Spring Hill National’s AA Rookies (ages 7-8) All-Stars returned home sans hardware from the ninth annual Dixie Baseball Machine Pitch State Tournament at Marianna’s M.E.R.E. Complex this week.
Skipper John McMurdo’s team did set a new Hernando County mark by participating in a record nine state tilts.
In an experimental 16-team format lasting Saturday through Monday, SH National went 5-2 in pool play to place third in Pool A.
Pool play featured seven grueling games per team in 2½ days. Once the 56 pool games were completed, SH National reached the coveted final eight-team, double-elimination bracket.
Late Monday night, SH National’s fortunes reversed. The West Hernando County squad dropped its third game that day to a familiar nemesis, defending District 6 champion Bushnell, 21-11.
The following afternoon, SH National squandered a nine-run cushion after 2½ innings (14-5), to lose to Hardee County in the bottom of the sixth inning, 17-16.
Counting district play, SH National closed out its summer at 8-6 overall.
“We all wanted to go further, but I’m fine with 5-4 at states,” expressed McMurdo, whose team featured five 7-year-olds. “All things considered, we did pretty well, especially after opening the tournament on the wrong foot (a 13-0 loss to East Lakeland).
“The first game might have been all nerves. There was a lot of newness involved,” detailed McMurdo. “In the second game, we started waking up (despite falling 11-8 to West Volusia), before we won our last five rounds of pool play.”
The Panhandle’s oppressive heat never gave way to the typical afternoon thunderstorms.
“We got a break from the rain showers,” pointed Coach McMurdo. “We were almost begging for it. It would have been nice to add an additional day instead of basically playing a game every four hours.”
In the end, always-tough Sebring claimed its third state title by toppling Bushnell in Wednesday night’s tourney finale, 10-5. The state crown is Sebring’s first in this age group since 2010.
Both Sebring (11-1 at states) and Bushnell (10-3) will represent Florida in the World Series starting July 17-21 at Texarkana, Arkansas.
“Bushnell is a hard-hitting team,” described Coach McMurdo. “It didn’t surprise me to see Sebring and Bushnell in the final – they were definitely the two best teams.”
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In Game 1, behind a 13-hit barrage, East Lakeland dropped SH National. SH National countered with six safeties as no local finished with multiple hits.
Game 2 saw West Volusia lead after two innings, 5-0, en route to its triumph. West Volusia outhit Spring Hill, 17-14.
James “J.J.” Hackett paced the Hernando County nine with a solid 3-for-3 effort, featuring a single, double and a triple, two runs scored and one run batted in.
Outhitting Paxton by a 4-to-1 ratio, 24-6, SH National captured its initial state tourney win. Hernando County heroes featured Hackett, Rylan Thompson, Jacob Barnum, Raymond Groetsch and Tanner Smith, who each finished 3-for-3.
Barnum led the club with three runs scored while Thompson and Groetsch combined to knock in five runs.
In Game 4, SH National muzzled Port St. Joe in two innings, 37-0. The Hernando County squad outhit Port St. Joe, 39-1.
For the victors, Hunter Bishop, Brandon Higgins, Brady McMurdo and Barnum each rapped four hits.
Bishop’s efforts were highlighted four singles, four runs scored and three RBI compared to Barnum’s three singles, plus a triple, four runs scored and two runs knocked in.
Brady McMurdo and Higgins combined for four runs scored and six RBI. Hackett, who clubbed three doubles, plated four runs and drove in three.
Behind a 30-13 advantage in hits in Sunday night’s fifth-round game, SH National mauled Marianna, 25-9. SH plated 13 runs along the first two frames to cruise.
Barnum and Bishop sizzled finishing a combined 8-for-8 with eight runs scored and five RBI.
Smith and Thompson, who both went 3-for-3, combined to score plate six runs and drive in four runs. Carlos Gonzalez and Hackett each finished 3-for-4.
Gonzalez smacked two doubles and crushed a three-run triple to finish with a game-high six RBI.
