Three times playing Heartland proved one too many for the Hernando Pre-Majors (ages 15-17) All-Stars.
The local club composed of Hernando High junior varsity and varsity talent finished runner-up in the state tournament at Charles R. Head Field in Avon Park.
Hernando went 2-2 in the three-team event that began Saturday, dropping Tuesday's championship game to Heartland — representing Highlands County — by a score of 10-5.
"I thought the Pre-Majors group, the effort they brought was outstanding," said Hernando High head coach Tim Sims, who helmed the Pre-Majors. "To play in the heat and give that effort, their intensity level was definitely the best of any team in the tournament. They were hungry."
In Saturday's opening round, Hernando downed defending state champ Chipley, 11-2. Trae Ratliff, an All-County selection coming off a fine junior season with the Leopards, tossed a 2-hitter, striking out eight over five innings of work.
Also in that game, Brooks Timmons went 3-for-5 with a pair of doubles and three RBIs. Rich Wilkes was 2-for-3, smacking a double and driving in two runs.
After a bye Sunday, Hernando faced Heartland twice, with both teams having a chance to take home the state crown behind a doubleheader sweep.
Heartland took the first contest, 8-5, despite Hernando taking a five-run lead in the first inning. Kyle Kilbourne and Justin Young each finished 1-for-3 with two RBIs.
Hernando bounced back to force a winner-take-all finale, capturing the second game on Monday, 6-3.
Kilbourne earned the win, pitching four frames, giving up two runs (one earned) while permitting four hits and walking one against four strikeouts.
Offensively, Wilkes blasted a solo home run. Ratliff was 2-for-3 at the plate, and threw two-plus innings to earn the save.
However, Hernando couldn't replicate that performance on Tuesday. Timmons hit a solo homer in the championship game. Wilkes went 1-for-3 with a double, and Young had two hits.
The victory meant Heartland earned a trip to the World Series, held July 28-Aug. 1 in Guntersville, Ala.
"They're a pretty solid team," Sims said of Heartland. "But it was a good learning experience. We found out Justin Young is ready to play, and Kilbourne is ready to get in there and compete for a spot, and (Andrew) Zabriskie."
The Majors (ages 17-19) All-Stars State Tournament, held at the same venue, saw Hernando go 1-2.
A squad made up of the top players from the past two Leopards teams that reached the Final Four and Elite Eight respectively was coached by Donnie Whitehead.
Hernando dropped a heartbreaker, 2-1, to Polk County on Saturday, then beat Marion County on Sunday, 7-1, and lost to Heartland on Monday, 8-4.
In the Polk defeat, J.T. Simpson tossed a complete game, permitting one earned run on five hits and a walk. He struck out eight.
Louis Colaiacomo was 1-for-3, scoring on a base hit by Ian Townsend. Hernando left nine men on base overall.
Andrew McNeal earned the win against Marion with a six-inning effort. He allowed one run, yielding two hits and a walk with 10 strikeouts.
Townsend notched a grand slam among his two hits. Tyler Bammert chipped in a 2-for-3 showing, including a double and RBI. Simpson added a double and RBI, as well.
The next day, Townsend went 3-for-4 and smashed a couple of solo bombs. Brandon Gemmiti had two doubles, and Jimmy Diven registered two hits with a double and run scored.
Hernando was down only 2-1 in the fifth, when two errors followed a walk and a double. By the end of the inning, Heartland led 7-1.
"You could see we hadn't been playing as a unit," Sims said. "We were rusty in some areas. But the effort was there.
"This was a tournament where the teams were evenly matched. Heartland ended up winning it. They were definitely the best defensive team there and had clutch hitting the whole time. So they were hottest team."