Regardless of the outcome, the final prep event of the 2011-12 school year will be played tonight on Lakewood Ranch's baseball diamond.
A win sends the Mustangs to Port St. Lucie for next week's final four.
A loss sends them home for the spring, leaving us with a handful of exhibition football games this month before another high school season gets cranking in August.
It's fitting that this memorable year will conclude at Lakewood Ranch, because this truly has been the year of the Mustang.
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Other schools have had some banner moments, too. Manatee was dominant en route to winning a state football title, its track team crowned a state champion in shot-putter Derrick Calloway, and the baseball team won another district championship; Palmetto had memorable runs on the football field and the basketball court; Larry Cannon returned Southeast to the medal podium at the state wrestling tournament; Bayshore's baseball team used a midseason winning streak to get to the region playoffs; and Braden River once again fielded one of the state's best softball teams.
But for year-round success, no one tops what has happened at the Ranch.
First, the boys golf team went undefeated to win a state title roughly a month before Olivia Ortiz's championship-clinching run at the state cross country meet. Swimmer Danielle Valley won two individual titles, and Will Kazokas claimed one.
Ortiz's season came to a painful end when she broke her femur at the
Class 3A state track meet. But the injury came after she, Devin McDermott, Natalie Novak and Kristin Zarrella won the gold in the 3,200-meter relay.
The boys and girls tennis teams each placed second and state, and the doubles teams of Cari Berry and Ashley Bongart and Arnav and Arsav Mohanty won overall championships.
The softball team recently won its first region title. And even the boys hoops team, which got off to a rough start, came together in time to make the region playoffs.
Now the baseball team can make the year even more special -- a win tonight over Winter Haven in the Class 6A-Region 3 finals sends the Mustangs to the state semifinals next Thursday at Digital Domain Park.
It's already been a memorable spring for the Mustangs, who have won 23 games and a district championship despite being without pitching ace Seth McGarry and losing hard-throwing righty and Stanford-bound Brett Hanewich to IMG Academies.
McGarry, of course, is back. He won Lakewood Ranch's quarterfinal over Tampa Sickles and then recorded the save against another Tampa school, King, in the semifinals.
And Ranch baseball is back, too, allowing things to nearly come full circle. It was the baseball team that won the school's first team state championship in 2003, and it was the program's only team title until the golf team's perfect run last fall.
Tonight, the team has a chance to further was has been a tremendous year for the school, as well as the county.
It's the last regular-season event of the school year. And it's only fair the Mustangs get the chance to make it count.
John Lembo, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2097.