Remember the 1998 Southeast Seminoles?
They survived a three-way tiebreaker and didn’t stop until they reached the Class 6A state final.
Remember the 2008 Braden River Pirates?
In their second season playing a full varsity schedule, they hopped across the Manatee River and upset Palmetto in the first round of the Class 3A-Region 3 playoffs.
Remember the 2009 Manatee Hurricanes?
They stopped Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas’ 37-game winning streak in a Class 5A state semifinal. Maybe the Raiders would be gunning for a fourth straight national championship this season had they not run into the Hurricanes during a cool December night in Bradenton two years ago.
Three memorable teams. Three memorable feats.
One common bond: All three were district runners-up.
Tonight marks the final week of district play, and Manatee is the lone area team to lock up a playoff spot. So while the Hurricanes are simply looking to leave Cleland Stadium’s Ihrig Field healthy after tonight’s meeting with Sarasota, teams such as Braden River, Cardinal Mooney, Lakewood Ranch, Palmetto and Southeast will be playing for their postseason lives.
Everyone wants to win a district championship, which is still a realistic goal for the Cougars, Tigers and Seminoles.
But the most important thing to do is to just get in. Make the playoffs. Doesn’t matter how you do it -- make the tournament, and anything can happen.
Winning a district title has its perks. You get to open the playoffs at home, and depending on how the rest of the bracket goes, you may stay there. Just ask the ’05 Hurricanes, who never left the friendly confines of Hawkins Stadium during their run to the Class 5A state final four.
And there isn’t a competitor in the world who doesn’t like being called a champion.
Reaching the postseason, however, puts you on the same track as everyone else in the race toward a state title. Runners-up may draw a tougher first-round foe and have to endure a long bus ride, but it beats locking up the equipment.
With the playoffs come possibilities. Those ’98 Noles, for example, began the year 0-2, beat out Riverview and Manatee in a three-way tiebreaker to get the runner-up spot out of District 6 and won three of four playoff games on the road to play for their third state title in six years.
And when Braden River returned to the postseason in ’09, the Pirates scored a first-round win at Winter Haven while Lake Wales was beating host Southeast.
The result? The Pirates hosted Lake Wales in a regional semifinal the following week, marking the first postseason home game in program history.
Lake Wales won, however, and then won the following week en route to reaching the Class 3A state semifinals.
You remember the Lake Wales Highlanders, right? They played in District 9 that year.
They were a runner-up.
John Lembo, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 745-2097.