SEBRING - Wildwood Blue T-Ball (ages 5-6) All-Stars skipper Wes Jennings can go back to his family business today - selling orange juice.
Jennings' third Dixie T-Ball summer came to a rousing conclusion Wednesday night at Sebring's Max Long Baseball Complex.
In the immortal words of British-American actor John Houseman, the District 6 champion and heavily favored Wildwood Blue nine "earned it" - sweeping a fifth-round doubleheader in the 4th annual Florida Dixie T-Ball State Tournament.
Twenty-four hours earlier, the Sumter County fans weren't as festive after suffering a stunning loss in the bottom of the sixth in walk-off fashion against feisty West Volusia, 23-22.
That upset loss left the three remaining squads in the original 12-team field in Highlands County deadlocked with identical 4-1 won-lost records.
Fortune struck the first-year Spring Hill team as head coach Craig Hotop drew a bye into Wednesday's state final.
In the semifinal tilt that teetered to the last at-bat, Jennings' team edged West Volusia in a tightrope affair, 25-23.
In the ensuing 82-minute nightcap, Wildwood Blue rode the early momentum to erect a 12-2 cushion after 1½ innings before solving Spring Hill for the third time this summer, 17-11.
The twin-bill brooming provided District 6 with its third state title in four tries. The state crown, according to District 6 director Allen Kirkland, was Wildwood Dixie Baseball's first since the AAA Majors (ages 11-12) in 2002.
"This (win) is huge for Wildwood," declared Coach Jennings. "This is my third year with this group; we're all moving up next year. We finished fifth at states two years ago and fell just short last year finishing second."
On the game's difference, "We kept the energy level up," replied Coach Jennings. "We had to keep the kids pumped up; we didn't want them to get down."
On evaluating Spring Hill, "This is my fourth year with Wildwood T-Ball and Spring Hill is the classiest team I've seen," described Coach Jennings. "Sure, the fans get on each other from time to time, but we rooted for them when they played and they rooted for us. From each of their players to all their coaches - that's a classy bunch."
From the state runners-up sideline, Coach Hotop didn't blow a gasket after going 0-for-3 against Wildwood Blue.
"Wildwood's team we couldn't play enough," Hotop said. "They challenged us every time we stepped between the lines. Every time we played them we closed the gap a little more - but that's a great team."
On the game's difference, "We couldn't fire up the bats like we did before," indicated Coach Hotop. "And defensively, we didn't play as well as we could have. The length of the tournament might have gotten the best of us. I can't fault the kids, they played hard."
"I'm most proud of how this team improved since districts through today," noted Coach Hotop. "We came into this as a coach-pitch league and continued to move in an upward trajectory.
"I don't want to say we didn't expect to be here, but anything from districts on has been the frosting on the cake," insisted Hotop. "Who expected a first-year program here? I'm so grateful for my assistant coaches; I couldn't have done this by myself. And I'm more than proud of our players' efforts."
Previously, Wildwood Blue (6-1 states, 11-1 overall) pounded Spring Hill (4-2 states, 6-4 overall) in the District 6 opener at Bushnell's Community Center, 22-10 (3½ innings), and had solved the upstart West Hernando County crew on Sunday in Sebring, 21-15.
???In a summer stretch where the Sumter County crew outscored its opponents by an average of 13 runs, Jennings' squad outhit Spring Hill in the third meeting, 17-12.
Wildwood rode its first-game energy to race to a quick lead in the nightcap.
In a six-run first inning, Wildwood Blue rapped six hits and took advantage of the first two of Spring Hill's game-high 11 errors.
The uprising was highlighted by RBI singles by Tre Rollerson, Caleb Jennings and Jay Strawder.
Trailing 6-0, Spring Hill got on the board in the bottom of the first as Andrew Ward singled before Zachary Hotop lined a gapper into right-center and circled the bases for an inside-the-park homer.
Undaunted, Wildwood Blue went back to work by lashing five hits and taking advantage of three more Spring Hill errors for a six-run second inning.
Keegan St. Amant highlighted the frame with a two-run triple to right field while Strawder added a second RBI single, 12-2.
The Sumter County crew turned its attention to its glove work in the bottom of the frame holding Spring Hill scoreless.
St. Amant lasered a throw to first sacker Austin Taynika for the first out, and fielded a smash up the middle and stepped on the second-base bag, triggering a rousing ovation from the loud and persistent Wildwood faithful.
In the third, Mikeen Harrison's fielder's choice plated Marc Stephens to extend the lead, 13-2.
Spring Hill, however, roared back sending the T-Ball maximum 10 batters to the plate in the bottom of the third scoring seven runs on six hits while pouncing on three of Wildwood Blue's eight errors.
The Hernando County club's efforts featured a two-run, inside-the-park homer to left-center by Travis Clark, a two-run double by Tyler Shugarts Jr. and a RBI double by Ward, 13-9.
Two more Spring Hill miscues permitted St. Amant to score in the fourth, 14-9. In the inning, Barnum took a hit away from Manny Solomon with a terrific throw and second sacker Hunter Richardson snared a line drive to end the frame.
Though Barnum lined to the shortstop St. Amant, who turned in a gorgeous unassisted 6-3 double play, Spring Hill's Logan Sway eventually scored on the third Wildwood error of the fourth, 14-10.
Perhaps the play of the game arrived with two on and nobody out in the bottom of the fifth.
Brandon Higgins lined a shot at Cason Cherry, who snared the ball and fired back Taynika for Wildwood Blue's second and perhaps most decisive twin killing.
Instead of a possible big inning, Spring Hill only saw Michael Rizzuto reach on a dropped fly ball allowing Hotop to score, 14-11.
Wildwood Blue tacked on three critical insurance runs in the top of sixth on three hits and the last three Spring Hill errors.
