Celebrating The Top Local High School Sports Stories Of 2023

Wellington High School girls softball coach Mark Boretti celebrates the team’s regional final win against Jupiter.

Reflecting on the local high school sports scene in 2023, there were a number of newsworthy athletic achievements by many of the teams at schools in the western communities. This story highlights three of the most significant local sports stories of the year.

Stellar Year For WHS Girls Softball

On Saturday, May 20, Wellington High School’s girls varsity softball team defeated Jupiter High School in their FHSAA Class 7A, Region 3 final, 2-1. That win propelled the Wolverines to an FHSAA Class 7A state semifinal game against Tampa’s Plant High School on Friday, May 26 at the Legends Way Ballfields in Clermont.

It was the third time since 2011 that WHS had reached the state final four in softball. The game against Plant was expected to be close and competitive — and it was.

The Wolverines had senior pitcher Jordan White starting on the mound with sophomore Tori Payne waiting to finish the game, as Wellington had done throughout the season. A victory would propel Wellington to the Class 7A state final the following day.

Wellington head coach Mark Boretti liked his team’s chances, since everybody was healthy, and his starting pitcher was in fine form.

The Wellington vs. Plant game was scoreless through the first three innings.

Finally, in the fourth inning, Wellington struck first and took a 1-0 lead when Wolverine Kaitlyn Campbell scored from third on an infield grounder. She barely beat the throw to the plate. “It was a lights-out play at home,” Boretti said.

In the bottom of the sixth, with two outs and a Plant base runner on second, one of Plant’s batters hit a bloop single to centerfield. That tied the game at 1-1.

After Wellington didn’t score in the top of the seventh inning, Boretti inserted Payne as the new pitcher with one out in the bottom of the seventh. Payne recorded the final two outs to send the game to extra innings.

White pitched well for Wellington, but it was time for a change. “Jordan was excellent,” Boretti said.

White scattered five hits, recorded five strikeouts and allowed two walks. She was supported by a stellar defense.

In the top of the eighth, Wellington didn’t score. In the bottom of the eighth, Plant had a runner at second with two outs. Then, a sharply struck ground ball through the infield allowed Plant to score the go-ahead run to win, 2-1.

“It was a hard-hit ball that took a high bounce over Tori’s head and went straight up the middle that no one had a chance to field,” Boretti said.

Boretti said that either team could have won the game.

“Plant played well, and we only had three hits in the game,” he said. “Still, we traveled to Clermont expecting to play two games and to come home with a state championship trophy. That was our plan. It’s disappointing to lose, but it was a great game played by both teams.”

Boretti has positive memories of his 2023 team, which had a 20-3-1 record.

“The season was a blast,” he said. “This was a unique group of players that came together as a team. We had a lot of fun.”

Boretti plans to return in 2024 for his 15th year as the head coach, and he’s optimistic that next year’s team will make a run at a state title. “The immediate future still looks bright for us,” he said.

The Seminole Ridge High School flag football team at the Class 2A state finals in Jacksonville.

Strong Season For SRHS Flag Football

The Seminole Ridge High School girls varsity flag football team achieved one of its season-long goals: reaching the FHSAA Class 2A state final four in Jacksonville on May 12-13. But the team was unable to return home with the trophy.

Still, while the season ended with a 19-0 loss to eventual state champion Alonso High School of Tampa on Friday, May 12 in the state semifinals, the memories of the game are strong.

According to Seminole Ridge head coach Scott O’Hara, the game against Alonso was competitive from the outset. Seminole Ridge had chances to take an early lead.

“We had the ball first and went down the field, but, unfortunately, stalled out on their five-yard line,” O’Hara said. “We had a couple of opportunities on that very important opening drive but couldn’t put the ball in the end zone. They took over on offense and we forced them to punt. We drove again, but then had an offensive turnover.”

While Alonso’s defense was strong, Seminole Ridge’s defense was strong, too.

“We held their offense in check until a fourth down in the second quarter, when a defensive penalty on us gave them a first-and-goal,” O’Hara said. “They scored and got the extra point. The rest of the first half was scoreless until they scored on a long touchdown pass with about 12 seconds to go in the first half on a defensive breakdown by us. The score at halftime was 13-0 in favor of Alonso.”

In the third quarter, the game remained close. “The second half was scoreless until late as both defenses really stepped up,” O’Hara said.

In the fourth quarter, Alonso scored again.

“Alonso scored a final touchdown with about four minutes to go, and we weren’t able to put together a final drive before the clock ran out,” O’Hara said. “It was a very disappointing final game for sure, but the loss doesn’t take away from the outstanding season our players produced, and I couldn’t be prouder of them.”

Seminole Ridge’s girls flag football team ended the season with a final record of 14-4.

The King’s Academy boys varsity volleyball team at the FHSAA 2023 state finals in Winter Haven.

TKA Boys Volleyball Team Shines

Phenomenal might be the best way to describe the 2023 season for the boys varsity volleyball team from the King’s Academy, which was only in its second year of existence.

The Lions blitzed through the regular season with a 20-1 record. Their only loss was to Orlando’s Freedom High School, which defeated the Lions on March 10. During the postseason, TKA won five consecutive matches without dropping a game to advance to the FHSAA state tournament in Winter Haven, which brought together the state’s top eight teams at one venue.

On Friday, May 19, TKA continued its winning ways with a victory in its quarterfinal match against Weston’s Cypress Bay High School (25-18, 25-21, 29-27).

“In the state quarterfinal, we played a tough match,” recalled then-TKA head coach Christy Taylor. “We were hitting our serves pretty well with nine aces. Our serve receive was solid, which helped our setters run a smart, quick offense, and we were able to key-in on their best players with our blocking.”

The next day, Saturday, May 20, the Lions played the Eagles from Miami’s Southwest High School in the semifinals. In this game, TKA lost to Southwest (25-23, 25-20, 25-23). Southwest ended up as the state champion.

“In our state semifinal loss, their team played incredible defense, was very well rounded and made very few unforced errors,” Taylor said. “They had some of the best serve receive I have seen this season. We struggled a little with our first touch, sometimes, which made it tougher to run our middles. They were then able to kind of camp out on our pin hitters, which made it more difficult to consistently put the ball away. Our boys still played well and fought until the last point in a very close match.”

Taylor had nothing but praise for her team, which finished with an overall record of 26-2.

“My team this season accomplished so much in only their second year,” Taylor said. “About half of our starting lineup just started playing last season. Their hard work, along with our few veteran players, made for an incredible season.”

Taylor attributed her team’s success to leadership and maturity.

“My three captains — seniors Logan Taylor and Saulius Vilkelis, and junior Micah Tumas — and all six rotation players were a big reason why we were able to go so far,” Taylor said. “We also had an incredibly supportive bench, and it was truly a whole team effort. Overall, I was so proud of my boys. They really are an incredible group of young men. I cannot wait to see how God uses them in the future.”