AVON PARK - Spring Hill opened and closed its first foray into the Dixie Majors (ages 17-19) All-Stars State Tournament at Avon Park's Charles R. Head Park with heartache.
In between, the West Hernando County nine enjoyed a three-game winning streak.
The team highlight was eliminating archrival Brooksville Wednesday morning, 11-3.
After the mid-day Pre-Majors final, and an ensuing 2 ½-hour rain delay, Heartland solved Spring Hill for a state title repeat, 6-1.
With the win, the mostly Highlands Cou-nty club will represent Florida in the July 27-31 Majors World Series in North Charleston, S.C.
Heartland (3-1) was paced by designated hitter Seth Abeln's outstanding 4-for-4 effort, catcher Josh Baber's 2-for-2 plus a walk and a stout defense that converted all 29 chances it faced.
Three Heartland right-handed pitchers - Clayton Mason, Nate Greene and Torri Pringle - who overcame five hit batters - chained the Spring Hill bats to a combined 4-for-23 effort (.174).
"Today was the best day I've seen the ball," declared the 19-year-old Abeln. "Spring Hill is really good; we didn't want to take them too lightly.
"Offensively, we needed a day like today," added Abeln. "We all needed to step up."
On the keys to the game, "Our pitching was right on," described Abeln.
On the game's importance, "This was huge," noted Abeln. "Last year, we lost our first game and fought back to win it. This time, we lost our second game and came back to win. It's nice to have back-to-back titles."
Baber, who doubled and homered, savored his solo blast to left-center to lead off the fourth against Spring Hill's second pitcher, Jimmy Diven,
"When the ball left the bat I knew it was out," said the 19-year-old Baber. "It was pretty cool to hit one out. I felt like when I hit it the tide turned."
Baber praised his teammate Abeln, saying, "You can't get much better than Seth; he's a great leadoff batter"
On repeating as state champions, "This is huge," responded Baber. "Going up there again (to the World Series) is an honor."
After receiving an obligatory water-cooler drenching, Heartland skipper Chad Wright was asked to evaluate his team's performance.
"I saw 17 excited boys today," said Coach Wright. "We were ready to go from our first pitcher on. These kids all wanted to win this again."
After rapping 10 hits against a trio of Spring Hill hurlers, "We can always get better," detailed Coach Wright. "I thought Seth set the table. He hit the ball all over the field. He was very aggressive.
"Our catcher (Baber) is our captain," added Coach Wright. "Defensively, our pitchers have complete trust in him. And on his homer, when he swung I knew it was out."
From the visitors' dugout, "Considering we've been at the ballpark for 12 hours, I thought we played well and did what we had to do," remarked Spring Hill skipper Joe Abbadessa. "Heartland is an excellent team - they're mostly 18-19-year-olds. By comparison, we have all but two of our guys coming back to this team next year."
Abbadessa believed Baber's scoop of a poor relay from Mason in the fourth was the play of the game.
"The bases were loaded and there were no outs when we (Blake Laferty) grounded sharply to the pitcher (Mason), who nearly threw it away," recalled Abbadessa. "If their catcher doesn't dig that throw out of the ground, we might still be batting."
Abbadessa said he had no regrets after his team was left at the altar attempting to become the first Hernando County team to capture a Majors division state title since Brooksville in 2000 under Tim Sims.
"I have no regrets," indicated Abbadessa. "We came up a little short tonight, that's all. Who would have thought we would have been playing in this spot?"
Heartland opened the scoring with an unearned run off Spring Hill starter Dustin Bauer, in the second.
With one out, Baber walked and was removed for courtesy runner Colton Brock. Brock stole second base before Josh Gomez was plunked by a 0-2 curveball.
A subsequent double steal allowed both runners to advance. An ensuing passed ball off catcher Danny Schonborn permitted Brock to score, 1-0.
In the third, Heartland tacked on two runs on two hits. With one out, Abeln launched a 0-2 pitch to right-center for a two-bagger. Josh Townsend followed with an RBI triple to left-center to plate Abeln.
Brandon Rhea, who lined into a double play to close out the first frame, drilled a shot to left-center that Tommy Tambasco grabbed. On the play, Townsend easily trotted home, 3-0.
In the top of the fourth, Spring Hill appeared poised for a comeback as Trent Wyzykowski (hit by pitch), Bauer (walk) and Willie Pagan (bunt single) loaded the sacks.
Laferty hit the ball hard but right at Mason, who skipped a throw to the plate, to retire Wyzykowski.
Schonborn grounded into a pitcher's best friend - an inning-ending double play.
Bauer (0-2) departed after three innings trailing. He was charged with three runs (two earned) on three hits, one walk and one hit batsman against two strikeouts.
Diven replaced Bauer and immediately surrendered a solo homer to Baber in a three-run fourth inning.
Josh Gomez and Kyle Cunningham reached on infield singles before Ricky Miller's fielder's choice plated Gomez. Abeln followed with an RBI single to right to plate Miller, 6-0.
In the bottom of the fifth Spring Hill threatened again.
Gabe Abbadessa, from the No. 9 hole, coaxed a leadoff walk before Vito Tambasco Jr. lined his team-leading second hit to left field.
Here, Coach Wright replaced Mason with Greene. Greene plunked Tommy Tambasco to load the sacks for the second straight inning.
Diven lifted a sacrifice fly to center to plate Abbadessa.
Wyzykowski, who was hit by a pitch in his other three at-bats, fouled out before Bauer fanned to end the threat stranding two of Spring Hill's game-high 10 batters left on base.
Pagan stranded five of Heartland's eight runners left on base in throwing two scoreless innings in relief of Diven.
Pringle replaced Greene and hurled two scoreless innings to close the books.
Heartland 6, Spring Hill 1
123 456 7 R H E
SH 000 010 0 - 1 4 1
H 012 300 X - 6 10 0
SH - Bauer, Diven (4), Pagan (5) and Schonborn.
H - Mason, Greene (5), Pringle (6) and Baber.
W - Mason (1-0). L - Bauer (0-2).
2B - T. Tambasco (SH); Abeln, Baber (H).
3B - Townsend (H).
HR - Baber (H).
Records - Spring Hill (3-2). Heartland (3-1).
2013 Dixie Baseball Majors (ages 17-19) State Tournament Recap
at Avon Park's Charles R. Head Park
Hendry County 8, Wahneta 7
Hernando County 3, Spring Hill 0
Hernando County - bye
Heartland 8, Hendry County 0
Spring Hill 12, Wahneta 1
Spring Hill 12, Hendry County 2
Hernando County 2, Heartland 1
Heartland 4, Hernando County 3
Spring Hill 11, Brooksville HYL 3
Heartland 6, Spring Hill 1
2013 Dixie Youth League Majors (ages 17-19) State Baseball Tournament.
at Avon Park's Charles R. Head Field
- Compiled by TONY CASTRO
PL TEAM W L .PCT RS RA
1. Heartland 3 1 .750 19 06
2. Spring Hill 3 2 .600 36 15
3. Brooksville-HYL 2 2 .500 11 16
4. Hendry County 1 2 .333 10 27
5. Wahneta 0 2 .000 08 20
TOTALS (5) 9 9 .500