Imagine the United States’ finest pioneers.
The immortal names range from Lewis and Clark, Jim Thorpe, Jackie Robinson, Babe Zaharias, Muhammad Ali and Babe Ruth.
The Spring Hill AAA Minors All-Stars celebrate their World Series championship Thursday in Lexington, S.C. Front row, from left: Aiden Leskauskas, Quintin Hotop, Izzy LaRoche and Caden Bergantino. Middle row, from left: Sammy Sanchez, Owen Andress, Sal LoDuca, Jacob Kelly, Riley Cullum, Talon Bergantino, Jaxon Newhall and Gavin McMurdo. Back row, from left: coaches Mike Cullum, Erik Andress and Mike Bergantino. COURTESY PHOTO
Each conquered their own environment under extreme odds to reach a summit of distinction.
The same can be said for skipper Erik Andress’ vaunted Spring Hill American AAA Minors (ages 9-10) All-Stars, aka Team Florida, which rallied from the loser’s bracket in Lexington, S.C. to eliminate five teams in four days during the 12-team, 17th annual Dixie Baseball World Series.
Forced to sweep a doubleheader on Thursday at the Lexington Sports Complex, Andress’ club did just that, hammering 19 hits to oust Nacogdoches, Texas, 20-11, to face the talented, one-loss Delmae, S.C. crew from nearby Florence in the nightcap.
In the final, Spring Hill jumped ahead 7-1 through 3½ innings, riding right-hander Jacob Kelly before the team’s third hurler, shortstop-turned-reliever Riley Cullum, earned the clutch save tossing two innings of shutout relief to close out an 8-4 victory.
In the process, Spring Hill’s 12th team to ever reach a World Series returned home with the league’s first-ever World Series crown.
Andress’ club joins rare air. The county’s only previous World Series champs were the Hernando Majors (ages 17-19) All-Stars in 1983 and 2000.
Returning home with a 17-2 (.895) won-lost slate this summer, Andress admitted his team’s resolve was based on its approach.
“It all started in practice. We practiced hard. We made sure that kids played one game at a time and the parents did a terrific job of making sure their kids got some rest,” recalled Andress, who is a combined 30-5 (.857) over the past two seasons. “We were very fortunate that our kids came in rested and focused, especially for kids that are this young.
“I just asked them to play every game like it was their last; it really was. After we lost to Texas (9-4 in Sunday’s second round), we knocked out five teams,” he added. “This place (Lexington) is special. We may never be in a place like this again.”
In returning home with their fifth trophy in two summers (to go with two District 6 titles and two state titles), “This was an awesome experience,” said Andress. “It’s special when we’re the first ones from our league to do this. I told my son (catcher Owen Andress) on the way home, ‘From here on out you guys will always be remembered as the first ones to win this.’”
Individually, Coach Andress sprinkled praise on Talon Bergantino, who pitched a 4 1/3 gutsy innings against Texas in the World Series semifinal.
“We needed to save (Jacob) Kelly some innings for the finals. Talon took one for the team. Offensively, he hit screamers all tournament long.
“What can I say about Riley (Cullum)? He’s in another universe,” said Andress. “The kid isn’t fazed about anything. Our defining moment came at Bushnell (District 6 final against South Lake) when we came back from a 10-1 deficit when we inserted Riley on the hill. When we needed to put out the fire against a great South Carolina team, he calmly went about his business.
“Kelly and Aiden (Leskauskus) and Sammy (Sanchez) all stepped up their play in the World Series,” detailed Andress. “In the championship, our bottom five hitters scored all eight runs. That tells you every one of our guys got it done.”
Inside the dugout, “I’m so proud of our coaches, too” expressed Coach Andress. “Those guys don’t get enough credit, but without Mike (Bergantino) and Mike (Cullum) we don’t win. They challenged me. Their input was so invaluable. They’re a huge part of what we do.”
“I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the overwhelming community support. Their financial support was a huge key to our success,” added Coach Andress. “Not a single parent missed out on making it to Lexington.