Offensively, Slone Edwards and left-handed hitting Taynika each finished a team-best 3-for-4. Both tallied two runs.
Four others - St. Amant, Rollerson, Strawder and Brady White - each chipped in two hits.
St. Amant plated a game-high three runs while six others scored twice.
For the state runners-up, Bishop, Ward, Hotop and Shugarts each rapped two safeties.
Hotop tied St. Amant with a game-high three runs scored while Ward and Sway each scored twice.
Coach Hotop gave a ceremonial game ball to Clark.
"Travis kind of symbolizes this team," noted Coach Hotop. "As he got better, so did this team. He's probably our most improved player since Day 1. His homer is a testament to how far he has worked to improve his game."
???Recapping the tourney, Spring Hill opened the event by scoring nine runs in the first inning en route to trampling Mulberry, 25-4 (4 innings).
In a 28-hit attack, Ward finished 3-for-3 with two triples and a double, three RBI and two runs scored.
In Game 2, Spring Hill forged an early 12-run cushion after 1½ innings before dispatching West Volusia in five innings, 35-21.
Though West Volusia cracked 22 hits, Spring Hill countered with a tournament-high 42 safeties.
Zach Hotop received a game ball for a terrific 5-for-5 effort at the plate featuring a three-run homer in the second and a two-run blast in the third. In all, he finished with five RBI and five runs scored.
Barnum tripled and doubled twice for five runs knocked in finishing 4-for-4 at the dish.
Wildwood Blue dropped Spring Hill into the lethal loser's bracket behind a 28-hit barrage. Spring Hill countered with 20 hits.
Richardson led the Hernando County nine with a 3-for-3 effort highlighted by a two-run single in the third and a RBI double in the sixth.
Game 4 saw Spring Hill erase host Sebring, 19-13. As Spring Hill outhit the Highlands County club, 23-21, Higgins, Shugarts and Ward each finished 3-for-4.
Higgins' efforts featured two doubles, four RBI and three runs scored. Shugarts enjoyed a RBI single in the first and second innings, and an RBI double in the fourth, plus three runs scored. Ward cracked two triples and a double, knocking in two runs and scoring thrice.
Spring Hill snapped a 13-all deadlock with five runs in the bottom of the fifth before holding on to oust Wesley Chapel Red, 18-16.
Wesley Chapel Red had eliminated Spring Hill from District 6 play in a thriller, 28-26. This time, the West Hernando County crew outhit the East Pasco County nine, 27-23.
Sway contributed the most talked about defensive play snaring a fly ball in center and racing to the second base bag for an inning-ending double play in the fourth.
At the plate, Zach Hotop finished 4-for-4 with a tourney-high six RBI. He launched a solo homer in the first, two triples that plated three runs, along with a two-run double.
McMurdo enjoyed his best day at the dish going 3-for-3 highlighted by a two-run double in the second and a two-run single in the pivotal fifth frame. McMurdo finished with four RBI and three runs scored.
Barnum added a 3-for-3 effort with one double and three runs scored.
Wildwood Blue 17, Spring Hill 11
123 456 R H E
WW 661 103 - 17 17 8
SH 207 110 - 11 12 11
2B -Shugarts (2), Ward, Groetsch (SH).
3B - St. Amant (WW), Bishop (SH).
HR - Hotop, Clark (SH).
Records - Wildwood Blue (6-1 states, 11-1 overall), Spring Hill (4-2 states, 6-4 overall).
2013 4th annual Dixie T-Ball (ages 5-6) State Tournament
at Sebring's Max Long Baseball Complex
Sebring 21, Hardee County 7
Wildwood Blue 26, West Seminole American 14
Spring Hill 25, Mulberry 4 (3½ Innings)
West Volusia 32, Ponce de Leon 3 (4)
Wesley Chapel Red 16, Okeechobee American 5 (4½)
Brooksville 27, Paxton 6 (4)
Okeechobee 21, Paxton 10
Mulberry 34, Ponce de Leon 23
West Seminole American 19, Hardee County 16
Wesley Chapel Red 17, Brooksville 9
Spring Hill 34, West Volusia 21
Wildwood Blue 18, Sebring 7
Okeechobee 29, Mulberry 17
West Volusia 30, West Seminole American 8
Sebring 24, Brooksville 7
Wildwood Blue 21, Spring Hill 15
West Volusia 28, Okeechobee 7 (3½)
Spring Hill 19, Sebring 13
Wildwood Blue 21, Wesley Chapel Red 10 (4½)
Spring Hill 18, Wesley Chapel Red 16
West Volusia 23, Wildwood Blue 22
Spring Hill - bye
Wildwood Blue 25, West Volusia 23
Wildwood Blue 17, Spring Hill 11
2013 4th annual T-Ball (ages 5-6) Tourney Standings
at Sebring's Max Long Baseball Complex
- Compiled by TONY CASTRO
PL TEAM W L .PCT RS RA
1. Wildwood Blue 6 1 .857 150 103
2. Spring Hill 4 2 .667 122 92
3. West Volusia 4 2 .667 157 99
4. Wesley Chapel Red 2 2 .500 59 53
5. Sebring 2 2 .500 65 51
5. Okeechobee American 2 2 .500 62 71
7. Mulberry 1 2 .333 55 77
7. West Seminole 1 2 .333 41 72
7. Brooksville 1 2 .333 43 47
10. Paxton 0 2 .000 16 48
10. Ponce de Leon 0 2 .000 26 66
10. Hardee County 0 2 .000 23 40
TOTALS 23 23 .500
By the Numbers: Past T-Ball (ages 5-6) State Champions (2010-13)
- Compiled by TONY CASTRO
2010 Wesley Chapel American
2011 West Volusia American
2012 Wesley Chapel American
2013 Wildwood Blue