Extending its win skein to four games, SH National outhit Franklin County, 29-6, en route to a mercy-rule shortened 20-1 triumph.
Ahead 3-0, SH National mounted a nine-run second inning to bust the game open.
Hackett led the locals with a 4-for-4 effort featuring two runs scored and three RBI.
Brady McMurdo and Bishop each collected three hits apiece. The duo combined for five runs scored. Bishop chipped in a game-high five runs knocked in.
SH National snapped a 2-all deadlock behind a 10-run second inning to whip Wesley Chapel American, 13-2.
As SH National stretched its win streak to five in a row Monday afternoon, it outhit the Pasco County crew, 18-7. Hackett paced the victors with three singles in three at-bats, while scoring two runs. Bishop and Gonzalez each finished 2-for-2.
Late Monday night, Bushnell plated 11 first-inning runs and outhit Spring Hill National, 28-20.
Barnum led the Hernando County nine with three doubles and four RBI, while scoring a pair. Bishop was right behind going 3-for-3 with three runs scored.
SH National was eliminated Tuesday as Hardee County plated two runs in the bottom of the sixth to whisk away a 17-16 victory.
Bishop paced the locals going 4-for-4 with two runs scored, plus an RBI. Hackett and Thompson combined for six hits, five runs scored and three runs driven in.
In the nine-game tourney, Bishop, who plated a team-best 20 runs, led SH National in batting going 25-for-27 (.926), followed by Hackett (.833), Groetsch (.826) and Barnum (.731).
Gonzalez led the team in RBI with 20 followed by Groetsch (18) and Barnum (17).
Dixie Baseball AA Rookies (ages 7-8) All-Stars Machine Pitch State Tourney Recap
at Marianna’s M.E.R.E. Complex.
Pool Play Results
East Lakeland 13, Spring Hill National 0 (4 Innings)
West Volusia 11, Spring Hill National 8
Spring Hill National 11, Paxton 1 (4½)
Spring Hill National 37, Port St. Joe 0 (2)
Spring Hill National 25, Marianna 9 (4)
Spring Hill National 20, Franklin County 1
Spring Hill National 13, Wesley Chapel American 2 (3½)
Final Eight-Team Bracket Results
West Volusia 15, Hardee County 3
Bushnell 21, Spring Hill National 11
Sebring 14, Wesley Chapel American 2
East Lakeland 18, West Seminole American 8
Hardee County 17, Spring Hill National 16 (5½)
West Seminole American 25, Wesley Chapel 13
Bushnell 12, West Volusia 11
Sebring 5, East Lakeland 3
East Lakeland 14, Hardee County 4
West Volusia 13, West Seminole American 9
Bushnell 16, Sebring 11
Sebring 11, West Volusia 4
East Lakeland 14, Bushnell 10
Bushnell 12, East Lakeland 7
Sebring 10, Bushnell 5
2014 Final 9th annual AA Rookies (ages 7-8) Machine Pitch State Standings
at M.E.R.E. Complex in Marianna
PL TEAM W L .PCT RS RA
1. Sebring* 11 1 .917 162 61
2. Bushnell* 10 3 .769 166 87
3. East Lakeland 8 4 .667 155 87
4. West Volusia 9 2 .818 132 72
5. West Seminole American 6 4 .500 127 99
5. Hardee County 4 6 .400 80 124
7. Spring Hill National 5 4 .556 141 75
7. Wesley Chapel American 4 5 .444 102 113
9. Marianna 3 4 .429 73 85
9. Holmes County 3 4 .429 74 63
11. Franklin County 2 5 .286 28 76
11. Paxton 2 5 .286 40 53
11. Sneads 2 5 .286 56 90
11. South Walton 2 5 .286 43 78
15. Chipley 0 7 .000 29 126
15. Port St. Joe 0 7 .000 17 141
TOTALS 71 71 .500
* Denotes advances to July 17-21 World Series at Texarkana, Arkansas.