The 58-year Hernando County curse in Dixie Baseball's AAA Majors (ages 11-12) State Tournaments came tantalizingly close to ending Thursday evening in Desoto County.
Brooksville's Hernando Youth League, which had never raised a state championship banner in this age group, stunned baseball fans across the state with a terrific run from the loser's bracket at Arcadia's Walt Brewer Sports Complex.
Head coach Pat Garland's crew fell in heartbreaking fashion Thursday when Bartow's starting first sacker P.J. Sloan cracked a walk-off, two-run homer with one out in the bottom of the sixth inning off reliever Devon Goncalves for a 5-3 win.
In all, Bartow (6-0 at states) steamrolled its way to its fifth AAA Majors state championship - and its first since back-to-back titles in 2003-04 - outscoring the opposition by 35 runs, 62-27.
Hernando (4-2 at states, 8-4 overall) opened the original 11-team, six-day event by edging Franklin County, 8-5.
The following day, Bartow tattooed Brooksville via the 10-run mercy rule, 15-3.
But from the loser's bracket, Coach Garland's crew responded by eliminating three teams on three consecutive nights: San Antonio (6-5), Mulberry (5-1) and Bushnell National (10-9).
Wednesday's upset nod over the defending World Series champions served as the tourney highlight.
On evaluating the biggest lessons learned, "Besides dealing with parents?" said Coach Garland. "I was really pleased on how three coaches (including assistants Dennis Pupello and Craig Black) worked so well together. It was that combination of the coaching that made a huge difference."
Coach Garland enjoyed returning to Stringer Hill with a huge second-place trophy, but didn't dance around the fact that the HYL nine sought the state's biggest prize.
"Getting second, no, I'm not that happy," candidly said Coach Garland. "We didn't quite have what it takes to win it all. Personally, I'd rather be playing in the World Series next month."
His son, William Garland, had pitched five terrific innings on the hill Thursday evening before running out of innings to pitch - giving way to Gonclaves.
"It was so intense," recalled Coach Garland. "People were screaming from both sides of the fence. I don't remember how the first guy got on against Devon (Ryan Harmon reached on a single). But I remember calling for another deuce (curveball) on the first pitch to Sloan.
"The reason we were still in the game was because we weren't going to give those guys many fastballs. Willie threw maybe 10 fastballs in five innings to keep us in the hunt.
"Earlier in the game, Sloan had hit a homer," remembered Garland. "For a second, I thought about walking him (in the sixth inning). But who does that with a runner on first base and nobody out in the last inning?
"I can't fault Devon. We called for curveball down. Give Sloan credit, he went down and golfed a shot that just went over the (left-field) fence. Devon made a perfect pitch. In that case, you've got to hand it to Sloan."
Sloan clubbed three hits including two homers, highlighted by the game-winner in the title tilt.
Coach Garland praised his team's ability to fight until the last pitch.
"After we lost to Bartow the first time, our kids really stepped up," praised Coach Garland. "After we lost the championship, our kids, including my son, took it pretty well.
"I told them afterward, there's no need to be upset," recalled Coach Garland. "The loss didn't affect the kids as much as I thought it might."
The tourney highlight, according to Garland, was showing Bushnell National the door.
"Wednesday night was a terrific game, too," recalled Garland. "It boiled down to the last at-bat. Everything was on the line. Bushnell had two runners on with two outs and the place was going nuts. I remember I had to call timeout three times just to make sure we were all on the same page.
"Sending Bushnell home was definitely our highlight," noted Coach Garland. "They've certainly been our nemesis for that last few years - that's a tremendous team. The key? After losing to those guys in districts, our discipline got better and better."
58th annual Dixie Baseball AAA Majors (ages 11-12) State Tourney Recap
at Arcadia's Walt Brewer Sports Complex
Desoto County - bye
Mulberry 11, Ponce de Leon 4
Bushnell National 16, Frostproof 0 (3½ Innings)
Brooksville 8, Franklin County 5 (5½)
Bartow 7, Bushnell American 6 (6½)
San Antonio 15, Baker County0
Baker County - bye
Desoto County 6, San Antonio 1
Ponce de Leon 15, Frostproof 3 (5)
Bushnell American 7, Franklin County 4
Bushnell National 4, Mulberry 0
Bartow 15, Brooksville 3
Bushnell National - bye
Mulberry 8, Baker County 4
Brooksville 6, San Antonio 5
Bushnell American 10, Ponce de Leon 4
Bartow 9, Desoto County 1
Bushnell American 4, Desoto County 3
Brooksville 5, Mulberry 1
Bartow 4, Bushnell National 3
Brooksville 10, Bushnell National 9
Bartow 22, Bushnell American 11
Bartow 5, Brooksville 3
58th annual AAA Majors (ages 11-12) State Baseball Tourney Standings
at Arcadia's Walt Brewer Sports Complex
- Compiled by TONY CASTRO
PL TEAM W L .PCT RS RA
1. Bartow 6 0 1.000 62 27
2. Brooksville 4 2 .667 35 40
3. Bushnell American 3 2 .600 38 40
4. Bushnell National 2 2 .000 32 14
4. Mulberry 2 2 .500 20 17
6. Desoto County 1 2 .333 10 14
6. Ponce de Leon 1 2 .333 23 24
6. San Antonio 1 2 .333 23 24
9. Franklin County 0 2 .000 09 15
9. Baker County 0 2 .000 04 23
9. Frostproof 0 2 .000 03 31
TOTALS (11) 20 20 .500
By the Numbers: Past AAA Majors All-Stars (ages 11-12) State Champions (1956-2013)
- Compiled by TONY CASTRO
1956 West Pensacola
1957 West Pensacola
1959 West Pensacola
1961 Myrtle Grove
1962 Myrtle Grove
1963 Myrtle Grove
1964 Myrtle Grove
1965 Myrtle Grove
1966 Myrtle Grove
1967 Myrtle Grove
1969 Myrtle Grove
1970 Brent East
1971 Myrtle Grove
1972 S. Sumter County
1973 Northeast Pensacola
1974 Brent East
1975 Brent East
1976 Northeast Pensacola
1977 Northeast Pensacola
1978 Fort Meade
1979 Northeast Pensacola
1980 Mid City
1981 Brent East
1982 Mid City
1983 Mid City
1984 Brent East
1985 Lynn Haven
1989 Northeast Pensacola
1990 Winter Haven American
1991 Northeast Pensacola
1992 Northeast Pensacola
1993 Northeast Pensacola
1994 Northeast Pensacola
1995 Northeast Pensacola
1996 Northeast Pensacola
1997 Northeast Pensacola
1999 Fort Meade
2000 CRVW Vernon
2001 Avon Park
2006 East Lakeland
2007 Holmes County
2008 Spring Hill American
2009 San Antonio
2010 Spring Hill National
2011 Spring Hill National
2013 Brooksville AAA Majors (ages 11-12) All-Stars
NO. PLAYER POSITION(S)
3 William Garland* P/3B
4 Dylan Black OF
7 William Kellar OF
9 Harrison Carter 2B/OF
10 Carson Lashley P/SS
17 Alex Kraft* OF/P/C
24 Javier Bonilla C/1B
25 Austin Miller OF/3B/P
34 Devon Goncalves* P/SS/2B
44 Dalton Black SS/P/1B
56 Kelden Pupello* C/OF
99 Caleb Wharton 3B/P
* Denotes 2012 AAA Majors All-Star.
Head Coach - Pat Garland
Asst. Coach - Craig Black
Asst. Coach - Dennis Pupello