Building off last year’s successes, East County athletes made remarkable headlines in 2013, putting together one of the most eventful and successful years in recent history.
Over the past 12 months, we’ve celebrated district, regional and state championships. We’ve watched our talented athletes and teams make school history, overcome injuries and adversity and rely on underclassmen to step up.
As another year comes to a close, we at the East County Observer, once again, celebrate your accomplishments with our Year in Sports 2013. Here, you will find this year’s top five moments and top five teams in East County sports.
Our top five teams may not have all won championships this year, but they all embody the spirit of the game in their own unique way, and, for that, we offer our support and congratulations on a job well done.
In addition to the top teams and moments, we’ve once again selected Male and Female Athletes of the Year.
Each week, we highlight athletes for their individual accomplishments both on and off the field. This year’s three Athletes of the Year captured our attention numerous times and put together historic seasons that only further cemented their legacies here in the East County.
With so many talented athletes, it was an honor to be a part of the East County sports community in 2013, and we absolutely cannot wait to see what you have in store for us in 2014.
We wish all of you a happy and healthy holiday season and we look forward to seeing all of you in 2014.
Top Teams of 2013
State Champ: Lakewood Ranch High boys golf
The Lakewood Ranch High boys golf team made history in 2013, capturing its third-consecutive state championship and becoming the first public school team in the state of Florida to accomplish the feat.
In 2013, the Mustangs, co-captained by senior standouts Danny Walker and Ramsey Touchberry, amassed a 152-5 record while winning Manatee County, district, regional and state championships.
Lakewood set new program records for wins and state tournament total (593), besting its previous mark by one shot.
The Mustangs also captured team titles at the Ida Baker Bulldog Invitational, the Qdoba Tournament of Champions, the Vinoy Classic and the Donald Ross Memorial Tournament.
Luke Miller earned team MVP honors and Kelly Sun was named the team’s Most Improved Player.
On Dec. 17, the Manatee County Board of County Commissioners presented Lakewood with a proclamation, naming the day Lakewood Ranch High Pride Day in recognition of the team’s outstanding performance.
Heart of a Champion: Lakewood Ranch High Softball
Having advanced to the Final Four in 2012, Lakewood Ranch’s softball team had high expectations heading into the 2013 season, which included a return trip to the state semifinals.
After breezing through the district tournament, en route to capturing its fourth-consecutive district title, Lakewood embarked on yet another regional tournament run.
The Lady Mustangs cruised through the regional tournament, outscoring their opponents 22-5 in three games.
Led by seven seniors, Lakewood returned to the Final Four May 10, in Vero Beach. After enduring a more than an hour-long rain delay, the Lady Mustangs finally took the field.
But Lakewood didn’t get off to the start it had envisioned. After a pair of uncharacteristic errors resulted in a pair of Columbia runs, the Lady Mustangs found themselves trailing 0-3 after the top of the first inning.
It was enough to rattle the best of teams, but Lakewood refused to give up — even when Columbia scored another four runs in the bottom of the fifth inning to take a 7-1 lead, which it wouldn’t relinquish.
Columbia went on to win the state title, but for Lakewood, there’s pride to be had in sticking together and facing adversity head-on.
District Dominance: Braden River High softball
Coming off a season in which it won the district title for the first time in three years, the Braden River High softball team had high expectations for 2013.
With six seniors on the roster, including ace Courtney Mirabella and catcher Ashley Allard, the Lady Pirates looked to continue asserting their dominance in Class 7A-District 11.
And, that, they did.
Braden River went a perfect 10-0 in district play during the regular season, including a 3-0 victory over Manatee Feb. 15, during which Mirabella pitched a perfect game.
The Lady Pirates returned to the district championship for the seventh-consecutive season.
Braden River faced Sarasota for the third time that season. The Lady Pirates narrowly won each of the two previous meetings by two runs each.
In the district championship April 18, Allard scored in the third inning off Jessica Cadorette’s RBI double to give Braden River a 1-0 lead. The Lady Pirates held on as Mirabella struck out 14 batters en route to the district crown.
In the regional tournament, Braden River easily defeated Stuart South Fork 9-0 in the regional quarterfinals April 24, before falling to Sarasota 2-1 in the ninth inning of the regional semifinals April 30.
Comeback Kids: Braden River Football
Braden River put together its most disappointing season in 2012, finishing with a 1-9 record.
But if there was one bright spot in coach Curt Bradley’s first year at the helm, it was the Pirates’ 28-7 victory over Palmetto Ridge in the final game of the 2012 season.
With a year of experience and an offseason to get in the weight room and prepare, the Pirates were eager to take the field in 2013.
Braden River opened its 2013 season with a pair of convincing wins over North Fort Myers and Southeast.
By that point, the Pirates already had doubled their win total from a season ago and had seven games remaining on the schedule.
After a pair of disappointing back-to-back losses, the Pirates bounced back to top Sarasota 30-27 in a key district matchup Oct. 4. Braden River added another win the following week, before suffering two consecutive district losses and narrowly missing out on a playoff berth.
Braden River rebounded, winning its last game of the season to finish with a winning record of 5-4.
Perfect Season: ODA Girls Tennis
The Out-of-Door Academy girls tennis team took a unique approach to the game in 2013.
During the regular season, every player on the team took it upon herself to contribute, whether it was taking on a more challenging opponent, stepping back and letting others control the net or simply cheering on her teammates from afar.
In a sport that embodies individual accolades, the players’ willingness to forgo their own success for the betterment of the team is truly unique.
ODA’s approach paid off this season, as the Lady Thunder finished the regular season undefeated for the first time in school history.
With 12 players on the roster — eight of whom play junior tennis — ODA shuffled its players in and out of the lineup.
Following its perfect 10-0 regular season, ODA captured its second-consecutive Class 1A-District 9 championship April 1 and 2. The Lady Thunder went on to capture its first Class 1A-Region 5 championship April 11.
On April 15 and April 16, ODA competed in the Class 1A championship, at which it tied for third after No. 1 seed Caroline Dailey, who now plays for the University of South Carolina, was forced to withdraw from the tournament with an injury.
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected]