For a second straight season, another Polk County entry claimed the Dixie Boys Baseball 15-Under All-Stars State Tournament Sunday evening at the Bartow Park (555) Sports Complex.
Polk County concluded the three-day, six-team affair with two wins on Sunday, outlasting the Brooksville Bullets, 4-2, before pounding Spring Hill B in the title game, 17-11.
Polk County, which outscored its opponents by nearly 40 runs, 55-17, finished a perfect 4-0.
Last summer, another Polk County entry, Winter Haven, shared the state title on a controversial coin flip with Spring Hill.
This time, matters were settled between the lines.
Typically a state champion advances to its respective World Series, but with no series established for this age group Polk County automatically qualifies instead for the Region I Tournament June 19 in Ozark, Ala.
Hernando County’s four entries finished second through fifth, spearheaded by Bruce Price’s Bullets and Shawn Laferty’s Spring Hill B team qualifying for the Region II Tournament June 19 in Charleston, S.C.
Polk County finished 4-0, followed Spring Hill B (3-1), the Bullets (2-2), Spring Hill A (1-3), Hernando County (1-2) and winless San Antonio (0-3).
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Of Hernando County’s four entries, the squad led by the veteran Dixie Baseball skipper Laferty had the most success in his seventh state tourney, capturing 3-of-4 tilts.
“Overall, it was a good experience,” declared Coach Laferty. “It was really good to see our younger guys – like (Brendan) Sessa, (Joey) Delgatto and (Dakota) Blevens – go through the pressure cooker of playing tough games.”
Laferty’s nine entered without three major cogs from last summer’s successful Senior Boys (age 14) District 6 Tournament and State Championship Tournament runs: pitcher Noah Siem, slugger Paul Coumoulos, and closer and first sacker Dominic Marrone.
Marrone was unavailable due to a nagging back injury suffered during the JV baseball campaign. Coumoulos opted on travel ball and Siem hasn’t played baseball since quitting the Springstead varsity team in the spring.
Despite being handcuffed personnel-wise, Laferty’s crew opened the event with a gutsy 3-2 nod Saturday morning over the Bullets in nine innings.
Through six frames the game stood scoreless.
In the top of the seventh inning, Sessa and Blevens each singled.
After the second out advanced both runners, Luke Laferty’s responded with a clutch two-run single to left field, 2-0 Spring Hill.
Unheralded right-hander Brett Maharaj opened on the mound against Price’s club and worked the first three scoreless innings, allowing one hit and zero walks against three strikeouts.
Joey Delgatto entered in the fourth and added three scoreless frames before tiring in the seventh. In all, Delgatto permitted one run and one free pass against three punch outs.
Spring Hill’s third hurler, Stephen Bienstock, allowed the tying run in the bottom of the seventh, 2-2.
The Bullets almost pulled the game out of the fire. With one out, catcher Casey Moore tagged up at third base as Laferty snared a fly ball in center field and fired home to catcher Nick Nguyen.
Moore, however, stopped halfway to home and was caught in an ensuing rundown where Bienstock applied the tag for the critical third out.
Neither team threatened in the eighth.
In the ninth, Blevens reached on an error by the third baseman before Joe Harris singled. Delgatto coaxed a crucial two-out walk to load the bases.
With Bienstock up, a passed ball permitted Blevens to scamper home with the tiebreaking run.
Bienstock (1-0) earned the mound win working three innings allowing one run on one hit, with three walks against one strikeout.
Spring Hill outhit the Bullets, 7-2, as Harris finished 2-for-3 with two singles while Delgatto finished 2-for-4. Blevens went 1-for-3, but scored two critical runs.
Saturday afternoon, Spring Hill B climbed to 2-0 behind Blevens’ three-inning no-hitter against San Antonio, 15-0.
Blevens flirted with a perfect game. The only East Pasco County runner reached on an error with two outs in the second.
In all, Blevens (1-0) did not issue a walk and fanned six.
Laferty’s crew, which scored five runs in the first inning and never looked back after tacking on seven runs in the second.
Second sacker Harris remained hot going 2-for-3 with two runs scored, plus a run batted in.
Both Delgatto and Luke Laferty scored three times. Laferty reached on two walks, plus an error.
On Sunday morning, Spring Hill A (mostly Coach Mike Rado’s 14-year-olds) upset Hernando County (mostly Hernando High’s JV team), 5-2, to face Spring Hill B in one semifinal.
Laferty’s club outhit its younger brethren, 10-5, en route to a 10-3 triumph.
On the bump, Robert Bunyon was in control for the victors behind a masterful 84-pitch, complete-game effort. The hard-throwing right-hander yielded three runs (two earned) on five hits against one free pass and four strikeouts.
Laferty’s crew trailed once, 1-0, after the top of the first.
