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Author: Brian Lester

Jay Day! Royals win 1A state softball championship

A line out by a Fort White batter ended the game and a celebration followed as Jay players gathered behind the pitcher’s circle and celebrated the thrill of school history.

Moments earlier, clinging to a one-run lead in the top of the seventh, the Royals had to survive one last rally attempt by Fort White, which loaded the bases and threatened to complete the comeback.

Jay had taken a 6-5 lead in the sixth off a throwing error to take the momentum back after seeing its 5-0 lead evaporate. The Indians (16-8), playing for the title for the first time, scored two in the fifth and three in the sixth to tie the game.

The Royals took a 2-0 lead in the fourth thanks to a bunt by Brett Watson. She drove in two runs on that play.

Mattie Cochran then came through with a base hit to extend the lead to 3-0. Alayna Lowery capped the big inning with a two-run home run, stretching the Royals’ advantage to 5-0.

Fort White rallied, but Jay, as it has throughout these last couple of months, found a way to win. The Royals were making their fifth trip to the final four in the last 10 years and finish the year as the No. 1 team in the state.

Things didn’t start off well for Jay this season. The Royals dropped four of their first five games, including an 18-2 loss to Daphne.

They would lose only more game before rattling off 18 consecutive wins to close out the year.

Along the way they defeated Northview to win the district title and then beat Northview again in the regional before knocking off Paxton 3-0 to clinch the regional crown.

Jay then defeated Liberty County 3-2 on Tuesday in the state semifinal round to set the stage for the title game. A year ago, the Royals lost the state final 5-4 to Trenton. But they would not be denied this time around.

Teala Howard named All-American

Howard has been tabbed a third-team pick by both associations.

Howard is the 14th in program history to be named an All-American by the NFCA.

Howard hit .435 for the Argos and came up with 33 stolen bases. She racked up 73 hits in all, including six triples, and score 46 runs. Her batting average is the fourth-best in program history.

For her career overall, Howard hit .453, tallied 291 hits, came up with 134 stolen bases and scored 199 runs.

UWF to host football camps in July

All three camps will take place on campus at Pen Air Field. The camps are open to rising freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors as well as JUCO and prep school athletes.

The camps on Friday night and Sunday night begin at 5:30 p.m. and run until 8:30 p.m. The cost is $40 per person and players will be tested in Olympic broad jump, the pro shuttle, smokehouse 40 as well as receive individual instruction and take part in one-on-one competition.

The specialist camp is slated for 1:30 p.m. on July 10 and runs until 3 p.m.

Specialists will work on field goals, kickoffs, punts and long and short snapping drills. The cost of that camp is $40 as well.

For more information, contact UWF recruiting coordinator Alex Krutsch at akrutsch@uwf.edu.

Panthers come out of spring practice feeling good about progress

“The first two weeks were tough. We pushed them from a physical standpoint, but the kids adapted well and embraced the challenge,” Gillis said. “We’ve had a really good spring on both sides of the ball.”

Milton is coming off a 5-5 campaign a year ago and is now under the direction of Gillis, a former assistant and alum of the school who is in his first year as the head coach.

“I’ve been so busy with so much going on that I haven’t had time to sit back and relish being the head coach,” Gillis said. “I’m making sure all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed.”

But he’s kept the Panthers on track this spring and he likes what he has seen from his players.
“They’ve shown a lot of toughness and adaptability to being physically and mentally tough,” Gillis said. “We’ve seen that on both sides of the ball. The work these guys put in in the weight room has carried over to the field.”

Quarterback Emory Williams believes this has been his best spring yet at Milton and is confident the Panthers have come out of spring a better team.

“Spring has gone really well. I like the development from the younger receivers. They have gotten better and everyone has adjusted well to the offense. Seeing the defense develop and make progress has been great, too.”

From an offensive standpoint, the Panthers are in a good spot with several skill players returning, not only with Williams at quarterback, but with Raymond Cottrell back in the fold as well. Cottrell is a four-star receiver committed to Georgia. Williams has also drawn a lot of college attention, including receiving an offer from Miami.

