All-News4JAX softball: Family-type bond powered UC’s Sophia Kardatzke to the finish

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The message was clear, yet simple for the University Christian softball team: Family.

Sophia Kardatzke said that was the motto that carried the Christians to a record-setting season. If players, most of whom have been playing together since middle school, could view one another like family instead of teammates, then they’d play harder than ever.

It sounds simple, but Kardatzke said that small adjustment was the key to getting over the hurdle.

After two seasons of close calls, UC finished the job this year by winning its first fast-pitch softball state championship in program history, a 3-2 win over Evangelical Christian. It was tense. It was tough. There were plenty of nerves.

But Kardatzke, the All-News4JAX softball player of the year, put the near-misses and frustrations of the past to rest with a dominant junior season that ended by winning the final game of the season.

Winning that final game was a UC motto of the past, only the Christians weren’t able to do it. The motto this year revolved around the word “family.” Kardatzke said the motto took a life of its own through the team and bonded UC players together like never before.

“That was our whole motto this year,” Kardatzke said. “… Whether us going through something as a team or personally or in school or just no matter what, the family was the motto of the year. And I think that’s going to keep us together for next year.”

As she’s been throughout her career at UC, Kardatzke was the headliner of the Christians. Whether it was at the plate or standing in the pitcher’s circle, Kardatzke was as good as she’s been.

Her .662 batting average was the highest of her career — a career that started at the varsity level in sixth grade. Kardatzke had 50 RBI and 24 extra-base hits. She struck out just twice, tied for a career low. Kardatzke also drew 18 walks and had a career-best .721 on-base percentage. In the circle, Kardatzke was 22-1 and averaged 1.8 Ks per inning. As gaudy as those numbers looked, it didn’t come easy for UC.

Kardatzke fired a perfect game in the state semifinals to lead UC to its third straight state championship game. That territory has been tough ground for UC.

Kardatzke and UC had been in that spot before and struggled to close things out. In 2021, St. Petersburg Canterbury beat the Christians 3-1 in the title game. Last year, Orlando’s The First Academy thumped UC 8-2 in the final.

“Last year was something that none of us wanted to talk about. Even with us making the state championship we had other things going on,” Kardatzke said. “This year, it was more about just take everything out. Even what happened last year. We were going to win, no matter what. We were going to fight to the end.”

All-News4JAX softball team

First team

Pos., Player, Player, School, Class

P, Shaylen Byrd, Baldwin, Jr.

Moved into No. 1 role and led Indians back to state semis. Went 23-5 with 229 Ks, 1.86 ERA in 169.2 IP.

P, Gabby Ellis, Clay, Sr.

Went 11-9 with 1.14 ERA, 192 Ks in 128 IP. Whiffed 15 in regional quarterfinals to hand previously unbeaten Gulf Breeze its only loss of the year. Hit .361 with 17 runs scored, 12 stolen bases. Has signed with Mercer.

P, Kaitlyn Gilmore, Bishop Kenny, Jr.

Finished 11-7 with 206 Ks, 0.82 ERA in 119.1 IP for 13-11 Crusaders. At the plate, she hit .316 with 17 RBI. Will return as one of area’s top arms in 2024.

P, Joey Trawick, Providence, Sr.

Finished 15-4 with 141 Ks in 127.1 IP. Held opponents to .181 batting average. At the plate, she hit .321 with 10 RBI, 10 extra-base hits. Multi-year star is two-time All-News4JAX selection who has signed with University of Tampa.

C, Zoe Yaeger, Providence, Sr.

Played varsity since eighth grade for Stallions. Hit .348 with 22 RBI, 22 runs scored and 7 homers. Belted 18 HRs in her career. Has signed with Virginia Tech.

IF, Kiley Channell, Keystone Heights, Sr.

Two-time All-News4JAX selection. Hit .493 with 32 RBI with 25 runs scored, 8 doubles, 4 triples and 8 homers. Career .402 hitter (117 RBI, 27 doubles, 11 HR). Has signed with Florida Atlantic.

IF, Kerra Clarida, Middleburg, So.

The Broncos got some major production from her this year. Hit .397 with an area-best 11 homers. Added 40 RBI, 7 doubles for 14-11 Middleburg.

IF, Reese Green, West Nassau, Jr.

Two-time All-News4JAX selection. Hit .376 with 15 RBI, 9 doubles and 4 homers for a Warriors team that played one of the strongest schedules in the area.

IF, Jazmine Ramos-Merced, Baldwin, Fr.

Third baseman was a second-team All-News4JAX selection last year. Led Indians back to 3A state semis by hitting .456 with 10 HR, 10 doubles and 40 RBI.

OF, Macie Bourgholtzer, University Christian, Sr.

Hit .419 with 33 hits, 27 stolen bases, 43 runs and 20 RBI for Class 2A state champs. Very strong in the field, too. Excellent top of the lineup table setter for Christians.

OF, Tatum McCool, Tocoi Creek, Sr.

Second-team All-News4JAX selection last year. Hit .435 with 23 runs scored, 25 RBI, 3 homers and 7 doubles. Has signed with Jacksonville University.

OF, Kate Mikle, Ponte Vedra, Sr.

Hit .487 with 18 RBI, 20 runs scored, 7 doubles, 3 homers and a pair of triples. Struck out just 6 times all season. Had 14 stolen bases. Mentioned by a couple coaches as the area’s top coverage outfielder. Made just one error this season. Headed to Florida Southern.

UT, Grace Jones, Episcopal, Jr.

In the conversation as the area’s best player and earned several votes from area coaches for the honor. Went 22-5 in the circle with 344 Ks, 1.02 ERA in 171 IP. Hit .605 with 22 RBI, 13 doubles, 6 triples and 6 homers. Has committed to Mercer.