“Joe (Abbadessa, Spring Hill director), was phenomenal again with anything we needed. And our local directors, (District 6) Allen Kirkland and (state) Tony Smith backed us the whole time.”
❖ ❖ ❖
Spring Hill was rained out from playing last Saturday, but opened Sunday on the right note via an 8-2 win over Texarkana West, Ark..
Kelly earned the first of his four World Series mound victories working three scoreless innings and departing with a 7-0 cushion. Kelly restricted Arkansas to one hit and one walk against four strikeouts.
In a four-run second inning, Jaxon Newhall scored on a passed ball, Caden Bergantino scored on throwing error by the Arkansas catcher and Talon Bergantino clubbed a two-run triple plating Cullum and Leskauskas, 6-0.
In the second game of Sunday’s twin bill, Texas broke open a tentative 1-0 lead with seven runs in the third inning en route to a convincing 9-4 win.
Talon Bergantino paced Team Florida at the plate with a 2-for-3 effort highlighted by a single and a double and two runs driven in.
In a two-run third, Leskauskas reached on a bases-loaded walk permitting Sal LoDuca to score. McMurdo scored on Talon Bergantino’s RBI single.
In the two-run fifth, Leskauskas reached on a fielder’s choice and scored on Talon Bergantino’s RBI double. Bergantino scored the final run on a throwing error.
The drive for the World Series crown began Monday with authority as Florida crushed Springfield, Tenn., via the four-inning 10-run mercy rule, 12-0.
Kelly improved to 2-0 in the series behind three shutout innings. He departed ahead, 8-0. Kelly surrendered three hits and one free pass against four strikeouts.
At the plate, Kelly and Leskauskas each finished 3-for-3. The duo combined for five runs scored and six RBI.
Talon Bergantino, Cullum and Sanchez each finished 2-for-3. Bergantino smashed two doubles while Cullum and Sanchez each rapped a two-bagger.
A five-run fifth was highlighted by Cullum doubling and scoring on Leskauskas’ RBI single. Talon Bergantino, Kelly and Sanchez each struck back-to-back-to-back doubles before Andress’ fielder’s choice plated Sanchez, 8-0.
Trailing 3-2 through four frames to Lexington, S.C., Florida rallied for the game’s final six runs across their last two-at-bats to solve the tourney hosts Tuesday, 8-3.
Despite notching five punch-outs against zero walks and not allowing a run on three hits across three frames, Kelly claimed a no-decision.
Sanchez, who yielded three runs on five hits across the next three frames, earned the mound win in relief.
At the plate, T. Bergantino and Leskauskas each went 2-for-4 and combined for three runs scored and five runs knocked in.
In a two-run first, Cullum reached on a throwing error by the Lexington shortstop. Talon Bergantino followed with a two-run home run over the left-field fence.
Down 3-2 in the fifth, Cullum coaxed a key walk before Leskauskas cracked an RBI double to right-center to knot the game.
In the four-run fifth, Kelly’s single drove in Leskauskas before Sanchez’s two-bagger plated Kelly. Sanchez eventually scored on a passed ball.
In Wednesday’s Game 5, Florida survived three errors and snapped a 4-all deadlock with three runs in the top of the sixth to dispatch dangerous Hope Mills, N.C., 7-5.
Talon Bergantino hurled the first three frames allowing two hits and no runs and four walks against five strikeouts.
Kelly, the team’s third pitcher, yielded one run in 1 1/3 of relief. He issued one free pass against two punch-outs to claim his third series win.
Cullum paced Spring Hill’s nine-hit attack with a perfect 3-for-3 effort with two runs scored and two runs knocked in. Not to outdone, Kelly finished 3-for-4 with three singles.
Tied at 4-4, a critical three-run sixth-inning rally featured Hotop and Newhall reaching on singles sandwiched between an Owen Andress walk to load the sacks. Cullum’s RBI plated Hotop before Talon Bergantino reached on a throwing error permitting Newhall and Cullum to score.
In Thursday’s semifinal, holding a tentative 12-10 lead through five frames, Spring Hill stepped on the gas pedal for eight sixth-inning runs.
Talon Bergantino earned his first series mound victory surviving eight hits and seven runs along with four walks against three strikeouts across 4 1/3 frames.
Offensively, Cullum and Kelly each went 3-for-5 and combined for four runs scored and six runs batted in. Talon Bergantino finished 3-for-4 and plated three runs.
Sanchez went 2-for-5 highlighted by a three-run homer over the left-field fence in the sixth inning. Newhall chipped in a 2-for-2 effort with three runs scored, plus an RBI.
In the final, Spring Hill converted all 24 of its defensive chances. Second sacker Leskauskas paced the glove gems with seven perfect chances and six putouts.
On the rubber, Kelly was masterful facing 20 batters across four frames to collect his fourth series win and improve to 8-1 during the summer.
In his stint, Kelly yielded two runs (one earned) on six hits. He walked a pair and fanned five stranding six South Carolina runners on base.
Ahead 7-1 in the bottom of the fourth, Delmae loaded the sacks.
With no outs, Kelly was at his best enticing Blake Smith to pop out to Leskauskas before permitting a sacrifice fly to plate Ty Suggs. He extricated himself fanning Derek Smith looking at a called strike three.
Sanchez replaced Kelly on the mound in the fifth but was ineffective. He permitted a Shawn Jackson single and back-to-back walks to Orlando Hudson and Lee Granger.
At this point, Coach Andress opted for the unflappable Cullum.
Despite not throwing one pitch in the series, Cullum didn’t allow the moment to overwhelm him.
Suggs reached on an infield single plating Jackson and Billy Barlow’s sacrifice fly scored Hudson. Suggs, however, was thrown out at third base attempting to tag up from second.
After Josh Williams was hit by a pitch, Blake Smith grounded out to first sacker Talon Bergantino for the third out.
With one out in the sixth, Austin Caraway coaxed a walk.
As Shawn Jackson grounded out, Caraway rounded second base too far and was caught in a rundown where the ever-present Leskauskas applied the tag for the final out.
In the two-run Florida second inning, Sanchez reached on an error before Izzy LaRoche singled to right.
With one out, the team’s No. 8 batter, Hotop, coaxed a pivotal free pass to load the sacks.
Delmae’s starting pitcher, Granger, walked Newhall on a 3-2 pitch to force home Sanchez.
LoDuca, the team’s 10th batter, hit a bad-hop single to left plating LaRoche and Hotop.
McMurdo hit into a fielder’s choice scoring Newhall, 4-0.
In the bottom of the second, Derek Smith’s RBI double plated Williams to trim the lead to 4-1.
A three-run Florida fourth-inning rally featured LaRoche reaching on a walk before Owen Andress rifled a single to right field, where the outfielder allowed the ball to scoot under his glove for an error permitting LaRoche to score.
Hotop grounded into a fielder’s choice plating Andress. With one out, Newhall was plunked by a pitch and advanced to second on a passed ball. Cullum poked an RBI single to right plating Newhall, 7-1.
Holding a precarious 7-4 cushion entering the top of the sixth, Hotop coaxed another key free pass from reliever Barlow.
Two passed balls pushed Hotop to third before Cullum looped a clutch two-out RBI single to left-center for the game’s final run.
World Series Championship
Spring Hill, Florida 8, Delmae, S.C. 4
123 456 R H E
SC 010 120 – 4 8 2
FLA 040 301 – 8 7 0
FLA – Kelly, Sanchez (5), Cullum (5) and Andress.
SC – Granger, Barlow (4) and Barlow, Hudson, Granger (4).
W – Kelly (4-0 series, 8-1 overall). L – Granger.
2B – Osbourne, D. Smith (SC).
Records – Spring Hill, Florida (6-1 series, 17-2 overall), South Carolina (4-2 series).
Final 17th Dixie Baseball AAA Minors (ages 9-10) All-Stars World Series Results
at the Lexington Sports Complex in Lexington, S.C.
