As a group, we can all take a collective breath — we made it though another high school sports year. It was a season full of improbable, seemingly insurmountable feats with a little luck along the way. And the Sun was there for each step along the way. As we tie up the loose ends of the school year, let's take a look back at the plays and accomplishments that made this year so exciting as we count down the best moments from the Class of '19.
1. Venice completes a state tournament comeback
It took two multi-run comebacks in a little over 24 hours, but the Venice baseball team completed it's quest for back-to-back state championships. In the semifinals, the Indians had to overcome a 7-3 deficit against Creekside and ended up winning 9-8 on a throwing error with a runner at third in the eighth inning.
That set up a matchup with Doral Academy. The Firebirds jumped out to a 2-0 lead early, but Venice pitcher Danny Rodriguez threw 10 strikeouts in five innings to keep them within reach. Venice scored three unanswered runs in the sixth inning.
Outfielder Zac Calhoon followed Kevin Dubrule’s single by doubling him in to cut the deficit to 2-1. Two batters later, Calhoon made his mad dash for home to tie the game, 2-2, on a safety squeeze bunt by Reegan Jackowiak.
The comeback was capped by an RBI-single from freshman Marek Houston. Reliever Clayton Callan retired his final six batters to win the state title. It was the second year in a row that Venice won three team state championships. They also won in swimming and boys tennis.
Final: Venice 3 - Doral Academy 2 The Indians win their sixth state championship after completing their second comeback in two days pic.twitter.com/8LwLBiINvE— Vinnie Portell (@VJPortell) June 2, 2019
2. Pirates and Lady Indians just wouldn't lose
It was a regular season to remember for the Port Charlotte boys basketball team and the Venice girls soccer team, each team finishing without a loss.
Port Charlotte went 23-0 with only one team coming within seven points of beating them. The Pirates stuck to their claim to fame throughout the season: don't foul and play ruthlessly annoying defense. Just ask their opponents.
They didn't have a high-octane offense, hovering around 55 points per game, but would consistently keep teams below 40. The season included a regular season sweep of rival Charlotte and the longest win streak in school history — the only ones to complete a perfect 23-0 season.
The Lady Indians came within one game of perfection, but that came with some controversy. With their high-scoring offensive, Venice outscored its opponents 99-8 on the year and finished 16-0-1. The tie came in the final regular season game where Manatee stuffed the box with all 11 players to prevent them from scoring.
Port Charlotte and Venice would end up reaching the Regional Final.
3. A heavyweight, four-round basketball battle
As for pure tensions and excitement, Charlotte vs. Port Charlotte takes home the top prize. I have never seen an environment quite like it in a high school setting across any sport. Fans packed in like sardines, the amount of bodies raising the temperature in the gym 10 degrees. Half blue, half red.
Port Charlotte took Games 1 and 2 by 10 points, but the final two rounds held the most significance and each team got theirs. In the district title game, Charlotte's Makai Reaves knocked down clutch free throws to give the Tarpons the four-point win and the district crown with two seniors fouled out in the final minutes. They were the first team to crack Port Charlotte's code all season to that point.
But Port Charlotte came back strong in Game 4, another close one. Reserve player Colby Schmutz scored nine second-half points, including what turned out to be the game-clinching 3-pointer with under five minutes to go.
The Tarpons got one last heave down three, but Tre Carroll's shot bounced off the backboard and Port Charlotte moved on. Port Charlotte finished the year 26-2 with the Tarpons at 22-8.
4. Charlotte baseball outlasts Fort Myers
What's better than getting five extra innings of free baseball? Charlotte gave the fans that stuck around just that in a mid-April, 12-inning marathon that the Tarpons pulled out 3-2.
The Tarpons struck out 18 in the game and were lead by senior Kevin Conway, who pitched seven scoreless innings while fanning 13. Conway kind of did it all.
He drove in the first two runs, kept the Green Wave bats quiet and then drives in the game-winner. In the bottom of the 12th, Conway doubled on a line drive to center field, allowing Cade Reich to score on the throw. Conway went 3 for 5 at the plate. The Tarpons finished the year 15-10.
5. Willis claims third state title
Few area wrestlers, if any, have been as dominant as Charlotte's Lucas Willis. As a sophomore, he claimed his third state title by winning the 152-pound weight class with ease with a 15-0 win.
Willis cruised his way into the finals pinning each of his first three opponents, one in 18 seconds. He finished his sophomore season 58-3.
6. Lady Pirates come back from 2-0
Down 2-0 to Charlotte, Port Charlotte knew it's district title hopes were on the line.
In the third meeting of the season — the teams split the regular season matches — the Lady Pirates and Tarpons duked it out for the district championship.
