First Coast Varsity Weekly: UCF is destination for Sandalwood's Branden Jennings

·9 min read
Former Sandalwood linebacker Branden Jennings (44) committed Monday to UCF football.
Former Sandalwood linebacker Branden Jennings (44) committed Monday to UCF football.

A Sandalwood star is heading back to the Sunshine State.

Linebacker Branden Jennings, a USA Today Network All-USA selection for the Saints in 2020, announced Monday that he is transferring to UCF for his sophomore season.

Jennings had signed with Maryland in December 2020, flipping from Michigan on National Signing Day. As a freshman, he recorded 23 tackles and a forced fumble with the Terrapins.

He had originally planned earlier in the off-season to transfer to Kansas State before selecting UCF. Jennings becomes the latest Jacksonville defensive standout to choose the Knights, a list that also includes former Trinity Christian linebacker Eriq Gilyard.

While at Sandalwood, he accumulated a school-record 388 tackles along with 26 sacks, earning consecutive All-First Coast selections and helping the Saints to a regional final run in 2020.

Steady on the sidelines: Meet Northeast Florida's longest-tenured high school football coaches

Marathon night for Bucs baseball

Usually, Midnight Madness is supposed to be for basketball.

But there they were, First Coast ballplayers on the diamond for a late — very late — Florida High School Athletic Association Region 1-6A baseball semifinal at state-ranked Pace in the Panhandle.

First pitch at 11:26 p.m. Eastern time? For the Bucs, that was reality.

Severe weather in Pace, located just north of Pensacola, kept both teams awaiting the scheduled playoff for hours. But with the prospect of a trip of more than five hours each way from Pace to Jacksonville, calling the game off and trying again Saturday wasn't an ideal option.

So the Bucs waited the storm out, and eventually, it was time to play ball.

Once First Coast started, though, the game didn't last long. Class 6A No. 1 Pace scored in every inning, including five runs in the second, to end the Buccaneers' playoff run 10-0 shortly after 1 a.m. Eastern.

Still, the trip left the team with some playoff memories — a scenario that hardly looked likely a month ago when First Coast stood only 15th in Region 1-6A in the FHSAA rankings — and gave returning Bucs like sophomore catcher Hunter Carns a taste of road playoff baseball for the seasons to come.

Gritty effort from BK's Gilmore

Pitch after pitch after pitch.

Kaitlyn Gilmore never stopped. Somehow, it wasn't enough.

For more than 16 innings, the Crusaders sophomore turned in the performance of a lifetime, holding Pensacola West Florida scoreless into the late hours on Wednesday night, before the hosts finally broke through to edge Bishop Kenny 4-3 in a 17-inning FHSAA Region 1-4A softball epic.

Gilmore's pitch count was staggering (214), as was her control. Facing 66 batters on the night, she only walked one, and struck out 14. And she still found just enough energy for an RBI single that gave the Crusaders a 3-0 lead in the top of the 17th.

BK's problem: Even with 16 scoreless innings from Gilmore, the Crusaders didn't score during that span against West Florida's Sydney Scapin. Finally, in the bottom of the 17th, West Florida struck for the win.

Despite racking up 37 K's, Scapin didn't set the national single-game strikeout record, as certified by the National Federation of State High School Associations. That mark belongs to Alicia Hollowell of Fairfield (Calif.), who struck out 61 batters in a 30-inning game against Woodland that began on May 25, 2001 and spilled over into May 29.

Bishop Kenny-West Florida ended up only three innings away from the FHSAA record for a postseason game. The FHSAA lists its longest-ever postseason softball contest as the Region 2-2A final between Lake Highland Prep and Winter Park Trinity Prep on May 5, 2001, a struggle that wasn't resolved until Lake Highland Prep's Carley Winger hit the game-winning single for the 1-0 win in the 20th inning.

Brunswick's Riyon Rankin clears the bar in the boys high jump at the Bob Hayes Invitational Track Meet on March 19, 2022. [Clayton Freeman/Florida Times-Union]
Brunswick's Riyon Rankin clears the bar in the boys high jump at the Bob Hayes Invitational Track Meet on March 19, 2022. [Clayton Freeman/Florida Times-Union]

Pirates' Rankin wins north of border

From February to May, nobody in the Jacksonville vicinity has jumped for height quite like Riyon Rankin.

The Brunswick high jumper completed his sterling season by winning the Georgia High School Association track and field championship in the boys high jump, clearing 7 feet even.

The junior, who won the Bob Hayes Invitational at Raines in March by clearing 6 feet, 8 inches, set a personal best height of 7 feet, 1 inch in April in Valdosta.

Rankin ranks first in the national MileSplit rankings for all high school athletes in the high jump, and he's the first Georgia athlete to clear 7-1 or higher since Malik Broughton of Veterans in 2013.

Candelino on way to Badgers hoops

After leading Ponte Vedra to the Class 6A boys basketball final, Ross Candelino is on his way to the Big Ten.

Candelino announced his commitment to play at Wisconsin on Monday, joining the Badgers as a preferred walk-on.

Listed at 6-5, traditionally a guard but spending much of his time in the interior of a small Ponte Vedra lineup, he averaged 14.2 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.8 steals in 2021-22 as the Sharks advanced to their first-ever title game.

Commanders' Reed wins wheelchair titles

The varsity athletes weren't Jacksonville's only winners at Saturday's concluding day of the state track meet in Gainesville.

White senior Mitrasha Reed won two champions in the Class 4A girls wheelchair division, winning in the 200 and 800-meter races.

She recorded a winning time of 54.45 seconds in the 200 and 4:11.50 in the 800.

