High school softball ‘22: Glance at Thursday’s regional final matchups

The third round of the high school softball state playoffs are Thursday and Friday night this week. (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images for DAGOC) (Martin Rose, 2006 Getty Images)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The high school softball state playoffs are spread over two nights this week, with state semifinal berths on the line. Wins by Baldwin and Middleburg would put those two teams in the final four for the first time.

For the other programs in the regional finals, it’s a chance to return to the final four and join Fort White in Clermont. The Indians punched their ticket with a win over Union County on Tuesday night.

Clay, Keystone Heights, Oakleaf, Trinity Christian and University Christian have all played in the final four in the last five years.

A glance at Thursday night’s games. Note, due to projected weather and graduation schedules, there could be additional games moved to Thursday or Saturday.

Thursday’s games

Region 1-5A

Middleburg (17-11) at Tallahassee Lincoln (17-8), 7 p.m.

Road here: Middleburg d. Vanguard, 10-0; d. Gainesville, 5-1; Lincoln d. Ponte Vedra, 1-0; d. Gulf Breeze, 2-0.

Winner gets: A spot in the state semifinals on May 26 in Clermont. Opponents will be set using MaxPreps rankings points following the regional finals.

Glance: This game was moved up from Friday so that the Broncos could attend their graduation. The Broncos have turned in their two best seasons in fast-pitch history in 2021 and ‘22. Credit that to a tough schedule and an unrelenting arm in hurler Mallory Forrester. She fired a no-hitter in the playoff opener and whiffed 19 in a second-round win over Gainesville. Coach Ashley Houston’s first season was in 2019 and she’s built the Broncos into a force to be dealt with come playoff time. The Broncos hadn’t been to a third-round game until last year. Now, they’ve stacked back-to-back regional finals together. Lincoln has never reached the fourth round of the playoffs before, stalling out in 2002 and 2021.

Region 1-3A

Keystone Heights (19-9) at Baldwin (25-2), 7 p.m.

Road here: Keystone d. West Nassau, 7-4; d. Providence, 3-1; Baldwin d. Episcopal, 2-1; d. Florida High, 12-0.

Winner gets: A spot in the state semifinals on May 25 in Clermont. Opponents will be set using MaxPreps rankings points following the regional finals.

Glance: This game moved up from Friday so that Keystone could attend graduation ceremonies. Keystone has been on a tear for coach Jessica Marquart, winning six straight and playing its best softball down the stretch. They’ve beaten two high quality teams in the playoffs and have to get through the area’s top-ranked team in Baldwin for its third state semifinal appearance since 2012. Keystone started the season 4-7, including a 7-3 loss to Baldwin in the season opener. But it has lost just twice since April. Emma Rogel (.444) and Kiley Channell (.419) are the big bats for Keystone. Channell has a team-best 29 RBI. Pitcher Madison Mitzel (78 Ks, 101.1 IP) kept Providence’s big bats in check and hasn’t given up more than three earned runs in a game since late March. Can they have that same success against a Baldwin team that’s in the midst of the best season in school history? The Indians from Duval County had never been past the second round before this week. They had a scare against Episcopal in the opener but demolished Florida High after that. Piper Young was wicked in the circle in firing a one-hitter, and the big bats erupted. Kayla Robinson went deep twice. Jasmine Ramos-Merced added another. Baldwin has been the area’s most consistent team all year and seemed on a collision course for the state final four.

Regional final schedule

Thursday’s games, all at 7 p.m.

Region 1-5A

Middleburg (17-11) at Lincoln (17-8)

Region 1-3A

Keystone Heights (19-9) at Baldwin (25-2)

Friday’s schedule, all at 7 p.m.

Region 1-7A

Oakleaf (17-7) vs. Lake Brantley/Hagerty

Region 1-4A

Clay (16-11) at West Florida (16-10)

Region 1-2A

University Christian (17-8) at Trinity Christian (14-8)

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.