Bunyon helped his own cause with a game-high 3-for-3 – all singles – while scoring a run and knocking in one run. Nguyen finished 2-for-3 with two singles and two RBI.
Luke Laferty went 1-for-3 highlighted by the game’s lone homer: a solo blast to left field highlighting a three-run fourth inning.
Spring Hill’s lack of pitching depth surfaced in the title game against stout Polk County.
Spring Hill’s four hurlers – Maharaj, Delgatto, Bienstock and Luke Laferty – permitted a combined three homers.
Through 5½ innings, Polk erected a comfortable cushion before the visitors chipped away with five runs in the bottom of the sixth and another run in the seventh.
The game’s complexion changed when Maharaj was tagged for a grand slam in the second inning.
Over two-thirds of an inning in the fourth, Delgatto (0-1) absorbed the mound setback yielding six runs.
Bienstock didn’t fare much better allowing seven runs over the next 2 1/3 frames.
Spring Hill outhit Polk County, 9-8, as Bodhi Sbashnig, Harris and Blevens each rapped two hits.
Sbashnig also plated two runs, while Harris and Blevens each doubled.
“Looking back, I knew we were down arms when we got here,” detailed Laferty. “But I thought we pitched rather well. When you don’t have the depth, guys have to step up to get the job done.”
The silver lining to the tourney, according to Coach Laferty, wasn’t reaching the title game, but rather out-dueling the Bullets to open the event.
“Clearly our best game was our first game,” noted Laferty. “Polk County had the best overall team, but to me Bruce (Price’s Bullets) had better pitching. That was a tremendous game.”
As far as unexpected surprises, Laferty praised Blevens for anchoring first base after Marrone could not suit up.
“We didn’t have the arms to compete,” said Laferty. “But we played hard with the kids we had.”
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Reacting to finishing third, “I was very pleased,” insisted Coach Price, whose team outscored the opposition 10-9. “Against Laferty’s team, neither team really hit the ball. After that we hit the ball, if not right at people. Our defense was phenomenal.
“Against Spring Hill B we had chances to capitalize and we didn’t,” added Price. “Same thing against Polk County. In the sixth, we were down one run and Jonathan (Allion) rips a shot down the right-field line. Their first baseman is on the edge of the grass and makes a tremendous play. If that ball goes through, we go ahead. So yeah, I’m real pleased to go 2-2.”
After Coach Rado’s squad went 1-3, “You never like to lose, especially two close games,” he said. “But this is a bit of a wakeup call. Hopefully, we’ve learned some things about ourselves.”
Like Laferty’s club, Spring Hill A also arrived short-handed with right fielder Zack Funkhouser sidelined due to a sore arm and outfielder Nick Vastano out with a flu bug.
“We were a little short-handed, but that’s when you see the character of a team,” noted Coach Rado. “We were down 12-4 to Hernando (in the second game), but never gave up, losing 12-11.”
Rado’s tourney highlight was right-hander J.P. Gates’ sensational 5-2 win Sunday morning over Hernando.
“J.P. was lights out for us. I’m very proud of how we played to reach the semifinals,” he said. “When we ran into Laferty’s team we just ran out of gas. The lack of execution and lack of being mentally prepared on every play were difficult lessons to learn.”
Despite a 1-2 effort, skipper Jeff Laing was pleased with Hernando County’s efforts.
“We had three coaches there to help evaluate the kids,” said Laing. “I’m very pleased with the tournament. We’re making strides with this group. This tournament gave an opportunity for some kids who were behind other kids earlier in the year.”
Dixie Boys Baseball 15-U State Tourney Recap
at Bartow Park (555) Sports Complex
Polk County 22, San Antonio 2
Polk County 12, Hernando 2
Spring Hill B 3, Brooksville Bullets 2 (9 Innings)
Spring Hill B 15, San Antonio 0
Brooksville Bullets 6, Spring Hill A 2
Hernando 12, Spring Hill A 11
San Antonio – dropped out after Saturday
Brooksville Bullets won by forfeit over San Antonio
Spring Hill A 5, Hernando 2
Spring Hill B 10, Spring Hill A 3
Polk County 4, Brooksville Bullets 2
Polk County 17, Spring Hill B 11
2014 Final Dixie Boys 15-U State Baseball Tournament
at Bartow Park (555) Sports Complex
PL TEAM W L .PCT RS RA
1. Polk County* 4 0 1.000 55 17
2. Spring Hill B^ 3 1 .750 39 22
3. Brooksville Bullets^ 2 2 .500 10 09
4. Spring Hill A 1 3 .250 22 29
5. Hernando 1 2 .333 16 28
6. San Antonio 0 3 .000 02 37
TOTALS 11 11 .500
* Denotes qualifies for 15-U Region I Tournament on June 19 at Ozark, Ala.
^ Denotes qualifies for 15-U Region II Tournament on June 19 at Charleston, S.C.