AVON PARK - For the first time since the millennium, Hernando County was represented in Wednesday's Dixie Majors (ages 17-19) All-Stars State Tournament finale in Highlands County.
Interestingly, it wasn't the highly anticipated Hernando program against defending state champion Heartland.
The Brooksville nine, which last won this title 14 summers ago in 2000 under skipper Tim Sims in Avon Park, opened the tourney with two well-pitched games and victories: 3-0 over Spring Hill and 2-1 over Heartland.
In round three, Hernando wasted a solid 3-0 cushion before dropping a 4-3 heartbreaker Tuesday evening to Heartland.
With three teams tied with identical 2-1 won-lost slates, Heartland drew the crucial bye into the state finals.
Spring Hill's first attempt as a Majors state crown was wrecked by Heartland, 6-1.
No one had anticipated that head coach Joe Abbadessa's Spring Hill troops would have ever reached the final.
In Game 1, Brooksville's Brandon Lawson twirled a complete game 3-hitter at the West Hernando County crew, winning 3-0.
Lawson, who'll play for the USF Bulls, was exceptional permitting one walk against a game-high 12 punch-outs.
Offensively, Brooksville pieced together some runs. Lakeland High's Robbie Frantzis was hit by a Dustin Bauer pitch in the first inning and eventually scored on a RBI single by Lawson.
Three innings later, Brandon Gemmiti was also plunked by a pitch and eventually scored on a sacrifice fly by Eloy Ramirez, 2-0.
In the fifth, Brooks Timmons, one of three Brooksville players to receive a free pass in the frame, scored on a botched pickoff, 3-0.
Spring Hill countered with singles by Tommy Tambasco, Jimmy Diven and Blake Laferty.
Bauer, who worked the first four innings, absorbed the tough-luck loss.
Bauer, who went 0-10 across 54 innings for the Weeki Wachee Hornets this past spring, permitted two runs on three hits and three walks against four strikeouts.
Diven replaced Bauer on the bump and allowed one run on two hits and four walks against three strikeouts.
Facing elimination in Game 2, Spring Hill whipped Wahneta in five innings, 12-1.
On the bump, southpaw Evan Webster, who hadn't played prep baseball in two seasons due to a sore arm, left after three innings ahead, 12-0.
The light-tossing Webster kept the Wahneta batters off-balance behind an assortment of off-speed pitches. He allowed two hits and zero walks against two strikeouts.
Laferty closed out the game with two innings of relief allowing one run on four hits against two strikeouts.
Offensively, Diven finished 1-for-3 behind a three-run homer in a seven-run third inning and scored two runs.
Will Pagan, who sparkled defensively at shortstop, finished 2-for-3 with a key three-run triple in the first inning. Vito Tambasco Jr. finished 2-for-4 with two stolen bases and three runs scored.
In Game 3, Spring Hill trailed 2-0 after half an inning before exploding for 12 unanswered runs in another five-inning, mercy-rule shortened affair, hammering Hendry County, 12-2.
On the hill, Tommy Tambasco (1-0) worked the first three innings departing with an 11-1 lead.
Tambasco allowed two runs on five hits and one walk against one strikeout.
Pagan came on in relief and hurled two scoreless frames yielding two free passes against one strikeout.
At the plate, Vito Tambasco Jr. directed the hit parade with a 2-for-4 performance with four runs batted in and three runs scored.
Tambasco not only belted a double, but mashed a grand slam homer off the left-center field scoreboard in the first frame.
Diven remained hot going 2-for-3, plus a walk and a stolen base. Trent Wyzykowski chipped in a two-run double in the nine-run first-inning rally.
In recapping the state semifinal upset win over Hernando, Vito Tambasco Jr. opened on the hill and departed after three innings with a no decision, 3-3.
Tambasco was touched up for three runs and two hits. He managed to survive a tourney-high six walks against two strikeouts.
The unassuming Webster (1-0) earned the mound win in relief.
