King falls to Nease in 7A state final

King Lions - the FHSAA Class 7A state runner-up

FORT MYERS – Every new baseball season starts with anticipation, hopes, and high expectations. If you’re amongst the very best it ends in celebration on championship night, but for every other team in the chase it just ends.

So it ended for the road-battled underdog King Lions with an 11-0 loss to Ponte Vedra Nease in the Class 7A state final.

It stings. It hurts.

“It sucks,” recent King grad and Lions catcher Matty Jernigan said. “Everyone is kind of on edge in the dugout, when you fought this hard to get here.”

King C Matty Jernigan tags out a runner in the late hours
Thursday in the 7A state final.
(Photo courtesy of Margie Terp)
Nease (20-11) scored quickly as an error and an RBI single spotted the Panthers two runs in the first. A Kyle Huber 2-run homer the next inning, two more in the third and so it went for King (20-11).

However, the ending won’t spoil the story for the Lions players according to Jernigan.

“But tomorrow everyone is going to be at home, maybe watch themselves on TV and it’ll get a little bit better,” Jernigan said. “Ten years from now, we get to look back and say we did something that a lot of people can’t say they did. We’ll have that the rest of our lives. That’s special.”

The Lions took to wearing the mantle of underdog this postseason as they went from district runner-up - coming out what’s proving to be one of the toughest districts in the state, Class 7A-District 8 (which produced last season’s 7A champs Gaither) - to region champions and an exciting semifinal win.

King coach Jim Macaluso surrounded by his seniors postgame. 
“My hope is this is a team that sets the tone, the pace for King teams of the near future,” said Jernigan, one of King’s eight seniors. “We’ve been to the final four before, now we know what that’s like.

“We’ve never been to the championship before, now these guys sticking around know how to handle it. I think these guys will grow from that and they’ll be better for this game.”

For 43-year head coach Jim Macaluso, a King High grad himself who this season eclipsed the 600 win mark and coached his 1,000th game, the loss hits hard.

“We could have limped in from the district on, and these guys didn’t do that,” Macaluso said. “I’m so proud of each and every one of them.”

“We preached before we came down here, no matter the outcome, to enjoy this run here at the end and I think they did that.”

Macaluso spoke about the early expectations through the final out after the game.

“I think any coach will tell you that you doing go around advertising, but you know when you’ve got a pretty special group,” Macaluso said. “We should be here, every game we won as underdogs, the fight this team had was something special and I’m really proud of them.”


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