For the first time in the millennium, Bushnell claimed the Dixie Baseball AA Rookies (ages 7-8) All-Stars District 6 Tourney title Friday on its home turf.
At the Kenny Dixon Sports Complex, Bushnell concluded a week-long 6-0 run by pummeling Wesley Chapel American, 14-2.
The district crown was the first for the Sumter County program since hoisting the District 6 championship trophy in 2011 at Wesley Chapel’s District Park.
Friday’s crown was Bushnell’s fourth across the past 10 seasons.
Both district champion Bushnell and district runner-up Wesley Chapel American will advance to the State Tournament June 28 at Marianna.
Hernando County’s three entries, Brooksville (2-2), Spring Hill National (2-2) and Spring Hill American (1-2) each failed to reach the title game.
In a quirky circumstance, one of the tourney favorites, Spring Hill National, opened and closed the double-elimination event losing to the same team twice: Bushnell.
SH National, guided by John McMurdo, opened the event May 31 falling to stout Bushnell, 8-2.
The West Hernando County nine led 2-0 through 3½ innings before Bushnell rallied for seven runs in the fourth.
Rylan Thompson (0-1) absorbed the mound loss working the first three-plus innings. Bushnell eventually outhit Spring Hill, 9-3.
Tanner Smith paced Spring Hill with a 2-for-2 effort, notching two singles, while J.J. Hackett had the other safety, plus a walk.
In Game 2 on June 2, SH National rebounded to oust Wildwood (0-2) via the 10-run mercy rule in four innings, 14-4.
On the hill, Carlos Gonzalez (1-0) earned the win working the first two frames. Across 47 pitches, Gonzalez permitted two runs (both unearned) against five free passes and five strikeouts.
Brandon Higgins relieved Gonzalez and hurled the last two innings yielding two runs and Wildwood’s only hit against five walks and five punch outs.
SH National quickly pounced on Wildwood for six first-inning runs and led comfortably 9-1 after 1½ frames to never look back.
At the plate, Hunter Bishop led the victors going 2-for-2 with two singles and two runs scored.
Tuesday night’s Game 3 featured an elimination tilt against Spring Hill American.
Again SH National jumped out in front with five runs in the first inning, two in the second and three in the top of third to erect a 10-0 cushion en route to another mercy-rule shortened, four-inning 14-3 victory.
On the bump, Thompson (1-1) breezed through the first three frames allowing one run and three hits against one walk and four strikeouts.
Gonzalez was touched up for two runs on two hits, plus a walk behind two strikeouts in an inning of work.
In a game where National outhit American, 13-5, Thompson and Gonzalez each finished 3-for-3 with five combined runs scored.
Brady McMurdo went 2-for-2 behind two singles while Keith Clearwater finished 2-for-3 with two singles and two runs scored.
After a bye on Wednesday, SH National needed to solve Bushnell on Thursday to force a three-way tie for the title on Friday. It nearly happened.
In a stout 2½-hour thrill ride featuring six lead changes, though Bushnell was outhit, 17-14, the hosts tallied twice in the bottom of the sixth to outlast SH National, 19-18.
SH National scored twice in the top of the first inning to lead, 2-0. Bushnell countered with seven runs in the first and two in the second to mount an early 9-2 lead.
Undaunted, the West Hernando County nine scored five times in the third to close within 9-7.
Back came the hosts with three in the bottom of the third, 12-7.
After neither team scored in the fourth, SH National demonstrated its determination with eight runs in the fifth to retake the lead, 15-12.
Yet the Sumter County nine countered with five runs to lead 17-15 going into the final inning. Once again, SH National responded with three runs to lead, 18-17.
But Bushnell answered with two runs with one out in the bottom of the sixth for a walk-off 19-18 nod.
As a result, SH National settled into a third-place tie with South Lake at 2-2.
SH National’s third pitcher, Clearwater (0-1), suffered the mound loss. Thompson had started the game before being replaced by Gonzalez.
At the plate, Gonzalez sparkled going 4-for-4 with three doubles and a single to drive in a team-high five runs while scoring twice.
Gonzalez wasn’t alone as Hackett, Clearwater and Thompson each finished 2-for-3 as the trio combined to score 10 runs.
Clearwater and Thompson drove in a combined seven runs.
Raymond Groetsch also finished 2-for-3 and scored once besides notching a two-run double.
Brady McMurdo drove in two runs, one with an RBI double and another with a bases-loaded walk.