The crafty southpaw twirled four shutout innings allowing one hit and one walk against three strikeouts. Webster helped himself at the plate going 3-for-4 with a RBI single in the second.
Diven tied Webster with a game-high three hits. Diven's five-RBI effort were highlighted by a two-run homer in the first inning and a two-run double.
Wyzykowski cracked two singles and drove in three runs including a key two-run single in the fifth to put Spring Hill up, 7-3.
Vito Tambasco Jr. was the fourth Spring Hill player with multiple hits finishing 2-for-5 featuring a double in the first frame.
Pagan, who played a nearly flawless game at shortstop, finished 1-for-2.
Hernando was limited to four hits: a RBI double by Ramirez, a double by Matt Brady and singles by Timmons and Lawson.
"The highlight of our tournament was not only getting 14 hits, but beating Hernando to get to the championship," pointed out Coach Abbadessa. "That's a quality team we beat. Coach Sims and his staff run a quality program - that win was huge."
Spring Hill assistant coach Shawn Laferty believed the backbone of the Spring Hill effort were brought to light by two key role players: Bauer and Webster.
"Dustin (Bauer) did not pitch poorly in our first game," detailed Coach Laferty. "He just needs a shot of confidence. The kid has the talent and has the stuff to become a solid pitcher.
"He came out really nervous and then he kind of settled down," noted Coach Laferty. "A big part of any athlete's growth is understanding one's faults. He knew that he needed to calm down and everything else would fall in place. I thought he did a terrific job."
"Evan is that quirky lefthander everybody wants," described Laferty. "He knows what he can do and more importantly, he knows what he can't do. He basically spins it up there and lets his defense make plays behind him."
On what Coach Laferty liked most about the unheralded Webster, "He got ahead of hitters with a bunch of first-pitch strikes," said Laferty. "He's so coachable. He's accurate and forces the batters to hit his pitch. He's the kind of kid who wants the ball in his hand. The kid wants to win so badly. On top of everything else, he's just a good all-round kid."
From Coach Sims' prospective, there were three fine teams in the Avon Park event and only two could've played for the all the marbles.
"In baseball, you win some, lose some," noted Sims. "There were three good teams in Avon Park. After we won our first two games, we were ahead 3-0 in our third game, but just couldn't quite close it out."
Once Heartland drew the bye into the finals, Coach Sims said his team understood its situation.
"We didn't want to use Lawson again against Spring Hill," explained Sims of Brooksville's pitching plans. "We preferred to save him against Heartland. Give credit to Spring Hill. That Webster kid threw well. He threw strikes and Spring Hill put the ball in play.
"I thought of the three teams that Heartland was a little deeper than the other two."
Sims, who stands 314-211 at HHS after 18 seasons, recapped his team's efforts.
On Brooksville's Game 1 effort, "That was vintage Lawson. He simply dominated."
In Game 2, Trae Ratliff flirted with a no-hitter after four innings. He fanned 11 Heartland batters against three walks in an outstanding pitchers' duel.
Frantzis earned the save behind a scoreless but tense seventh inning.
According to Sims, the tourney's turning point was Heartland pulling out the come-from-behind nod in Game 3.
"We had the lead 3-0 behind Eloy (Ramirez), but we just couldn't finish it," explained Sims.
Even after Brooksville was eliminated by Spring Hill Wednesday morning, Coach Sims found a silver lining.
"I thought Brooks (Timmons) played real well behind the plate," said Sims. "He had a whale of game in both games against Heartland. It's hard to knock four hits in four games."
Sims pointed out that Thomas University's Matt Brady filled in admirably at first base, shortstop and pitcher and joined Timmons with four hits.
Ramirez collected three hits and "performed well on the hill."
"This is a very mature group," described Coach Sims. "This group took the loss to Spring Hill like a man - they weren't bellyaching or pointing fingers. What I like most is these guys are accountable and they don't make excuses afterward."