UT, Sophia Kardatzke, University Christian, Jr.

Runaway choice as area’s top player. Three-time All-News4JAX selection. Class 2A player of the year. Hit .662 with 51 RBI, 42 runs scored, 13 doubles, 7 homers and 4 triples. Went 22-1 in the circle with 227 Ks, 1.38 ERA). Committed to USC Upstate.

UT, Haylee McCrea, Ridgeview, Jr.

Multi-year player for the Panthers, she led the team with a .523 average, scored 26 runs and drove in 28. Had 15 doubles and a pair of triples. Made just one error in 123 chances.

Second team

Pos., Player, Player, School, Class, Notable

P, Charlotte Maddox, Oakleaf, So.: Excellent season for the Knights. Hit .409 with 17 RBI. In the circle, she was 8-9 with 1.77 ERA, 86 Ks in 118.1 IP.

P, Kaylee Martineau, Creekside, Jr.: Hit .366 with 11 RBI, 20 runs. In the circle, she whiffed 50 in 96.2 IP and had a 1.74 ERA.

P, Sarah Wicker, Ponte Vedra, Sr.: Went 11-6 with 7 shutouts, save. Whiffed 140 in 113.2 IP, 1.66 ERA. At the plate she hit .395 with 30 hits, 12 RBI. Headed to Wellesley College.

C, Sydney English, West Nassau, Jr.: Hit .351 with 7 doubles, 5 home runs. Threw out 9 runners trying to steal and picked off 5 runners.

C, Cora Middleton, Creekside, Jr.: Really emerged this season as a pace setter for the Knights. Hit .442 with 34 hits, 7 doubles and a couple of homers for 19-7 Knights.

IF, Abbie Anson, Sandalwood, Jr.: Hit .382 with 19 RBI, 6 HR, 19 RBI. Boosted her average nearly 160 percentage points from sophomore year.

IF, Lucie McDonald, Bartram Trail, So.: Second-team All-News4JAX selection last year. Excellent start to her career. Hit .377 with 21 RBI, 23 runs scored, 9 doubles and 4 homers.

IF, MacKenzie Pitzer, Paxon, Jr.: Best season of her career. Hit .479 with 32 RBI, 34 hits, 12 doubles and 6 homers for Golden Eagles.

IF, Mariyah Sanchez, Oakleaf, Sr.: Four-year player for the Knights. Hit .358 with 20 RBI, 20 runs and 12 extra-base hits. First-team selection on All-News4JAX team last season.

IF, Jaleigha Harris, University Christian, Jr.: Hit .410 with 17 stolen bases, 5 homers, 30 runs and 31 RBI for 2A state champs.

OF, Kaitlyn Carolino, Fernandina Beach, Jr.: Led the Pirates in batting (.477) and hits (31). Added 19 RBI and 16 extra-base hits.

OF, Mary Girgis, Ridgeview, Sr.: Hit .438 with team-high 39 hits. Had 13 RBI, 9 doubles, 4 triples for regional finalist.

OF, Miranda Harmon, Nease, So.: Hit .530 with 5 HR, 35 runs and 18 RBI. Added 5 doubles, 3 triples.

OF, Jayliyah Robinson, University Christian, Sr.: Hit .461 with 40 runs, 25 RBI, 11 extra-base hits for Class 2A state champs.

UT, Dacie Watterson, Fletcher, Sr.: Second-team All-News4JAX selection last year. Hit .412 with 12 RBI, 3 HR.

Honorable mention

Pos., Player, High school, Class

UT, Blair Baldwin, Episcopal, Sr.

P, Peyton Bass, West Nassau, Sr.

IF, Ciara Belanger, Bartram Trail, Jr.

P, McKenna Bejarano, Orange Park, Jr.

P, Saige Bialek, Ridgeview, Fr.

C, Kaley Blackburn, Sr., Bishop Kenny. Sr.

OF, Alexis Bucklew, Fleming Island, Sr.

IF, Taylor Burton, Nease, Jr.

IF, Bella Campbell, Creekside, Jr.

OF, Aleda Cashwell, Bolles, Fr.

UT, Claire Cinnamond, Episcopal, Fr.

IF, Wisdom Colbert, First Coast, Sr.

P, Kadence Compton, Fort White, Sr.

OF, Kalin Davis, Baker County, Sr.

UT, Kate Dell’Alba, University Christian, Jr.

OF, Ciara Gibson, Oakleaf, Sr.

OF, Chloe Gotto, Baldwin, Fr.

IF, Tiana Hairston, Bartram Trail, Jr.

C, Celia Hollis, Christ’s Church, Sr.

P, Riley Kapparis, Yulee, Jr.

UT, Abby Knauff, Bolles, So.

IF, Haley Law, Suwannee, Jr.

P, Kaci Links, Sandalwood, Sr.

IF, Haley Marker, Baker County, Jr.

UT, Caiden Oliva, Ponte Vedra, Jr.

UT, Bailey Parker, Clay, Jr.

IF, Zoe Pascoe, Orange Park, So.

IF, Ava Schreiber, Mandarin, Jr.

IF/P, Tiffany Semack, Fletcher, Fr.

IF, Baleigh Shields, Baker County, Fr.

IF, Olivia Sikes, Fleming Island, So.

UT, Hannah Steedley, Hilliard, Sr.

IF, Coral Trotter, Fernandina Beach, Jr.

P, Rylee Walker, Baker County, So.

OF, Raven Watson, Baldwin, So.

OF, Kennedy Waymer, Paxon, Jr.

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.