The spring sports season ended last month, and, of all the spring teams at New Tampa’s two high schools, the Wharton baseball team proved to be the last team standing, falling in the Regional semifinals.
They weren’t the only team to put up a strong postseason, however, as Wharton’s softball, track & field and girls tennis teams all made it past Districts, as did the softball and both tennis teams at Freedom.
Here’s a recap of some of the highlights:
WHARTON BASEBALL: The Wildcats made yet another Regional playoff run in 2018, after finishing as the runner-up in the Class 8A, District 4 tournament. Wharton set down crosstown rival Freedom 4-0 in the District semifinals, but fell to the Strawberry Crest Chargers in the final.
After an 8-1 win over Ocala Forest in the Region quarterfinals, Wharton got another shot at the Chargers, but dropped a 3-2 decision to finish the season at 17-9.
The Wildcats’ three-man pitching rotation was a strength all season. Duncan Pastore, a senior, and junior Brian Baughman each won six games — Pastore had three shutouts — and junior Zach Allen was 4-2. The trio combined for 127 strikeouts in 117 innings.
Pastore also led the Wildcats with a .431 average and 17 RBI, while Baughman batted .398 and led the team in hits. Senior Leo Alfonzo batted .397 and tied for the team lead with 17 RBI.
“Starting pitching, as well as talented freshmen and sophomores, have been key to our success this year,” coach Scott Hoffman said. “Brian Baughman was a stud down the stretch.”
The Wharton baseball team even earned the District’s Team GPA Award with a team Grade Point Average of 3.505.
Freedom’s baseball team finished 6-16, dropping its last eight games. Senior Hunter Kniskern hit .333 with five doubles to lead the Patriots.
FREEDOM SOFTBALL: After a slow start,. the Patriots went 13-1 down the stretch to finish 19-6.
The only loss in that streak was to arch-rival Wharton, but the Patriots got revenge when it mattered most, beating the Wildcats 13-0 to win the District 8A-4 title.
“That was the first District title for softball in Freedom’s history, so it was a great accomplishment for those 11 girls,” Patriots head coach Autum Hernandez said. “The girls were motivated before the game, they wanted to prove that they hadn’t played their best against Wharton the two previous times we played them.”
Freedom advanced to the Regional semifinals by beating Ocala Forest 6-2 in the first round of the State Class 8A playoffs, before a 7-0 loss to East Ridge ended the Pats’ season.
Sophomore Ellis Erickson led Freedom with 34 hits and a .442 batting average. She was one of a number of underclassmen — sophomore Shaniyah Pope had 25 RBI, while freshman Lilly Kiester led the team with 26 runs and junior Abigail Vandeberg hit .361 — to shine for the Patriots, who have a bright future, according to Hernandez.
The team only had two seniors, with Kristina Calixto driving in a team-best 27 runs while going 8-2 in the pitching circle, and Dallas O’Clair batting .333.
The future also looks promising for Wharton, as underclassmen led the team in average, runs and doubles (freshman Tieley Vaughn), hits and RBI (junior Jordyn Gendron) and triples (junior Asia Thomas).
Sophomore Jillian Long was the winning pitcher in 13 of Wharton’s 15 wins.
The same East Ridge team that ended Freedom’s season did the same to Wharton in the first round at Regionals.
FREEDOM TENNIS: The Patriots broke through for a historic season in 2018, taking two boys and two girls to the Class 3A State tournament in Orlando under fourth-year head coach Rich Simard.
“We’ve been pretty consistent the last four years, both boys and girls,” Simard said. “We’ve been either District champs or runners-up over that time.”
The Freedom boys won a third straight District title in 2018. At the District 3A-9 tournament, Patriots sophomore Hakim Zerki took the title at No. 1 singles, and then teamed up at No. 1 doubles with senior Jared Klay for another title. The wins qualified both players for States.
The Zerki-Klay doubles team made the Round of 16 at the State tournament, the highest climb for a boys doubles team under Simard. Things look even more promising for the future, as Zerki’s younger brother, Malik, will be a Freedom freshman next year.
On the girls side, sophomore Julianna Gibson won her second straight District singles title at No. 1, and then teamed up with sophomore Zoe Ruszin to win at No. 1 doubles. That helped the Patriots team to a second-place team finish at Districts, but Gibson and Ruskin qualified for States as individuals.
“The girls are going to be even stronger next year,” Simard said. “Gibson was very close to breaking through deep into the State tournament, and next year is going to be a good shot for her.”
WHARTON TRACK: The Wildcats took 13 athletes from the boys and girls teams to the Class 4A State meet at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville on April 16.
Senior AJ Hampton was the top finisher for Wharton, running the 400 meters in 48.09 seconds to take fourth place. The time was just off his personal and school record of 47.53, set a week earlier at Regionals.
Hampton capped his high school career with three medals at States. Next year, he will attend Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, on a football scholarship. Northwestern, however, does not have a men’s track program.
“AJ willingly did the most painful event in track, knowing that if he qualified for States, it would be his last race,” Wharton boys coach Kyle LoJacono said. “Having AJ as kind of the captain of the sprints and Frankie (.) as captain of distance was huge this year.”
Godbold, a four-year runner and two-year captain for the ‘Cats, surprised even Coach LoJacono with his chance entry in the 800 meters.
Godbold, more of a traditional long distance runner that LoJacono threw into the 800m halfway through the season, was only seeded eighth at the District meet. However, he finished second in 2 minutes, 3 seconds. He cut his time even further at Regionals, with a 1:57.97, the fastest time for a male 800m runner for Wharton in the last decade.
“Just getting to states for Frankie was incredible, it made me so proud,” LoJacono said.
Teammate Nehemiah Rivers, a junior, became the first male Wildcat distance runner to win the 1600m at Regionals. He also became the first Wildcat to qualify for the State meet in both the 1600m and 3200m races in the same season.
Rivers placed 12th in the 3200 at the Class 4A State finals with a time of 9:44.44, and he was 22nd in the 1600m finals, running a 4:36.70.
Both times were markedly slower than Rivers’ breakout performances at Regionals, where he set personal and school records in the 1600 (4:25.39) and 3200 (9:25.77).
While winning the 1600 at Regionals, Rivers ran a sterling 59-second final lap.