The year 2019 in Plant City sports was quite eventful, but one thing in particular stood out.
I’m as excited as anyone to see what 2020 has in store for Plant City. But first, we’re taking a look back at 2019.
It was a really busy year for local sports, even without the proposed Sports Village coming to fruition. Our teams and individual athletes won numerous championships big and small, set records, made bigger headlines than ours and captured our attention with unforgettable moments. A lot of people have a lot to be proud of after that year.
This section is always pretty list-heavy. Make what you will of my picks for the top five athletes and teams of 2019, but don’t assume there weren’t any close calls, tough decisions or ties broken by coin flip (before anyone asks, no, Dak Prescott wasn’t there). Just because an athlete or team didn’t make the cut doesn’t mean they didn’t have a good year.
In the spirit of list-making, I’m going to do something a little different with this Year in Review column. There were plenty of great local sports moments in 2019 to pick from and set up yet another top five list. But no matter what I run through in my head, there’s always one thing that stands above the rest. Moment No. 1, we could call it. It was my personal favorite assignment of the year in terms of scale, importance, rarity and, of course, the on-field action itself.
It’s the Plant City-Strawberry Crest showdown for the FHSAA Class 8A state championship. That probably wasn’t a hard guess, but can you blame me?
I’ve covered sports in some capacity for going on nine years now and I’ve never had anything come together like this. State championship appearances? Sure thing. First-ever postseason milestones? Plenty. Local teams getting hot at the right time? You bet. Compelling narratives leading to exciting games? Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.
But two teams from my beat making it all the way to the state championship round, knocking off some extremely talented teams along the way? If you would have told me at the beginning of the season that Plant City and Strawberry Crest would play that game for those stakes, I would have been skeptical. That’s no shade to either team — it’s just that the odds of that matchup actually happening, given how much baseball talent there is in Florida and how dominant certain programs have been, were slim. Many things could have gone wrong on the journey for either team.
We got the kind of championship game sportswriters like myself dream about covering. Tension you could cut with a knife. At-bats where you could have seen the hunger in the hitters’ eyes from the other side of Six Mile Cypress. Nervous energy in every pitch, for better and for worse. Probably more hustle on the field, both on defense and on the basepaths, than ever before for any of the players, as far as I could tell. A game that went down to the wire, one that no one was ever truly comfortably up or devastatingly down in. Even the non-local sportswriters in the press box, who asked us a hundred questions about where exactly Dover is on a map, could tell that wasn’t your average state championship game.
I hope I’ll get to cover something like that again in my career, whether it’s baseball or another sport. The odds are pretty slim, but now I know it’s not impossible.