On the Fourth of July, West Volusia's AA Rookies (ages 7-8) All-Stars returned home with the tallest hardware in the six-day, 31-game, machine-pitch State Tourney at Wildwood's Millennium Park.
After rain delays impacted the initial 29 games - on opening day six-hour delays set the tone for the rest of the week - West Volusia (5-1) denied defending state champ West Seminole (5-2) a title repeat, 5-4.
The state's top two teams will represent Florida in the July 27 AA Rookies Regional Tournament at Waterboro, S.C.
For its part, Spring Hill American did not return home empty-handed.
The county's lone entry in a crowded 16-team field departed Sumter County tied for fifth place behind a solid 3-2 run. SH American was ousted late Tuesday night by West Seminole, 4-1.
SH American opened the event on the wrong foot with a hard-to-swallow 2-1 loss to West Volusia before piecing together a three-game win streak.
Facing elimination, SH American expunged Freeport (11-2), Marianna (10-1) and East Lakeland (10-5).
For their efforts, first-year skipper Kip Fleming and his crew were awarded the tourney's Sportsmanship Award.
"Getting the Sportsmanship Award is huge," declared Fleming, whose team finished the summer with a composite 7-4 overall won-lost mark. Moreover, it tied Hernando County's finest state efforts in this age division with Bruce Price's 2007 Brooksville National nine and Kevin Bittinger's 2011 Brooksville squad. "This goes back to what we instilled in our kids and great fans.
"There were so many rain delays; we did our part to be good neighbors," recalled Coach Fleming. "This wasn't our park, but we just pitched in. All of our coaches helped roll out and roll up the tarps. . I was proud of how our fans and kids pitched in to clean up our dugout and our areas after we played.
"Another thing was we didn't have any issues with the umps. And there were no issues with our fans," he added. "Obviously someone caught notice of that.
"Honestly, this is a great award and it speaks volumes for our kids, our parents and our league," detailed Coach Fleming. "But we had our eyes set on the largest (first-place) trophy all along."
In evaluating the team's efforts, Fleming could not skip past the nail-biting opening-game loss to the eventual state champions.
"We drew the toughest team out of the gate and played one heck of a game," described Coach Fleming. "Looking back, had we won that game we might still be playing."
On what he told his somber team after that painful loss, "That's supposed to be the best team in here and we played them toe-to-toe," recalled Fleming. "I told the kids they had to forget that game and move on."
Recapping Game 1, SH American outhit West Volusia, 7-6, but the winners snapped a 1-all tie in the bottom of the fourth for the victory.
Down 1-0 in the top of the fourth inning, SH American's Dylan Day reached on a fielder's choice and scored on a two-out RBI single by one of the "Bash Bros," Sam Sanchez.
On the brink of elimination, SH American tallied six first-inning runs to never look back in folding Freeport in five innings.
Day, Sanchez, Caden Bergantino, the other "Bash Bro" Layne Mathis and Izabell LaRoche each went 2-for-3 to pace the 14-hit attack.
Bergantino and Day each scored two runs and Mathis enjoyed the team's lone extra-base hit with a double.
In the first of a twin bill on Monday, SH American again jumped out of the gate quickly scoring seven first-frame runs en route to a nod in 5½ innings over Marianna.
Marianna generated only three hits while Spring Hill cranked out a game-high 17.
Day again led the hit parade with a sterling 3-for-3 effort featuring three singles and two runs scored.
Bergantino finished 2-for-3 with a double and a triple and plated two runs. Mathis and Jaxen Gates each went 2-for-3. Mathis' evening included a RBI triple.
Not to be outdone, Brant Davis and Nick Franklin each finished 2-for-2. Sanchez went 1-for-3, but his two-run, inside-the-park homer in the opening frame highlighted the seven-run uprising.
In the nightcap of Monday night's doubleheader, SH American rallied from a two-run deficit after 2½ innings to plate three runs in the third and tack on four more in the fourth to oust East Lakeland in 5½ frames.
In the 18-hit onslaught, Day led the winners with a 3-for-3 effort with three singles and three runs scored.
Six others - including Bergantino, Gates, Davis, Kannin Fleming, Brian "Rabbit" Seaman and James Hurd IV - all contributed two hits.
