By PATRICK CASEY
The Paxton Bobcats will play for the right to advance to Sarasota for the Class A baseball Final Four this week as the squad travels to Jacksonville to face Eagle’s View in a best-of-three series. This will be the third straight year the Bobcats will square off with the Warriors in the state playoffs.
The Florida High School Athletic Association changed the baseball region final in all six classifications to a best-of-three series this year, as opposed to a single elimination game as it has been throughout the majority of the sport’s history in Florida.
Paxton faces a tough task as Jacksonville Eagle’s View Academy is the defending state champion and currently ranked No. 1 in Class A. The Warriors have won two state championships and have been the Region I representative at the Final Four for four straight years. A win over Paxton is all that stands between the Warriors and a fifth straight trip to the Final Four.
Eagle’s View coach Gil Morales has a 96-53 record in five years at the school. His 100th victory could go hand-in-hand with the school’s third state title if the squad can defeat Paxton with a pair of wins, then grab two victories at the Final Four.
Eagle’s View has 10 seniors, but their best player may be junior Austin Maddox, who both catches and pitches for the Warriors. Maddox has driven in 12 runs in the two playoff games this season and hit a pair of home runs against Aucilla Christian on Friday in the Warriors 18-5 victory. Maddox has a fastball that has been clocked in the mid-90′s and will almost assuredly start one of the two contests against Paxton on Friday.
Junior shortstop Matt Bergquist is another hitter to watch. Bergquist went 4-4 against Aucilla and is part of a lineup that has tremendous power.
Eagle’s View is 21-8 this season, but that is a little misleading as they have played some of the larger, and better, schools across the state. Eagle’s View beat Tallahassee North Florida Christian, the Class 2A defending champ, 12-4 in Tallahassee on February 29. The Eagles are playing Jay at home in a best-of-three series this week in Tallahassee in Class 2A.
Eagle’s View could likely challenge for a state championship in several of the larger classifications, but the private school controls enrollment to stay small and has become a power in baseball in Jacksonville..
Josh Adams, who hit a two-run homer against Paxton in the first inning of last year’s 8-4 win in Paxton, is starting at either second or third base this season as a true freshman for the University of Florida. He is second on the Gators team in hitting with a .341 average and is tied for the lead on the team with seven home runs.
All this just adds to the battle of public versus private schools in athletics.
“We are the public school baseball state champions,” Paxton Coach Jeff Bradley added after Friday night’s win over Laurel Hill. “Now we have to go battle the private schools from the rest of the state. The best-of-three format does not really favor the underdog. Our kids have worked hard, but we have a mountain to climb the rest of the way. We will give it our best shot and play Paxton baseball.”
Paxton (10-9) will do their best to counter with a solid defensive club that has received excellent pitching from Dan Geoghagan and Colby Forehand since the start of the district tournament.
The Bobcats will need to execute to near perfection to have a chance to pull off the upset. The Bobcats are young, but excel at the game’s fundamentals. For Paxton to have a chance, the squad must get superb fielding and the pitchers must move the ball around the plate to keep the Warriors from having a big inning if they get locked on to one pitcher’s methods.
Keep in mind, Paxton played Eagle’s View the closest of any team in the playoffs last season. However, Paxton does not have a senior on the team, so experience has been built off this year’s four-game playoff run.
The series will be played at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, which is located on the east side of the city, towards Jacksonville Beach. The first game is set to start on Friday, May 9, at 3 p.m. Central time with the second game to follow 30-45 minutes after the first ends.
Directions to the University of North Florida: From I-10 (Eastbound),take I-10 East to I-95 South. Merge onto J Turner Butler Blvd E (SR-202) via exit 344. Turn left at the fork in the ramp (north). Take the St. Johns Bluff Rd exit to merge onto SR-9A N. Turn left onto SR-9A. Take the first exit to the right to merge onto UNF Drive.