Locals on top for Edward Waters

Saturday was championship day for a dozen Jacksonville-area players at Edward Waters University baseball.

Former Trinity Christian outfielder Keilin Washington was named the most outstanding player as EWU defeated Kentucky State 3-2 to win the Black College World Series in Montgomery, Ala.

Also on the roster for the Tigers were pitcher Cameron Chastain (Bradford), infielder Octavis Clayton (University Christian), pitcher Nolan Davenport (Camden County), outfielder Bryce Downer (Baldwin), outfielder Tre Guzzone (Sandalwood), pitcher Caden Hutchinson (Brunswick), pitcher Austin James (West Nassau), catcher Christian Nobles (West Nassau), catcher Anthony Roman (Ridgeview), infielder Nate Schirmer (Orange Park) and infielder Hugo Schoening (Mandarin).

Ponte Vedra goalie Nolan Parlette was among five Sharks named to the All-State team for boys lacrosse.
Ponte Vedra goalie Nolan Parlette was among five Sharks named to the All-State team for boys lacrosse.

Ponte Vedra, Bolles lead lacrosse list

Five players from Class 2A boys lacrosse runner-up Ponte Vedra won All-State honors in Monday's selection from the Florida State Lacrosse Coaches Association.

Sharks awarded were defenseman Roman Destella, FOGO Lad Harper, midfielder Maddox Johnson, long-stick middie Luke Lowery and goalie Nolan Parlette. Ponte Vedra advanced to the state championship game before losing to St. Thomas Aquinas.

Also chosen in Class 2A were Creekside midfielder Zack Bender, FOGO Dylan Rupprecht and attacker Mana Wilhelm, and Fleming Island defenseman Parker Flagg.

Class 1A regional champion Bolles had four honorees from its final-four squad: goalie Garrett Jobe, midfielder Spencer Surface and attackers Caleb Coleman and Andrew Sledzik. Episcopal midfielder Julio Dodaj also won All-State recognition.

Weekly trivia challenge

It's time for the latest edition of the First Coast Varsity Weekly trivia section, a look back through the history of high school sports all around the area.

This week's topic: The gridiron win column. Answers will appear in next week's First Coast Varsity Weekly.

1. From 2000 until the current day, which Duval County public school has the most football wins?

2. Which Northeast Florida team accumulated a winning streak of 52 games, a Florida record, from 1994 to 1997?

3. Among St. Johns County schools, which has the most football victories since 2000?

Bolles' Max Ferguson slides safely into third base during  the Florida High School Athletic Association Class 5A baseball semifinal on Wednesday, May 18, 2016, against Melbourne Central Catholic at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers. [Marc Beaudin/For the Times-Union]
Bolles' Max Ferguson slides safely into third base during the Florida High School Athletic Association Class 5A baseball semifinal on Wednesday, May 18, 2016, against Melbourne Central Catholic at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers. [Marc Beaudin/For the Times-Union]

Answer to last week's questions

1. Ribault, Class 2A champion in 1968, was the only Duval County public school to win a state baseball championship between 1962 and 1987.

2. Watch out, scoreboard: Pace defeated Tampa Catholic 18-17 in the Class 2A baseball championship in 1985, the highest-scoring FHSAA final on record.

3. Back-to-back FHSAA baseball champions from Northeast Florida are Palatka (1965-66), University Christian (1978-79), Arlington Country Day (2000-01), Eagle's View (2007-08), Bolles (2009-10) and Bolles (2016-17).

Around the area

Episcopal hired Wyatt Walker as its new girls basketball coach. The former Providence center, the Times-Union's All-First Coast boys basketball player of the year in 2015, played college basketball at Samford and N.C. State. ... Clay announced three football signings: Zach Fordham (Monmouth), Desiron Gantt (Methodist) and Martez Martin (Albright). ... White celebrated three signings: Christianna Morman with Fort Lauderdale flag football, Demarkus Raysor with St. Andrew's wrestling and Devon Robinson with Webber International football. ... Bishop Kenny announced five athletic signings: Charlie Lawrence (Merchant Marine rowing), Abby Measor (Franciscan women's soccer), Martin Pineiros (West Florida men's soccer), Antonio Valentino (Columbia rowing) and Luke Williams (FSCJ men's cross country). ... Clay County recognized Fleming Island's Logan Dailey and Libby Pittman as scholar athletes of the year. ... Former First Coast quarterback De'Andre Johnson was nominated for USFL Player of the Week after gaining 252 yards for the New Jersey Generals. ... Corey Craig of Coconut Creek Monarch won the Florida Dairy Farmers Mr. Tennis award and Lake Nona's Tom Beard was selected as boys tennis coach of the year. ... Valeria Ray of Doral Academy was named Monday as Florida Dairy Farmers Miss Tennis, with the school's Justin Puppo also winning girls tennis coach of the year. ... Carlos Veccio of Belen Jesuit won the Florida Dairy Farmers Mr. Water Polo award, with Emily Scheerer of Lake Nona earning Miss Water Polo. ... Mandarin welcomed Lindsay Gonzales, Ellie Jackson and Ashley Smith to the 12th Letter Club, a group — now numbering 16 athletes in athletic department history — to attain 12 athletic letters. ... Mandarin's Smith is also among four players, along with Oriana Fifer (Atlantic Coast), Adayja Gadsden (Jackson) and Jazmen Thompson (First Coast) named to the North team for the Florida Athletic Coaches Association flag football All-Star Classic, scheduled for Saturday at Belleview High School. Paxon and Sandalwood were recognized as athletic training programs of the year at the Jacksonville Sports Medicine Program awards gala.

This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: First Coast Varsity Weekly: Branden Jennings transfers to UCF football