LaRoche went 1-for-3 with a triple and Mathis went 1-for-3 with a two-bagger.
In the fifth-round tilt against West Seminole the West Hernando County crew was outhit, 10-6.
Day and Franklin paced SH American at the plate, going 2-for-2 with four singles. Franklin drove in LaRoche with SH American's only run in the bottom of the sixth.
LaRoche and Bergantino each finished 1-for-2.
Day, who finished 10-for-13 (.769) in the tourney, was considered the team's MVP.
"Not only did Dylan play an outstanding shortstop, he had an awesome tournament," pointed out Coach Fleming. "He and Layne carried us the last three games."
Coach Fleming also praised the work of his catcher LaRoche, saying "she was terrific behind the plate," and his son, Kannin, who wore a safety helmet and played "pitcher" on defense.
"Kannin really surprised me with how well he played, considering the helmet he wore," said his father. "He laid out for a couple of great catches."
Coach Fleming gave the proverbial badge of courage award to Bergantino. Bergantino played despite a severe stomach virus. Immediately after Tuesday night's game, he was rushed to a local hospital.
"I went out there and Caden would not come out of the game," recalled Coach Bergantino on a visit to the outfield when Bergantino took a knee. "I can't believe how mentally tough this kid is. When I got to the hospital, he's still got his uniform on.
"As far as I'm concerned, the kid literally played his guts out. He's a special kid in my book."
2013 Final AA Rookies (ages 7-8) Machine-Pitch State Tourney Recap
at Wildwood's Millennium Park
Franklin County 16, Malone 4
West Seminole American 15, Graceville 0 (3½ Innings)
Wildwood 17, Freeport 1 (5)
West Volusia 2, Spring Hill American 1
Marianna 5, Okeechobee 2
Wesley Chapel Royal 13, Paxton 1 (4)
Hardee County 14, Port St. Joe 1 (5)
East Lakeland 2, Calhoun County 1
Calhoun County 11, Port St. Joe 2 (5)
Okeechobee 17, Paxton 2 (4)
Spring Hill American 11, Freeport 2 (5)
Graceville 16, Malone 2 (5)
Hardee County 3, East Lakeland 1
Wesley Chapel Royal 21, Marianna 0 (4)
West Volusia 12, Wildwood 4 (5)
West Seminole American 19, Franklin County 4 (3.5)
Calhoun County 14, Franklin County 5 (5)
Okeechobee 11, Wildwood 4
Spring Hill American 10, Marianna 1
East Lakeland 7, Graceville 3
Hardee County 9, Wesley Chapel Royal 8
West Volusia 6, West Seminole American 3
Calhoun County 17, Okeechobee 7
Spring Hill American 10, East Lakeland 5
Wesley Chapel Royal 15, Calhoun County 4 (5)
West Seminole American 4, Spring Hill American 1
Hardee County 5, West Volusia 4
West Volusia 5, Wesley Chapel Royal 4 (5.5)
West Seminole American 4, Hardee County 0
West Volusia - bye
West Seminole American 4, Hardee County 0
West Volusia 5, West Seminole American 4
2013 Final AA Rookies (ages 7-8) Machine-Pitch State Tourney Standings
at Wildwood's Millennium Park
- Compiled by TONY CASTRO
PL TEAM W L .PCT RS RA
1. West Volusia* 5 1 .833 34 21
2. West Seminole American* 5 2 .714 53 16
3. Hardee County 4 2 .667 31 22
4. Wesley Chapel Royal 3 2 .600 61 19
5. Spring Hill American 3 2 .600 33 14
5. Calhoun County 3 2 .600 47 31
7. East Lakeland 2 2 .500 15 17
7. Okeechobee 2 2 .500 37 28
9. Wildwood 1 2 .333 25 24
9. Franklin County 1 2 .333 25 37
9. Graceville 1 2 .333 19 24
9. Marianna 1 2 .333 06 33
13. Malone 0 2 .000 06 32
13. Port St. Joe 0 2 .000 03 25
13. Freeport 0 2 .000 03 28
13. Paxton 0 2 .000 03 30
TOTALS (16) 31 31 .500
* Denotes advancement to July 27 AA Rookies Regional Tourney at Waterboro, S.C.