“I’m excited about that group. I’ve known them a long time,” Gillis said. “We return a lot from a skill player standpoint and have some young guys that are really good. We also have an experienced line.”

He said having that talent on the offense for a younger defense to go up against in practice has been good for the group.

“We have to replace nine on defense, but we have good players coming up,” Gillis said. “We wanted to put them in a position this spring to gain as much experience as possible, and we’ve done that.”

The Panthers will continue building on that progress in the summer in preparation for the 2022 season.

“We have a lot of seven on seven stuff coming up in June and then in July we’ll really work to get ready for the season. The summer is important for getting work done so that we are ready to go in August.”

Brian Out Loud

Randolph dominated the competition as a wide receiver, and it was in the playoffs that he was at his best, literally saving his best for last as he grabbed the spotlight as if it were a football out of the air in the title game.

Randolph caught 10 passes for a school-record 254 yards and caught three touchdown passes, tying a championship game record.

In case you missed it, Randolph is playing football again. He’s in the Indoor Football League writing his own American Underdog story much the way Kurt Warner did.

Playing for the Northern Arizona Wranglers, Randolph has revived a career that once seemed to be on life support after the pandemic axed his chance to attend a pro day in 2020.

He actually came close to giving up football. He got a real job in the real world.

Now, he’s back in the world that suits him best. Football has given Randolph so much, and he’ll tell you as much, and he is making the most of every opportunity he gets to showcase his talent.
He makes the easy catches, the tough catches, and the catches that simply leave you dropping your jaw.

Randolph could have given up on his dream. Football can be an unforgiving sport. You can fade fast from the spotlight and be replaced by the next great player in the blink of an eye.

But for Randolph, his story is about so much more than just playing football. He’s an inspiration for young athletes, an example of the kind of athlete you should want to be.

We’re not talking about a five-star recruit that had every offer imaginable coming out of Navarre. He was a walk-on at UWF, which at the time, was still in its first year.
There were no guarantees he’d ever play a big role on the squad. Heck, there were no guarantees he would even see the field.

Yet, Randolph stayed the course. He worked hard. He dreamed big. He knew if he stayed on that path, an opportunity would present itself.

And it did. He became a star at UWF. And now he’s a star again as a pro football player.
For those young athletes out there who think they aren’t cut out for college ball because they don’t have four or five stars next to their name or a mailbox full of offers, it’s okay. Just remember, Randolph didn’t either.

And yet, he kept pushing forward. Because that’s the key to any dream. You have to keep chasing it no matter what kind of odds are stacked against you.

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Or since we are talking football here, you drop 100% of the passes you don’t attempt to catch. Randolph caught the catch he needed to make and now he’s running with it, his dream alive and well once again.

Dream of state championship ends for Pace

But a ground out moments later ended the game, the second-ranked Firebirds (25-4-1) tossing their hats into the air as they began their celebration while the Patriots walked off the field heartbroken, their dream of a title denied in a 5-4 loss here on a hot and muggy late May evening at Hammond Stadium.

Pace (26-4) was seeking its first championship since 2010, arriving to Fort Myers as the top-ranked team.

The Patriots had won 11 consecutive games and seemed destined to finish the job they started a few months ago, navigating their way through a rigorous schedule to put themselves on the doorstep of greatness.

At one point they trailed 5-0, but roared back to life in the fifth thanks to Brent Cadenhead bunting in a run and Alex McCranie driving in two, slicing the Firebirds’ advantage to 5-3.

Lightning was detected in the area right before Pace came to bat in the sixth, forcing a 90-minute delay, but the Patriots maintained momentum. It was, after all, their third weather delay of the playoffs.

They didn’t score in the sixth but relief pitcher Tanner Sauls came out dealing in the top of the seventh, striking out the side, and the players came back to the dugout afterwards energized and hopeful they would finish the comeback.

On this day, in the sweltering South Florida heat, it wasn’t meant to be, the Patriots finishing as the state-runner up for the third time in program history.

The ball for the start of this game was in the hands of Major League Baseball first-round draft prospect Walter Ford, who sat near a large fan in the dugout in an effort to stay cool between innings. 

