Photo Courtesy of Grace Christian School. The Grace Christian School softball state champions.
Photo courtesy of Grace Christian School.
The Grace Christian School baseball state champions.

The Grace Christian School softball and baseball programs added state championships to the school’s expanding mantle this season. The school won six titles as a whole this season, making this the best sports season in its history.

The softball team, led by head coach Barry McKeen in his 25th year at the school, went 20-2 this past season.

McKeen is also the administrator and pastor for the school. The team’s only two losses were to Bishop McLaughlin. This is the team’s first state title since 2011. Previously, they had won four out of five championships before going into a drought for the next seven seasons before beating Heritage Christian School 6-2 in this year’s championship game at Southeastern University.

According to McKeen, several girls have been playing together for the last three or four seasons, building team chemistry and working hard to achieve their goals. Some of the key players on this year’s winning team include star pitcher, Angie Badalament, who pitched 78 1/3 innings, with 128 strikeouts and a 1.75 ERA. She was voted Florida Christian Conference Player of the Year by the coaches in the conference. Junior shortstop Grace Pukas, who has been on the team since sixth grade had an outstanding season as well, batting .510 with 24 RBIs and 27 runs scored. In her sixth season with the team she was voted FCC All-Conference as well.

Catcher Anna Burnside was also voted FCC All-Conference. The lead-off hitter led the team in hitting, batting .623 with 38 hits and 26 RBIs. Burnside was also the MVP of the state championship game.

“They are such an easy group to coach,” said McKeen. “They are great Christian kids who love the Lord and go to church every Sunday. They not only just win games, but they carry themselves as a testimony for the Lord.”

The baseball team had a dominant season as well, led by two-year head coach Greg Hughes. They went 15-7, losing only two games in conference. They beat Palm Grove Christian School 5-1 in the state championship.

Four players made FCC All-Conference, including outfielder/pitcher Xavier Valentin (.420 BA,10 RBIs), catcher John Zeto (.667 BA, 22 RBIs), first baseman Brock Hughes (.563 BA, 20 RBIs), and FCC Player of the Year shortstop/pitcher Eric Bucheli (.672 BA, 28 RBIs).

“This team came together as a unit, and above all, they finally realized who they are actually playing the game for,” said Hughes. “Grace Christian is what it says on the front of their uniforms, but the thought of playing for the Lord Jesus Christ is why they were playing. That’s what I’m most proud of, more than any state championship, or any hardware. The fact that they made the statement that they do understand what they are playing for.”

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Nick Nahas
Nick Nahas has written for the Osprey Observer since 2016. He has lived in the Valrico area since 2002 and has his bachelor’s degree in mass communications from the University of South Florida. He is dedicated to covering sports in Hillsborough County at every level.