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East County Wednesday, Jun. 19, 2019 1 year ago

Marquee East County athletes provide thrills

Prose and Kohn: Ryan Kohn.
by: Ryan Kohn Sports Reporter

East County high school teams made their runs at state titles this year, but that doesn't mean those were the only terrific moments in local sports.

I had many moments, both from watching on-field efforts, and the camaraderie off it, that made this a thoroughly enjoyable school year for me.

So here is a look at some of the people and games I always will remember.

For all the talent residing in East County, nothing gave me a visceral thrill like watching Braden River High sophomore O’Mariah Gordon make mincemeat of defenses night after night. Her Gatorade Florida Girls Basketball Player of the Year season — 29.7 points, 6.8 assists, 6.6 rebounds and 5.3 steals per game — does not do her justice, as insane as that sounds.

Gordon has an effortless cool to her game. She sprints down the court like The Flash with the calm of a yoga instructor. She does not get rattled by a missed bucket. If one juke does not work, she will try another one. Watching her is like watching someone paint a masterpiece: You don’t know what the end result will look like, but you know it will steal your breath.

And I get to watch her for two more years before she heads to the blue blood NCAA program of her choosing? Yes, please.

Staying at Braden River, junior running back Brian Battie’s first season with the Pirates after two with Sarasota High was impressive. His playoff performance against Plant City High (41 carries, 365 yards, four touchdowns) on Nov. 9 carried the Pirates with senior wide receiver Knowledge McDaniel ineligible for postseason play. I remember watching and saying “wow” to myself more than a few times, specifically on his final score, a 96-yard scamper with four minutes left that sealed a 28-23 win.

Battie, who is 5-foot-8, verbally committed to South Florida on April 17, but has continued to receive big-time offers, including from Kentucky. The playmaker’s profile should only grow with a strong senior season.

The most unexpected interview I had during the season was with Ava Vandroff, a Lakewood Ranch High student and Sarasota Crew rower, who told me she chose rowing over ice skating, two sports that could not be more different aesthetically. It blew my mind, and reminded me not to make assumptions, lest that old saying about those who assume comes true. Vandroff will take her talents to Louisville in the fall to row.

Watching Lakewood Ranch High’s softball and boys basketball programs advance to state championship games was thrilling. There is nothing better than watching teams improve year over year. Unfortunately, both programs ended their seasons in defeat, but both also have tons of talent returning and strong senior classes.

Since I took this job two years and nine months ago (wow), I have yet to witness a team title win in person. (The Out-of-Door Academy won the Class 1A boys tennis title in 2017-2018, but I was not present in Altamonte Springs for that.) If that trend is going to end in 2019-2020, I would place my bet on one of the two programs above to do it.

Not that titles are the most important thing. Learning, forging relationships and having fun are what sports are, and should be, about. In that respect, East County has always been nothing but a winner.

That is another trend I hope continues into next season.  

I’m the sports reporter for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. I was born and raised in Olney, MD. My biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. My strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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