He heated up in the second inning, striking out the side.

Down 1-0 in the fifth, it appeared the Patriots would keep the score that way. But Parmer’s throw to first after a passed ball third strike for what should have been the final out was high. It rolled into the outfield, allowing a run to score.

Ford then gave up a three-run home run that put the Patriots in a five-run hole. He went five innings, allowing five runs on four hits and striking out eight.

That didn’t faze the Patriots. And while they didn’t get the outcome they hoped for in the end, head coach Jason McBride was proud of his team.

“I thought our guys played really hard,” McBride said. “We got down 5-0 and they showed no quit. I felt like they gave us a chance to tie it up at the end, and that’s all you can ask for. I’m proud of these guys.”

Ford thanked his teammates for their support all year as the Patriots put together one of their best seasons in program history.

“I feel like we had a great season. I can’t ask for anything more,” Ford said. “We fought every time we were on the field. We battled a lot of adversity going through the season, but always came up winning. I can’t thank my players enough. They really battled behind me.”

Pace’s Janani Iyengar never failed to expect the best out of herself

“It is a very gratifying feeling to see years of hard work pay off,” Iyengar said. “Being named Salutatorian is an acknowledgement of the effort and commitment. I expect the best from myself. I cannot always control the outcome, but I can control the input.”

Iyengar said her academic was a challenging one, and taking those tough classes, along with hard work, put her in a position to be in a lofty position in her graduating class.

“Taking Honors courses, Advanced Placement courses and dual enrollment courses in college helped,” Iyengar said. “Having a good worth ethic and the desire to always learn helped me finish at the top of my class.”

Making time work to her advantage while balancing a busy schedule also helped Iyengar along on the road to academic success.

“Time management was key,” Iyengar said. “It helped me participate in multiple activities and allowed me to enjoy extracurriculars while keeping up my grades.”

Iyengar kept herself busy outside the classroom as well. She played tennis all four years of her high school career and was involved in Interact Club throughout her four years at Pace, spending her senior year as the club’s secretary. She’s also a member of the National Honors Society.

One of her best moments in high school stems from her senior year as a tennis player.

“Helping my tennis team advance to regionals was my favorite moment,” Iyengar said. “Being (the) 2022 district doubles champion was a great way to end senior year.”

Iyengar said her time at Pace has prepared her to face any challenges that have come her way and she has big plans for the next chapter of her life.

“I plan to study Architecture at the University of Virginia and then go on to study law,” Iyengar said.
Iyengar is looking forward to life after Pace, leaving school with knowledge and memories that will last a lifetime.”

She also offered up a little advice for those students preparing to enter high school this fall.

“Get involved in multiple activities, whether it is a sport or a club,” Iyengar said. Also, work efficiently and use your guidance counsellor as a resource.”

Championship game up next for Pace Patriots

The top-ranked Patriots (26-3) were playing in the state semifinal round for the first time since 2018 and for the 12th time in program history. At 4 p.m. EST Saturday, they’ll play for their first championship since 2010.

The road to the title game wasn’t easy.

Alex McCranie doubled in his first at-bat in the opening inning and later tried to score but was thrown out at the plate. The Patriots had two runners on at point in the inning but the first inning ended in a scoreless tie.

Melbourne (26-3) threatened in the second with two runners on after back-to-back base hits but the Patriots got out of the jam by turning a double play.

The Bulldogs did score in the third, however, to grab a 1-0 lead and then led off the fourth with back-to-back singles.

Broc Parmer got the Patriots back in business in the fourth, doubling to get things rolling. Palmer Etheredge came on to pinch run, moved to third on an error and then scoring on a wild pitch to tie the score at 1-1.

Lightning in the area, and then rain, resulted in a weather delay of nearly three hours prior to the start of the fifth.

Starter Jackson McKenzie came out acting as if there had been no delay at all, striking out two and forcing the other batter into a groundout as he retired the side.

And then Pace went to work at the plate. Owen Walters walked and Alex McCranie drove him in to give the Patriots their first lead of the day at 2-1. McCranie finished with two hits.

Melbourne tried to counter in the top of the sixth but left a runner stranded at third.

