Going into this past week's six-team Dixie Baseball Pre-Majors (ages 15-16) All-Stars State Tournament in Avon Park, no one was banking on a young and predominantly inexperienced Brooksville squad to reach the tourney final.
The tourney's finest teams clashed Wednesday afternoon, as East Polk County edged Chipley on a two-run double in the final frame, 5-4.
East Polk County (4-1) captured the double-elimination formatted, five-day event by sweeping its last four games in a row from the loser's bracket.
The Polk County squad will advance as state champions to represent Florida in the July 27-31 Pre-Majors World Series in North Guntersville, Ala.
For its part the young Brooksville nine finished 1-2.
Recapping the event, veteran skipper Donnie Whitehead Jr. believed his squad began to cut its teeth on the path toward replacing nine graduated seniors for Hernando High next spring.
"Overall, we put ourselves in positions to win games," explained Coach Whitehead. "That's all you can ask from young players."
On the keys to the tournament, "What I take from this tournament is a lot of our guys are learning on the fly. There's some talent here," he said. "But right now we've got to play at a faster pace. I think this group got their eyes opened up.
"There's no panic; there's no rush," cautioned Coach Whitehead. "It was a learning experience. I think we took a lot from this.
"For a lot of these guys this is their first foray into playing at a much higher level. The biggest thing was I thought we pitched really well during the entire tournament."
Hernando opened the event on the wrong end of a 5-4 loss to Chipley. In Game 2, Hernando edged Okeechobee in a back-and-forth affair, 9-8.
The local Hernando Youth League squad was eliminated in round three as East Polk County posted a 5-0 shutout.
Recapping Game 1, "We didn't take care of the little things to close out the game against Chipley," pointed out Whitehead. "Give Chipley credit, they did."
Justin Young opened the mound and was replaced by Bradley Platt, who hurled 4 1/3 solid innings of relief.
"When Brad came in in the third, he calmed everything down," noted Coach Whitehead. "What I liked was he threw strikes and kept us in a 2-all game right there with Chipley. Brad deserves some credit; he kept us intact behind an exceptional job on the hill."
In Game 2, Young rapped a team-best three hits including a solo homer.
Austin Treverton added a two-run double to tie the game in the bottom of the seventh. Danny Miller tripled, walked and was hit by a pitch, scoring a game-high three runs.
Cameron Price coaxed a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the seventh for the game-winner.
On the hill, Brad Ellis hurled 4 1/3 innings of relief in a game Whitehead described as "a war of attrition between two teams playing at nine in the morning."
David Flowers, who wiggled out of a bases-loaded jam in the top of the seventh, earned the mound win in relief.
In Game 3, Hernando lost a chance of securing some early momentum.
In the first inning, Tanner Bammert walked, stole second and raced toward third on a fielder's choice. In a bang-bang play at third, while many Brooksville fans thought Bammert was safe, instead he was called out.
Two innings later against Miller, East Polk County broke the game open with two runs.
Miller (0-1), who threw 80-81 mph mixing his slider and change-up, departed after four frames, losing 5-0.
Southpaw Dustin Ratliff threw two scoreless innings to keep the Polk County nine at bay.
Offensively, Hernando hurt its comeback chances being limited to four hits.
"I thought if we could have done some little things better, Miller could have stayed in a 1-0 game," described Coach Whitehead.
"This group learned some valuable lessons, things that can't be replicated in practice. This experience will only help these young kids learn to deal with failure," added Whitehead. "You definitely find out what you're made of when you lose. A few of our kids took this real hard - they don't like losing."
The optimist Whitehead pointed out, "I like the competitiveness of this group; it's better than I thought it would be. There were no deer-in-the-headlights looks. I liked the fact that these kids competed from the first pitch. Right now, the future looks bright. The key is we've got to continue working on making the routine plays behind our pitchers."
2013 Dixie Baseball Pre-Majors (ages 15-16) State Tournament Recap
at Avon Park's Charles R. Head Park
Chipley 5, Hernando 4
Desoto County 6, Okeechobee 5
Heartland 6, East Polk County 3
Heartland - bye
Hernando 9, Okeechobee 8
Chipley 13, Desoto 8
East Polk County 5, Hernando 0
Heartland 4, Chipley 0
Chipley 4, Desoto 1
East Polk County 11, Heartland 4
East Polk County 16, Heartland 10
East Polk County 5, Chipley 4
2013 Dixie Pre-Majors (ages 15-16) State Baseball Tournament
at Avon Park's Charles R. Head Field
- Compiled by TONY CASTRO
PL TEAM W L .PCT RS RA
1. East Polk County 4 1 .800 40 22
2. Chipley 3 2 .600 26 22
3. Heartland 2 2 .500 24 30
4. Desoto County 1 2 .333 15 22
4. Hernando 1 2 .333 13 18
6. Okeechobee 0 2 .000 13 15
TOTALS (6) 11 11 .500