BRANDON — The high school sports season is over, and east Hillsborough athletes have again left their mark.
From the dazzling individual moves in flag football by Plant City's Quet Shaw to the selfless Brandon baseball team, players gave fans in this part of the county plenty to cheer about. Here's a look at some of them.
Brandon hadn't played its state semifinal as of press time, but we'd be remiss if we did not recognize the Eagles' season regardless of the outcome at the final four in Sarasota. After starting the season 9-6, Brandon, which started seven sophomores, ran off 16 wins in a row. That stretch included a championship at the prestigious Tony Saladino Tournament and a sweep of the regional finals last week against Winter Haven. Whether it was the timely pitching of Chase Sparkman, the all-around talent of James Ramsay, the powerful swings of Mike Smith and Rod Shoulders, or the slick glove of Derek Dungan, Brandon found a new hero each night. Newsome and Seffner Christian were the only other area schools to make it past the quarterfinals.
Plant City reached the state finals before losing to Tallahassee Leon. The Raiders won a thrilling triple-overtime game against Freedom to reach the final four, then pulled out a 26-19 victory against Jupiter in the semis. Fatigue eventually caught up with Plant City, which had to play Leon less than two hours after beating Jupiter.
Much of Plant City's success can be attributed to quarterback/safety Quet Shaw. Shaw's main target was Danielle Kersey, who had seven catches and a score against Leon.
The Durant Cougars, a team that had reached the final four just once in school history, returned to the state semifinals in Plant City this year. Durant and Palm Beach Gardens were tied in the 10th inning of that semifinal before the Gators posted four runs in the top of the inning.
The Cougars, however, were far from finished. Durant loaded the bases with no outs. Brittany Harwell then connected on a bases-clearing double that pulled the Cougars within one. But Durant couldn't get the tying run home, ending a 25-6 season.
Newsome and Seffner Christian also had excellent campaigns, with both reaching regional finals in 5A and 1A, respectively.
Track and field
It turns out that Durant's John Mitchell saved his best for last.
Mitchell ran a lifetime-best 4:21.63 to capture the 1600-meter race in the 4A final. Running against a strong field and trailing in the final 300 meters, Mitchell took the lead. The junior accelerated around the corner and held off the field, earning east Hillsborough's lone gold at states. Newsome's girls 4x800-meter relay team (Rebecca Watson, Siara Stahl, Shelby Boyle and Lindsay LeSavage) finished fifth in 3A.
Eastern county teams didn't make much noise in the postseason, with only Newsome advancing to the regionals. The Newsome boys team was swept in the first round by Wharton, and the girls suffered the same result against Chamberlain.
Newsome doubles team Andy Hersh and Scott Schumacher lost a three-set match in the top-flight semifinals of the state tournament. After dropping a 7-6 set, the Wolves' duo evened things with a 6-4 win before bowing out in the third to the eventual overall state champs from Lakewood Ranch.
Hersh was also involved in another three-set heartbreaker during individual play. The junior won the first set 7-5, but dropped the next two in the semifinals of the 3A individual 1 bracket.