ORANGE PARK,Fla. - There’s no tiebreaker on the schedule, but a softball state championship or two would probably suffice for Christina and Casey Thompson.
Christina, the coach at Oakleaf, recently hit the 200-win mark and has the Knights in the state semifinals for the fourth time in the last five seasons.
Then there’s Casey, the newest Thompson on the Clay County coaching block. He has Ridgeview in the state semifinals for the first time in program history, in his first season as a softball coach, no less.
A bit of a subplot is the 1-1 head-to-head record between the two as coaches. Oakleaf beat Ridgeview 8-0 last March; Ridgeview returned the favor, 2-0, in late April.
“I love to give her a hard time. I love to compete with her, she’s built an amazing program over at Oakleaf,” Casey said. “There’s a lot of poking fun behind the scenes. My only fault is that we don’t get to play one more game to determine the tiebreaker.”
Well, not against one another anyway.
Both teams play Thursday in Vero Beach, Ridgeview (22-8) against Sebring (25-2) at 11:05 a.m. in the Class 6A game, and News4Jax Super 6 No. 1 Oakleaf (25-4) against 29-0 and nationally ranked Winter Springs in the Class 8A game (4:05).
They are among six teams from the First Coast (Peniel Baptist in 2A, University Christian in 3A, Trinity Christian in 4A and Creekside in 7A) to reach the state semifinals, which begin on Tuesday.
Wins by either Oakleaf or Ridgeview could serve as a de facto tiebreaker in 2019 for Casey, 25, and Christina, 35, who are believed to be the area’s first siblings to be coaching in the softball state semifinals simultaneously.
If it seems like there are Thompsons all over the place in Clay County, it’s for good reason. Their father, Rob, won 454 career games over a 26-year career as Clay High’s baseball coach and finished as the Class 5A state runner-up during his final season in 2014. He’s now an assistant for Oakleaf with his daughter.
Christina coached with her uncle, Terry, before he died in 2016. Another uncle, Glen, is on Casey’s staff at Ridgeview.
“That’s all we know, we’re a family full of coaches,” Christina said. “Dad has kind of put that in us since we were little. My grandpa, my uncle’s, everybody is coaching.”
And coaching well.
Casey lists just about every girl on the Ridgeview roster and says that the first player in the lineup is just as vital as the last person off the bench. Christina lauds the accomplishments of an Oakleaf team that’s filled with future college players, yet still had to grind its way through a brutal schedule to return to Vero Beach.
“I think it’s pretty interesting, she’ll back me up here, we have very little to do with it,” Casey said. “It’s all of our girls. Our girls have worked hard. Our girls deserve it. Each and every one of our girls, both on Oakleaf and both on Ridgeview, they worked hard on this. They should get the recognition for it.”
The Knights have been on the local — and national — radar for most of the last four seasons. They were ranked No. 1 in the country by MaxPreps briefly in 2016 before an upset loss to Strawberry Crest in the regional finals.
The last three seasons, it’s been a different story.
Oakleaf won the Class 8A state championship in 2017 and finished as the state runner-up last year. They’ve played the area’s most challenging schedule and have a rugged path to another state title.
The Knights hadn’t lost to a team from Clay County since falling to Orange Park on March 31, 2015. Who ended that streak? None other than her brother’s team, which beat Oakleaf 2-0 on April 22 behind a four-hitter from Brittany Michael.
“The ribbing and the cutting up has been pretty good,” Rob said. “Christina will say something about how many years in a row that she had done it, and Casey will say it’s only my first year and I’ve already went further in my first year than you did, so who knows what I’m going to do [in the future]. So, a lot of back and forth.”
Ridgeview’s ride has been a much longer time in the making.
The school hasn’t been much a softball factor since its first season in 1999, winning its first playoff game in 2002 and not another one until 2017. The Panthers had never won more than one playoff game in a season and endured an emotional jolt in 2018 when second-year coach Roger Harvey died unexpectedly.
Ridgeview won a playoff game last year, but has been one of the area’s better stories this season. They’ve won three playoff games — as many as they’d won in their history combined — and added another layer to the strong programs already in Clay County.
The only one in the immediate family not coaching? That’d be Casey and Christina’s mother, Shirley.
“I think I finally figured it out. She’s just getting scouting reports so for when she does get her big break in softball, maybe at Fleming, Clay, maybe she can get an assistant job somewhere,” Casey said. “I think my mom is coming for us next.”
When they’re not playing against one another, Christina and Casey are pulling for each other.
“You want to see them succeed but there’s always a little sibling rivalry,” she said. “As bad as I want him to win, if he’s playing against me I want him to lose. We’re not in direct competition with each other, so I can scream and go crazy and be his No. 1 fan.”
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