, the FHSAA went to four classifications of baseball play. In 1994, the state went to five classifications and, in 1996, to six classifications of schools that play for a baseball title.
Pensacola Tate became the region’s most successful program in 2005 as the Aggies captured their seventh baseball championship by winning the Class 4A crown. Tate won championships in 1962, 1968, 1976, 1984, 1986, and 1998. On average, Pensacola Tate brings home a baseball state title about every six years, since 1962.
Pensacola Escambia can lay claim to five baseball state championships while Tallahassee Leon has won four titles in their program’s history.
None of our region’s teams captured a state championship in the sport in 2008. North Florida Christian in Tallahassee was the only school from our region to make the state championship game, but they were knocked off by Jacksonville Providence 3-1 to finish the year at 24-8.
NFC did capture the title in 2007 as the Eagles beat Montverde 6-1 to capture the Class 2A crown. NFC(25-6) now has two baseball titles to their credit as the Eagles also won the 1995 state championship. Pine Forest made it to the Class 3A state championship game in 2007, but lost a high-scoring affair to Orlando Bishop Moore 12-10.
Pace High School was the only school to win a baseball state championship in 2006 from our region as the Patriots pulled off an incredible two-out rally in their final at-bat in the Class 5A state semifinal against Winter Haven to capture an 8-7 win. Pace then beat Hillsborough 11-7 in the state championship game to earn their third baseball title.
Pace, Tate, Escambia, Leon, and Florida High are the only five schools from the Pensacola to Monticello region of the state to lay claim to more than two baseball championships.
Walton, Okaloosa, and Holmes counties have never had a school capture a baseball title. Walton and Okaloosa county schools have never had a team play for a baseball championship at the high school level while Holmes County has had just one. The Holmes County Bluedevils lost the 1966 championship game to Avon Park 7-0.
Milton and Pensacola High have seen the most frustration in high school baseball championship games from our region as both schools are 0-3 in the title bout.
Reaching the playoffs has been difficult for area schools. Walton has appeared in the baseball playoffs ten times, but has a 2-10 record. Walton hasn’t won a baseball playoff game since 1965. Paxton has become the most successful school to make a run in the playoffs as the Bobcats made the Region I final in 2007 and 2008, losing to eventual Class A state champion Jacksonville Eagle’s View the last two years. The Bobcats are 6-6 in five trips to the playoffs under Jeff Bradley and have qualified for the playoffs five times in the last seven years. Freeport has made only four appearances in the baseball playoffs and is 0-4, but Gene Martin has the squad on the right track after a solid season that ended in a 9-1 loss to Altha in the first round. South Walton has never qualified for the state tourney and nearby rival Ponce de Leon is 0-6 in six appearances.
A limited number of athletes that play several different sports has complicated the mix in summer workouts. Walton has several athletes that play football, basketball and baseball as does Freeport and South Walton. Paxton and Ponce de Leon have basketball and baseball as their main two sports and finding time to have summer programs in both without having a conflict in scheduling is very difficult. Some coaches prefer athletes choosing one sport and specializing in it, a practice that is difficult to uphold in small schools where every athlete is needed to fill out a roster and compete. Baseball has often been the third sport (behind football and basketball in northwest Florida) and suffered locally due to a coaching carousel that rarely sees a high school baseball coach last more than a couple of seasons. Private schools have done extremely well in baseball in central and southern Florida as the weather tends to be better in those areas in February when practice starts for the regular season. Most private schools also have less athletes playing basketball that will join the baseball team than most small public schools whose athletes are finishing basketball season before picking up a baseball.
Baseball also suffers from poor timing with the inevitable end of the school year, prom and senior trip all occurring at the same time as the high school playoffs many years. Club outings make it hard for athletes to concentrate on playing the sport while planning those events on a busy social calendar.
Locally, competition in baseball has been solid, but not spectacular. Football and basketball continue to receive more emphasis at most schools in the area, but progress is being made. At least one team from our area has claimed a baseball championship in seven of the last eight years.
HIGH SCHOOL BASEBALL STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS
Pensacola Tate – 2005, 1998, 1986, 1984, 1976, 1968, 1962
Pensacola Escambia – 1991, 1974, 1972, 1966, 1965
Tallahassee Leon – 1998, 1951, 194, 1940
Florida High – 1986, 1982, 1969
Ernest Ward – 1982, 1971
Tallahassee Maclay – 1993, 1991
Tallahassee Godby – 2001
Panama City Mosley – 2002
North Florida Christian -2007, 1995
Pace – 2006, 1990, 1985
Century – 1974
Jay – 1970
Marianna – 1999
Pensacola Catholic – 2003
Port St. Joe – 1997
Monticello – 1933