Springfield, Tennessee 14, Perry, Georgia 13
Lexington, S.C. 4, Kosciusko, Mississippi 2
Delmae, S.C. 11, Fairhope National, Alabama 4
Hope Mills, N.C. 8, Shreveport, Louisiana 7
Spring Hill, Fla. 8, Texarkana West, Arkansas 2
Nacogdoches, Texas 4, Rustburg, Virginia 3
Texarkana West, Arkansas 9, Rustburg, Virginia 5
Fairhope National, Alabama 11, Shreveport, Louisiana 6
Kosciusko, Mississippi 14, Perry, Georgia 5
Nacogdoches, Texas 9, Spring Hill, Fla. 4
Hope Mills, N.C. 7, Delmae, S.C. 6
Lexington, S.C. 7, Springfield, Tennessee 4
Delmae, S.C. 7, Kosciusko, Mississippi 1
Fairhope National, Alabama 14, Texarkana West, Arkansas 6
Spring Hill, Fla. 12, Springfield, Tennessee 0 (4 Innings)
Hope Mills, N.C. 12, Lexington, S.C. 8
Delmae, S.C. 7, Fairhope National, Alabama 1
Spring Hill, Fla. 8, Lexington, S.C. 3
Nacogdoches, Texas 13, Hope Mills, N.C. 4
Spring Hill, Fla. 7, Hope Mills, N.C. 5
Delmae, S.C.16, Nacogdoches, Texas 14
South Carolina – drew bye
Spring Hill, Fla. 20, Nacogdoches, Texas 11
Spring Hill, Fla. 8, Delmae, S.C. 4
Final 17th Dixie Baseball AAA Minors (ages 9-10) All-Stars World Series Standings
– Compiled by TONY CASTRO
PL TEAM W L .PCT RS RA
1. Spring Hill, Fla. 6 1 .857 67 29
2. Delmae, S.C. 4 2 .667 51 35
3. Nacogdoches, Texas 3 2 .600 38 47
4. Hope Mills, N.C. 3 2 .600 36 41
5. Lexington, S.C. 2 2 .500 22 26
5. Fairhope National, Ala. 2 2 .500 30 30
7. Kosciusko, Miss. 1 2 .333 17 16
7. Texarkana West, Arkansas 1 2 .333 17 27
7. Springfield, Tenn. 1 2 .333 18 32
10. Perry, Ga. 0 2 .000 18 28
10. Shreveport, Louisiana 0 2 .000 13 19
10. Rustburg, Virginia 0 2 .000 8 13
TOTALS (12) 23 23 .500
Spring Hill Dixie Baseball’s All-Time World Series Results (1995-2014)
– Compiled by TONY CASTRO
YR TEAM HEAD COACH W L .PCT PL
2005 AAA Minors (10-under) David Smith 2 2 .500 –
2008 AAA Majors (11-12) Shawn Laferty 0 2 .000 –
2008 Senior Boys (age 14) Mike Sollazzo 4 2 .667 2nd
2010 AAA Majors (11-12) Al Sorrentino 3 2 .600 3rd
2010 Pre-Majors (ages 15-16) Frank Vitale 0 2 .000 –
2011 AAA Majors (11-12) Shawn Laferty 1 2 .333 –
2011 Junior Boys (age 13) Jeff Hamilton 2 2 .500 –
2013 AAA Minors (10-under) Erik Andress 2 2 .500 –
2013 Senior Boys (age 14) Shawn Laferty 3 2 .600 3rd
2014 Senior Boys (age 14) Mike Rado 2 2 .500 –
2014 “O” Zone (ages 11-12) Joe Abbadessa 4 2 .667 2nd
2014 AAA Minors (10-under) Erik Andress 6 1 .857 1st
—12— —9— 29 23 .558
Hernando County Dixie Baseball All-Time World Series Champions (1959-2014/55 Seasons)
– Compiled by TONY CASTRO
YEAR TEAM HEAD COACH
1983 Hernando County Majors (ages 17-19) Ernie Chatman
2000 Hernando County Majors (ages 17-19) Tim Sims
2014 Spring Hill AAA Minors (ages 9-10) Erik Andress