Jackson McKenzie worked six innings and Tanner Sauls came in and closed the door as the Patriots won their 11th consecutive game and clinched their spot in the title game.

Harshany’s focus on priorities helps lift her to the top of the class

“For me, family, school and sports has always come first, and making sure each of those priorities was taken care of was important to me,” Harshany said.

Harshany didn’t expect to be the valedictorian of her class but put in the time and effort to make it happen.

“Being valedictorian feels extremely rewarding,” Harshany said. “Achieving this has made me feel even more thankful to have my family, teachers, staff, coaches, and friends, and their unconditional support throughout my life.”

It is that support that helped Harshany thrive in high school.

“What helped get me to the point where I could finish at the top of my class was without a doubt my support system,” Harshany said. “I would not have been where I am today without my mom and dad pushing me and my two older brothers providing me with a standard that I wanted to reach.”

Harshany was heavily involved in extracurricular activities at Pace, including playing volleyball for the Patriots. She was also a member of the National Honors Society and completed AP Capstone.

“One of the activities that will always stick with me is my AP Research class,” Harshany said. “I enjoyed this class greatly and formed some of the best friendships throughout that class that I will never forget. AP Capstone has given me many opportunities, and with that program, I have grown immensely.”

Harshany is amazed at how far she’s come since she started out high school and wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

“Freshman me would be very grateful for how far I’ve come and extremely thankful for the relationships I have made along the way,” Harshany said. “The friendships, amazing teachers and staff of Pace High, and my family are what has made my high school experience such a special one.”

Harshany plans to attend Rose-Hulman in Indiana and play college volleyball. She has high expectations beyond her athletic career as well.

“My plans after graduation are to play volleyball at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and major in Computer Engineering,” Harshany said. “One goal I have for my life is to improve human condition through technology.”

As for advice for students that will be starting high school this fall, Harshany said it’s important to find something you are passionate about.

“I am a strong believer that if you are doing something you are interested in it will not only bring you the most success, but the most happiness within your success as well,” Harshany said. “The people around you influence you greatly and making sure those people are positive and supportive is extremely important.”

Reed Wilson set high goals and achieved them as Milton’s salutatorian

“It’s an amazing opportunity to speak on behalf of the entire class,” Wilson said. “I want to be able to give them something that sticks with them.”

Wilson said there have been a lot of late nights and early mornings on the way to being in the top two of her graduating class, and she gives her teachers a lot of credit in those moments when she needed extra time to get something done.

“When they know you are a good student and you don’t constantly push the limit, if you say you need an extra day, they have always been understanding,” Wilson said. “If there was a time where I really needed that extra day to get something done, they’d give it to me.”

Wilson came to Milton from a small private school where there were only eight eighth graders and adjusting to a bigger school was an adjustment.

But getting involved helped her make the transition a smooth one.

“My goal by my senior year was to be the president of almost every club I was in. I’m the president of five different clubs and the vice president of another,” Wilson said. “I tried to get involved in as many clubs as possible and the great thing was meeting people I didn’t have classes with.”

Wilson has also done dance almost her entire life and is heavily involved in her church as well. Her effort to be well-rounded shattered the image that a top student is only focused on academics.

“A lot of times people expect us not to have a life, but it’s really important to have other things you are involved in,” Wilson said. “You want to make your high school experience fun.”

Wilson is headed to Harding University in Arkansas for college and eventually plans to go to law school.

Her family played a part in drawing her to that profession.

“My dad is an attorney and my grandfather was one, and I’ve always been interested in law,” Wilson said. “I really enjoy public speaking, too, and enjoy debate, seeing my dad got me interested in it at a young age.”

Wilson said she’s looking forward to college life, including the chance to live in a dorm and meeting new people.

As far as advice for those who will be entering high school in the fall, Wilson talked about how new students can meet people pretty easily.

“This might be random, but lunch is really great time to meet people you might not see anywhere else during the day,” Wilson said. “I came here not knowing anybody, and had no one to sit with the first couple of days. That third day I sat with people who I’ve sat with the last four years. They have become great friends.”


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