Despite his team’s gutsy performance, the loss left skipper John McMurdo with an empty feeling.
“It’s a shame we lost to one team in this whole tournament twice,” said the frustrated Coach McMurdo. “As a team, we scored 48 runs and batted .450 and we’re going home – that’s tough.
‘I don’t want to take anything from anyone else, but the district’s two top teams played Thursday night,” he added. “That was the greatest baseball game I’ve ever been associated with that ended in a loss.”
McMurdo praised his nine saying his team played with extreme heart and determination,
“I’d rather us give 100 percent and lose than not try,” the coach said
In recapping the tourney, “Even after we lost that first game (to Bushnell, 8-2), all I asked of our guys was to continue fighting,” he said. “We fought until the last out. This is tough because of how the brackets fell.
“I can’t argue, Bushnell was the best team here,” added Coach McMurdo. “But we’re right below them. There’s nothing I can be upset about besides how the brackets fell.”
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Though SH National was left dissatisfied at finishing 2-2, Brooksville’s skipper Eddie Looper felt a sense of accomplishment and was elated at his young team’s identical finish.
Brooksville opened the seven-team tourney losing in the first round to SH American, 14-9.
Looper’s troops bounced back to eliminate Ridge Manor (0-2) on Monday, 7-3, before ousting Wesley Chapel National (0-2) on Tuesday, 12-1 in four innings.
Despite building an 11-4 lead Wednesday evening against South Lake, Brooksville was eliminated, 19-11.
“I’m very happy finishing 2-2,” explained Looper, who carried eight 7-year-olds on his roster. “Especially with so many 7-year-olds. I thought going in this would be pretty hard. Right now, I couldn’t be happier.”
Recapping the team’s final stats, Palmer Looper and Bryce Finley each led the squad hitting .667. Palmer was credited with the team’s lone homer.
Mikey Garland was right behind hitting .600 while Derek Portuondo finished hitting at a .400 clip.
Looper’s optimism could be based on eight returning 7-year-olds next season in Palmer Looper, Mason Morgan, Braden Harmon, James Bishop, Colten Cloud, Xander Turner, Westin Fenimore and Ryan Miller.
“Looking back, even though we lost, our best overall game was against Spring Hill,” noted Looper. “After that, we came out swinging the bats against Wesley Chapel.”
The biggest lesson learned, according to Looper, “These are still little kids learning the game baseball. They listened to what all the coaches told them and took it to heart. I treated each player like they were my own son. I’m very proud of them.”
Dixie Baseball AA Rookies (ages 7-8) District 6 Tourney Recap
at Bushnell’s Kenny Dixon Sports Complex
Wesley Chapel National - bye
South Lake 14, Wildwood 0
Bushnell 8, Spring Hill National 2
Wesley Chapel American 9, Ridge Manor 3
Spring Hill American 14, Brooksville 9
South Lake – bye.
Bushnell 12, Wesley Chapel National 2
Spring Hill National 14, Wildwood 4
Wesley Chapel American 9, Spring Hill American 8 (7)
Brooksville 7, Ridge Manor 3
Wesley Chapel American – bye.
Spring Hill National 14, Spring Hill American 3 (4)
Brooksville 12, Wesley Chapel National 1 (4)
Bushnell 8, South Lake 4
Spring Hill National – bye
Bushnell 15, Wesley Chapel American 3
South Lake 19, Brooksville 11
Bushnell 19, Spring Hill National 18
Wesley Chapel American 4, South Lake 2
Bushnell 14, Wesley Chapel American 2 (4)
2014 Dixie Baseball AA Rookies (ages 7-8) District 6 Tourney Standings
at Bushnell’s Kenny Dixon Sports Complex
PL TEAM W L .PCT RS RA
1. Bushnell* 6 0 1.000 76 31
2. Wesley Chapel American* 3 2 .600 27 42
3.(tie) Spring Hill National 2 2 .500 48 34
3.(tie) South Lake 2 2 .500 39 23
5. Brooksville-HYL 2 2 .500 39 32
6. Spring Hill American 1 2 .333 25 32
7.(tie) Ridge Manor 0 2 .000 06 16
7.(tie) Wesley Chapel National 0 2 .000 03 24
7.(tie) Wildwood 0 2 .000 04 28
TOTALS 16 16 .500
* Denotes qualified for June 28 AA Rookies State Tournament at Marianna.