SEBRING — Spring Hill baseball has inched close to the Packers’ moniker of Titletown.
Wednesday night at the City of Sebring’s Max Long Baseball Complex, the West Hernando County program pulled off a doubleheader sweep against previously unbeaten and host Sebring.
Spring Hill’s Senior Boys (age 14) All-Stars rode J.P. Gates and John Oliveira’s combined 15-strikeout 2-hitter in the semifinals, 4-0, to force a winner-take-all final.
Down 8-4 after 4 1⁄2 innings, the latest version of the “Boys of Summer” rallied for seven runs in the fifth and three crucial tack-on runs in the sixth to stave off Sebring, 14-10, and capture Spring Hill’s second straight 14s state title.
Skipper Mike Rado’s crew (6-1) pocketed Spring Hill’s 13th state crown — all since 2005 — by winning its last three games from the lethal losers’ bracket after getting hammered by Sebring via the 10-run mercy rule in six innings on Monday, 16-6.
Rado became Hernando County’s 13th mentor to earn a state crown. His team will represent Florida in the Aug. 2-6 12-team 52nd annual World Series in Bossier City, La.
Sebring certainly had its opportunities.
The Highlands County crew converted all 25 of its defensive chances and rapped 11 hits off four Spring Hill pitchers.
Justin Bickman paced Sebring with a 3-for-5 effort with two runs scored and three runs batted in.
Hunter Martinez, Dayvon Terry and Josh Rivera each chipped in two hits.
In a title game where both teams’ top-line pitching was exhausted, a tiring Rivera (0-1) faced 29 batters across five innings yielding 12 of Spring Hill’s game-high 16 hits and 11 runs — all earned.
Terry pitched the sixth and permitted three more earned runs on four hits.
“We didn’t play well,” explained the veteran Sebring skipper Cesar Martinez afterward. “We got out of character. Give Gates credit, he pitched a great game and momentum swung.
“In the second game, it was back-and-forth until the end,” said Coach Martinez. “I really thought we could score some runs off Gates, but we couldn’t.
“I’ve coached for 28 years. I don’t have any regrets,” added Martinez. “OK. Maybe one regret. I wish we were going to Louisiana.”
From the Spring Hill dugout, the mood was more of relief at the conclusion of the original 11-team double-elimination event.
“Even after J.P. (Gates) pitched a gem in the first game, I had my doubts (of winning),” Rado said. “I’ve never seen a team swing the bats like Sebring had this week. Gates gave us a lift and our resiliency paved the way.
“What I’m most proud of is how this group of kids never quit. Our ace (Gates) gave us a chance,” Rado said. “But as good as Sebring is, we weren’t afraid to face them. Neither team had much pitching at the end, so we needed our bats to carry us.”
On capturing his first state championship, Rado said “This is very exciting. This all started last year when we lost as 13s right here in Sebring. This is where I wanted to come back to. After all the trials and tribulations, this experience has been very satisfying. It’s been an unbelievable ride so far.”
Spring Hill played Wednesday’s games without Brennan Cross, who was sent home with a stomach virus.
“We wanted to dedicate this game to Brennan,” explained Mike Ebberup, who went 3-for-3 with three runs driven in. “We hope he gets back soon.”
In a title game where eight Spring Hill players contributed at least one hit, Zach Funkhouser led the West Hernando County crew with a 4-for-4 effort with two runs scored and a game-high four runs knocked in.
Funkhouser drilled an RBI single in the first before blasting a solo homer — his team’s fourth of the tournament — to lead off the fourth inning.
He closed out matters with RBI singles in the fifth and sixth innings.
“Both Zach (Funkhouser) and Nick (Vastano) played on my rec team,” Rado said. “They’re both great kids from great families. They both came through and seemed to rise to the occasion tonight.”
Recalling his homer,Funkhouser, 14, said “On the swing, I knew it was out. I heard a coach say, ‘That’s gone.’”
Despite his heroics, Funkhouser praised his teammates.
“Nick (Vastano) is the type of guy who comes through in the clutch,” he said. “And for Gates, what more can anyone say? He definitely got us going.
“I’d been in a slump until today,” Funkhouser said. “It’s nice to come through in a big game like this.”
Vastano, who permitted two unearned runs in 2 1/3 innings of relief to earn his second tournament win, also deflected credit to others.
“Even though we were losing, I knew my teammates have my back,” said the 14-year-old Vastano. “But give Gates credit. Without him, we don’t reach the final.
“Winning states is big. It’s exciting to be going to the World Series.”
Gates gave credit right back to Vastano.
“Give Nick (Vastano) credit, he came through in the clutch,” Gates, 14 said. “We knew they (Sebring) were having trouble with their pitching. The key was we played as a team and just kept raking.”
❖ ❖ ❖
In Saturday’s opening round, Spring Hill outhit DeSoto County, 10-4, en route to a four-inning, mercy-rule shortened win, 16-2.
Vastano earned his first tourney win behind three innings of work. He departed ahead 9-2, allowing four hits and three unearned runs. The righty did not issue a walk and fanned four.