Port Charlotte rallied and won three consecutive sets, including a 15-13 win in the fifth, to make it back-to-back district titles.
7. Ragazzone breaks goal record
30 goals in a single season is no easy feat. Doing it as a young sophomore, that just adds more distinction to the achievement. Lemon Bay's Lauren Ragazzone set her sights on the goal record before the season and even though she sat a lot of times in blowout wins, she got her chance near the end of the year.
Ragazzone got a hat trick against Island Coast in the District Quarterfinal to claim the title of the most prolific scorer in Lemon Bay girls soccer history.
8. Charlotte softball outlasts Venice
Alyssa Opshal had been clutch all year for the Lady Tarpons and one of her shining moments came in the 8th inning against Venice. Tied at five in the bottom of the inning, Opshal hit a single to center field with runners on second and third to end the game in walk-off style.
9. Venice football vs. Braden River
Most sports fans in Southwest Florida have heard about how good the football games between Venice and Braden River have been throughout the years.
Fittingly, the games lived up to the offseason hype.
In Game 1 of the matchup, the Indians came back after a lightning delay to beat the Pirates, 24-21, and essentially wrap up the district crown. In Game 2, the two foes squared off in the regional semifinal round of the playoffs. This time it was Venice that seized an early lead, jumping out to a 21-0 start and holding on for a 28-21 victory.
10. Noel turns Iron Woman
Eunice Noel didn't become the Sun's Runner of the Year by excelling in just one event, instead she dominated in four. Noel ended up reaching the state meet in four events including the 4x100 relay, long jump and the 100- and 300-meter hurdles. She took home medals in both the relay and the 100.
11. North Port's Jefferson can score on anyone
Junior Emani Jefferson was an offensive nightmare for the opposition this year. She could score any way she wanted at times and caused defenses to shift most of their focus to her.
She proved that by breaking the school's single-game scoring record twice in the span of two weeks with two games over 40 points. She averaged 29 points per game.
12. Pirates walk-off on senior night
Down early on senior night, the Pirates were able to rally to tie things up against Naples in the seventh before Damien Ashley’s RBI single in the ninth, allowed them to walk-off with a 4-3 victory.
With the infield drawn in, Ashley slapped it past the pitcher and up the middle to make that final trip around the bases a happy one.
13. North Port wins thriller vs. Riverview
Riding the hot hands of seniors Mitch Tossi and Eric Baker, who had 22 and 28 points respectively, the Bobcats reached overtime against the Rams. That's where fellow senior Josh Hogue took over. With under five seconds left, Hogue hit a driving layup while being fouled and made the free throw to give North Port a 64-61 victory.
14. Charlotte's Muse sparks comeback
Down 14-0 at halftime, the Charlotte High football team needed a spark to overcome a deficit in a very important game, despite having a playoff spot already wrapped up.
Senior quarterback Alex Muse sat the first half with a shoulder injury, but entered the game to start the third quarter and immediately flipped the script.
Muse completed 8-of-10 passes for 205 yards and two touchdowns in the second half alone to will the Tarpons back for a 21-14 win.
15. Venice, Charlotte's Hacker win state swim
With several individual winners, the boys swim team took home the team title, beating Bartram Trail by 28 points. The only other area swimmer to earn the top spot was Charlotte's Dylan Hacker, who won the 100 breaststroke with a time of 57.63 seconds.
16. Port Charlotte golf sneaks into states
For the first two years of his high school career, Marc Kaneko-Fujii tackled states alone. But on his third trip, he was finally joined by his teammates. The Pirates made the cut for the state tournament by one stroke, making it the first time the team has qualified since the 2015-16 season.
17. McCormick breaks FG record in front of brother
With his brother Devyn watching from the stands, Port Charlotte High School kicker Derek McCormick put a bow on a lopsided blowout against Ida Baker High School with a school-record 51-yard field goal.
The kick broke his brother’s previous record and capped the Pirates 55-7 romp over the Bulldogs. McCormick went 2 for 2 on the night with seven extra points.
18. Lemon Bay's Hill gets No. 600
In match against Gulf Coast Heat, Lemon Bay's Caroline Hill became only the second Lady Manta to eclipse the 600 kill mark.
That history-making kill proved to be pivotal in the match. It gave Lemon Bay a 4-3 lead in the second set, a lead they would not surrender.
19. Arango opens on scoring tear
North Port senior Camilo Arango set his sights on the single-season goal record at the beginning of the year. Though he fell a few goals short of that mark, he gave himself a chance with his red hot start to the season. He scored six goals in his first three games and 14 in his first 12.