Spring Hill American's AAA Minors (ages 11-12) All-Stars returned home Thursday morning following a fine 3-2 state stay in Highlands County.
The District 6 runners-up from West Hernando County opened the 12-team State Tournament with a trio of scintillating wins in three days over Callaway (15-5), West Seminole (8-6) and District 6 champion Bushnell (9-8).
The local club nearly made it four in a row.
On Tuesday, the American nine trailed 12-7 entering its final at-bat against host Sebring.
Head coach Joe Abbadessa's club, which battled back time and time again, tallied four runs – three on a bases-clearing double by Zach Stone – and had runners at the corners with two out.
That's when Spring Hill's Chase Davis ripped a shot that was grabbed in short left field and relayed to second base for the final out on a bang-bang call, 12-11.
On Wednesday, Spring Hill allowed seven early runs (only two earned) along the first two frames before being eliminated by West Seminole, 8-5.
"Wednesday was one of those games where we made contact (Spring Hill hitters struck twice), but we couldn't find any grass," shrugged Coach Abbadessa. "We consistently hit the bad hard – but right at people. That's baseball. To win a tournament like this, sometimes you have to be lucky, too."
Incredibly, Spring Hill American averaged nearly 11 runs per game in its three wins. Despite scoring 16 runs in its final two games, the local team was shown the exit finishing fourth overall in the double-elimination format.
Abbadessa, who guided Spring Hill to a 2-2 run at states 2011, was disappointed with the final two scores but not with his team's performance.
"If I had regret I regret us making two pitches that eventually cost us two homers and seven runs," said Abbadessa. "We thought going in if we shored up our defense that our bats would be there – and they were. Offensively, our bats were fine.
"Like everyone else we could have used one more arm. Who knows what would have happened if we would have had one more arm?" he said. "When I left this tournament I was disappointed in one thing. I think we could have been the best team there. There were 4-5 teams that could have easily won this tournament; there was a lot of parity."
Coach Abbadessa wishes his team could have reversed Tuesday's nail-biting loss to Sebring.
To Abbadessa, his team's highlight arrived 24 hours earlier in solving Bushnell.
"That was one big mental hurdle for us," pointed out Abbadessa. "They beat us two years ago and then beat us twice in districts. Finally getting a 'W' against those guys meant a lot."
In Game 1 versus Callaway, Jonathan McMath received the game's Most Valuable Player award after a stellar 3-for-3 effort featuring three singles, three runs scored and one run batted in.
Logan Blevens could have been considered for MVP behind a solid 3-for-4 effort including a triple, three runs scored and one RBI.
On the hill, Zeth Rodriguez earned the win hurling the fourth and fifth frames. Rodriguez allowed one hit, no runs and one walk against three strikeouts.
Defensively, second sacker Davis took a hit away by making an over-the-shoulder grab in the top of the fifth.
In Game 2 versus West Seminole, Yoskar Lopez opened the game hurling four-plus innings. Lopez was charged with four runs (all earned), allowing four hits and two walks against four strikeouts.
Rodriguez replaced Lopez in the fifth and worked the last two frames to earn his second state win. All told, Rodriguez allowed two runs (one earned) and did not issue a walk.
For the second straight game, McMath walked away with game's MVP award. McMath finished 3-for-4 with two singles and a double featuring three RBI and two runs scored.
Not that McMath was alone.Zach Stone finished 2-for-3, plus a walk, featuring two doubles and three RBI.
Ryan Richard drove in the tying run with a clutch base hit. Jason Bienstock drove in the go-ahead run with a double.
In Game 3 versus Bushnell, McMath did a yeoman's job on the bump. It was hoped that McMath could work two innings against the potent Bushnell bats.
Instead, McMath pitched four-plus frames. He allowed eight runs, but only three were earned. McMath yielded seven free passes against three strikeouts.
Jaden Rivera worked the last two innings allowing one hit – a grand slam – while not issuing a walk. Rivera earned the mound win when Spring Hill rallied.
There were two notable defensive gems. Bienstock collected a base hit in left field and fired a perfect peg to the plate for one huge out.
Lopez pulled off an impressive play with two outs in the sixth. On a ball blasted over his head in center, on a dead sprint, he left his feet and fully extended, taking at least a double away.
Offensively, Rivera sizzled with a 2-for-3 effort featuring a single and a double, with one run scored and two runs batted in. David Abbadessa went 1-for-2 with a run scored and one RBI.
In the bottom of sixth with Lopez aboard on a walk, Abbadessa sacrificed him to second.
With two outs, Richard doubled over the center fielder's head to drive in Lopez with the game-winner. Lopez was named the game's MVP.
In Game 4 versus Sebring, less than 24 later, Lopez was tagged with the loss against the Highlands County crew, working 1 1/3 innings. He was Spring Hill's third pitcher behind Rodriguez and Stone.
Offensively, Rivera led the attack with a fine 3-for-3 effort, featuring two doubles, plus an intentional walk, one run scored and a team-high three RBI.
Bienstock finished 2-for-3 with three runs scored and one RBI. McMath went 1-for-2 with two runs scored and one RBI. Lopez added a 2-for-2 effort plus a walk and two RBI.
Both Stone and Davis each finished 1-for-4. Stone drove in three runs with a bases-clearing double in the sixth.
In Game 5 against West Seminole, of Spring Hill's three pitchers, Dylan Najuch was the most effective working two-plus innings allowing one run on three walks.
McMath, the starter, suffered the loss allowing three first-inning runs (one earned) and four runs (one earned) in the second.
In a game where Spring Hill's "Big Three" of McMath, Bienstock and Stone went a combined 0-for-8, Lopez and Davis each had a hit and knocked in one run.
Additionally, Richard drove in pair with a double.
Dixie Baseball AAA Minors (ages 11-12) All-Stars State Tournament Recap
at Sebring's Max Long Sports Complex
West Seminole 14, Marianna 1
Spring Hill American 15, Callaway 5 (3 Inns.)
Bushnell 6, Lake Placid 4
East Lakeland 11, South Walton 10
Sebring 9, Mulberry 1
Calhoun County 8, Holmes County 5
Holmes County 11, Mulberry 7
Lake Placid 4, South Walton 2
Marianna 7, Callaway 3
Sebring 11, Calhoun County 0
Bushnell 18, East Lakeland 5
Spring Hill American 8, West Seminole 6
West Seminole 12, Calhoun County 0 (4 Inns.)
Lake Placid 14, Holmes County 4
Marianna 13, East Lakeland 7
Spring Hill American 9, Bushnell 8 (5½ Inns.)
West Seminole 5, Bushnell 1
Lake Placid 5, Marianna 0
Sebring 12, Spring Hill American 11
West Seminole 8, Spring Hill American 5
Lake Placid 10, Sebring 5
Lake Placid – bye (wins coin flip)
Sebring 15, West Seminole 13
Sebring 4, Lake Placid 1
Final Dixie Baseball AAA Minors (ages 11-12) All-Stars State Tournament Standings
PL TEAM W L .PCT RS RA
1. Sebring 5 1 .833 56 55
2. Lake Placid 4 2 .667 38 21
3. West Seminole 4 2 .667 58 30
4. Spring Hill American 3 2 .600 48 39
5. Bushnell 2 2 .500 33 23
5. Marianna 2 2 .500 21 29
7. East Lakeland 1 2 .333 23 41
7. Holmes County 1 2 .333 20 29
7. Calhoun County 1 2 .333 09 28
10. South Walton 0 2 .000 12 15
10. Mulberry 0 2 .000 08 20
10. Callaway 0 2 .000 08 22
TOTALS 23 23 .500