Reagan Chapman walked one and fanned a pair in one inning of relief. Gates, Max Glenn and Oliveira each rapped two hits for the victors. The trio combined to score seven runs and knock in four.
In the first inning, Glenn got Spring Hill on the board with a run-scoring sacrifice fly.
A seven-run second inning was highlighted by RBI singles by Dakota Blevens, Glenn and Ebberup along with Oliveira’s two-run single.
In the first of two games on Sunday, Spring Hill pounded Hernando County across four innings, 13-3.
Blevens earned the mound win. He left after two innings ahead, 4-3. He yielded three runs on two hits and one walk.
Ebberup hurled three scoreless innings in relief. He allowed two hits and one free pass against five punch-outs. At the plate, Mosser paced Spring Hill going 3-for-3, plus a walk. He plated two runs and drove in four.
Not to be outdone, Gates and Oliveira each cracked two hits. They also combined for four runs scored and six RBI.
Gates led off the game with a solo homer to center before Blevens knocked in the second run of a two-run first frame with an RBI single. Oliveira chipped in a two-run single in the second.
Gates tripled home a run and subsequently scored on an RBI single by Mosser. Vastano scored the third inning’s third run on Domenick Rado’s sacrifice fly.
In a turn-out-the-lights, six-run, fourth-inning rally, Mosser emptied the bases with a three-run triple to left field before Oliveira followed with a two-run tater to left.
Ebberup’s bases-loaded walk forced home a run to close the scoring.
Spring Hill completed Sunday night’s doubleheader sweep by edging out West Volusia with two runs in the bottom of the seventh in walk-off fashion, 2-1.
After four innings on the bump, Gates earned a no-decision, trailing 1-0. He yielded one hit and five free passes against 10 strikeouts.
Oliveira came on in relief and earned the win hurling three scoreless innings. He did not issue a walk, but hit a batter against two strikeouts.
Down 1-0 in the team’s last at-bat, Funkhouser coaxed a key walked before immediately stealing second and third base.
With two outs and facing a 3-2 count, Ebberup delivered a clutch RBI double to left-center to tie the game.
With the fans on the edge of their seats, Glenn followed with a game-winning RBI double to right-center, 2-1 Spring Hill.
On Monday, Sebring outhit Spring Hill, 10-8, to roll easily, 16-6.
Ebberup, Chapman and Moran all took the mound for Spring Hill. Ebberup absorbed the loss allowing nine runs on six hits and two walks.
Oliveira paced the West Hernando County crew with a 2-for-3 effort. Oliveira’s RBI double plated Spring Hill’s first run in the first frame.
In a five-run second frame, Glenn walked with the bases loaded to force home the first run. Glenn, Domencik Rado and Ebberup all scored when Mosser belted a subsequent grand slam over the left-field fence.
Spring Hill avoided elimination by ousting West Seminole on Tuesday, 4-3.
Mosser started on the bump and hurled the first three innings. He departed trailing 3-2 allowing three runs (all earned) on two hits and five free passes against nine punch-outs.
Oliveira worked the next three-plus innings yielding one hit and no runs against four strikeouts to earn the win.
Gates claimed the save with one walk and one strikeout in the seventh.
The game ended with a flourish as Gates enticed a pitcher’s best friend – a 4-6-3 double play – turned by Ebberup, Mosser and Oliveira.
Though Spring Hill outhit West Seminole, 9-3, no local collected multiple hits.
In Wednesday night’s semifinals, Gates overcame three walks and two wild pitches to fan 12 of the 22 Sebring batters he faced across five innings. His 94-pitch effort was highlighted by four strikeouts in the third inning.
Oliveira hurled the last two innings, fanning three against no walks.
Eight of Sebring’s nine starters fanned at least once as the hosts hurt their chances at a tourney sweep stranding eight runners on bases.
Vastano, Mosser and Gates paced Spring Hill with two hits apiece.
Ebberup scored on a two-out, bases-loaded walk issued by Gabe Gomez (0-1) to Funkhouser in the bottom of the third inning to snap a scoreless tie.
Domenick Rado (fielder’s choice) and Ebberup (single) were aboard when Gates smashed a two-run double in the sixth.
In the seventh, Funkhouser doubled with two outs and immediately scored on Betz’s RBI double to left-center, 4-0.
Spring Hill American 14, Sebring 10
123 456 7 R H E
SEB 300 412 0 – 10 11 0
SH 210 173 x – 14 16 4
SEB – Rivera, Terry (6) and H. Martinez.
SH – Oliveira, Ebberup (4), Chapman (4), Vastano (5) and Betz.
W – Vastano (2-0). L – Rivera (0-1).
2B – Bickman, Terry (SEB); Gates, Oliveira, Betz (SH).
HR – Funkhouser (SH).
Records – Sebring (4-2 states), Spring Hill American (6-1 states).
2014 Dixie Senior Boys (age 14) All-Stars State Baseball Championship Tournament Recap at the City of Sebring’s Max Long Baseball Complex
Hernando County – bye
Spring Hill 16, DeSoto County 2 (4 Innings)
Okeechobee 16, East Lakeland 1
West Volusia 22, Mulberry 0
Lake Placid 17, Hardee County 7
Sebring 11, West Seminole 0
Spring Hill 13, Hernando County 3 (4)
DeSoto County 14, East Lakeland 1
Hardee County 14, Mulberry 7
West Volusia 10, Okeechobee 0
Sebring 13, Lake Placid 2
West Seminole 7, Okeechobee 3
Lake Placid 14, Hernando County 3
Hardee County 2, DeSoto County 1
Spring Hill 2, West Volusia 1 (7 Innings)
West Seminole 13, Lake Placid 5
West Volusia 7, Hardee County 6
Sebring 16, Spring Hill 6 (6)
Spring Hill 4, West Seminole 3
Sebring 13, West Volusia 6
Spring Hill 4, Sebring 0
Spring Hill 14, Sebring 10
2014 Final Dixie Senior Boys (age 14) All-Stars State Baseball Tournament Standings at the City of Sebring’s Max Long Baseball Complex
- Compiled by TONY CASTRO
PL TEAM W L .PCT RS RA
1. Spring Hill* 6 1 .857 59 35
2. Sebring 4 2 .667 63 32
3. West Volusia 3 2 .600 46 21
4. Hardee County 2 2 .500 29 29
4. Lake Placid 2 2 .500 38 33
4. West Seminole 2 2 .500 23 23
7. DeSoto County 1 2 .333 17 19
7. Okeechobee 1 2 .333 19 18
9. East Lakeland 0 2 .000 2 30
9. Hernando County 0 2 .000 6 27
9. Mulberry 0 2 .000 7 36
TOTALS (12) 21 21 .500
* Advances to Aug. 2-6 12-team World Series at Bossier City, La.
Past Florida Dixie Senior Boys (age 14) State Champions
1975 Larsen Center
1976 Northeast Pensacola
1977 Northeast Pensacola
1979 Lynn Haven
1980 Lynn Haven
1984 Lynn Haven
1985 Lynn Haven
1986 Northeast Pensacola
1987 Lynn Haven
1988 Eagle Lake
1990 Northeast Pensacola
1991 Northeast Pensacola
1992 Calhoun County
2002 Panama City-Southport
2003 Sumter County
2005 Avon Park
2006 West Volusia
2007 Panama City-Southport
2008 Spring Hill
2009 West Seminole
2010 West Seminole
2011 West Seminole
2012 Winter Haven-Florida Baseball Academy
2013 Spring Hill
2014 Spring Hill
All-Time Hernando County Dixie Baseball State Champions (1959-14/55 Seasons)
- Compiled by TONY CASTRO
YR TEAM W L .PCT COACH
1981 Brooksville Majors (ages 17-19) 5 1 .833 Ernie Chatman
1982 Brooksville Majors (ages 17-19) 5 1 .833 Ernie Chatman
1982 Brooksville Pre-Majors (ages 15-16) 5 1 .833 Chuck Alderman
1983 Brooksville Majors (ages 17-19) 6 0 1.000 Ernie Chatman
1993 Brooksville Majors (ages 17-19) 4 1 .800 Tim Sims
1995 Brooksville Majors (ages 17-19) 4 0 1.000 Tim Sims
1999 Brooksville Pre-Majors (ages 15-16) 5 1 .833 Tim Sims
2000 Brooksville Majors (ages 17-19) 4 0 1.000 Tim Sims
2005 Brooksville Pre-Majors (ages 15-16) 4 1 .800 Tim Sims
2005 Spring Hill National AAA Minors (10-U) 7 1 .875 David Smith
2008 Spring Hill Senior Boys (age 14) 5 1 .833 Mike Sollazzo
2008 Spring Hill American AAA Majors (11-12) 6 1 .857 Shawn Laferty
2010 Spring Hill National AAA Majors (11-12) 6 0 1.000 Al Sorrentino
2010 Spring Hill Pre-Majors (ages 15-16) 4 1 .800 Frank Vitale
2011 Spring Hill National AAA Majors (11-12) 7 0 1.000 Shawn Laferty
2011 Spring Hill Junior Boys (age 13) 5 0 1.000 Jeff Hamilton
2013 ## Spring Hill Boys 15-Under 3 1 .750 Anthony DiSciascio
2013 Spring Hill American AAA Minors (10-U) 6 0 1.000 Erik Andress
2013 Spring Hill Senior Boys (age 14) 6 0 1.000 Shawn Laferty
2014 Spring Hill American Majors Ozone (ages 12-13) 5 0 1.000 Joe Abbadessa
2014 Brooksville Majors (ages 17-19) 3 1 .750 Tim Sims
2014 Spring Hill American AAA Minors (10-U) 6 0 1.000 Erik Andress
2014 Spring Hill Senior Boys (age 14) 6 1 .857 Mike Rado
TOTALS (22) —13—
## Denotes co-state champions with Winter Haven