SEBRING - Word has gotten around town that Avon Park's Dixie Boys (ages 13 to 14) baseball team is pretty good.
And if Saturday's state tournament game at Max Long Complex was any indication - a 12-0 thumping of Hernando - it's that the rumors are true.
"It's the best team we've had in a long time," Avon Park coach Abe Cervera said. "It's the first time we've put a team together that can really compete in state. Overall, it's a great win and a step closer."
The win advanced Avon Park into the winner's bracket, and the team faced Sebring on Sunday afternoon. Results were not available at press time.
Right from the outset, it was clear Avon Park was on a mission. After a handful of shaky pitches from Anthony Torres resulted in a leadoff walk to Herando's Logan Flood, Torres quickly settled down and struck out the next two batters. Flood was caught stealing to end the inning.
Meanwhile, Avon Park's offense was clicking on all cylinders, scoring all 12 runs in the first two innings combined on just eight hits.
Adarius Council wasted little time in getting things going for the All-Stars, belting the first pitch he saw for a single. Derrick Hawthorne and Jacques Gordon followed with back-to-back walks, and an errant throw on a pick-off attempt at third base allowed Council and Hawthorne to scamper home and give Avon Park a 2-0 lead.
After two quick outs, Torres scored another run with an RBI single. Joel Serrano scored Torres with a single, giving Avon Park a 4-0 lead, but was tagged out at first base while trying to steal second.
In the top of the second, Torres nearly repeated his pitching masterpiece from the opening inning. After the first batter reached on a single, Torres struck out the next three hitters to end Hernando's scoring threat.
Avon Park continued its imitation of Cincinnati's Big Red Machine in the bottom of the second.
Johnny Perry started the dismantling, reaching on a leadoff walk. Deont'a Kerney followed with a strikeout, but Avon Park traded an out for a baserunner when Council drew another walk. Hawthorne followed with a laser back towards the pitcher's mound, and the ball caromed off of Jacob Sullivan's glove, allowing a run to score and Hawthorne to reach first safely.
Gordon drew the third walk of the inning to load the bases. But while Luis Cervera singled, Hernando recovered to get a force out at home plate.
By then, Hernando's skipper had apparently seen enough and changed pitchers.
Dylan Pantaline was the first batter Carson Fordas faced, and he smashed a two-run single into the outfield to make it 7-0. Torres followed with an RBI triple, while Serrano reached after he was hit by a pitch.
Not to be outdone, Perry cleared the bases with a triple of his own, and in the blink of an eye, it was 11-0, Avon Park.
But the All-Stars weren't done yet.
Up for the second time in the inning, Kerney cranked an RBI double to score Avon Park's final run of the game, before Council grounded out to first.
Knowing that the team might relax with such a big lead, Avon Park's coaching staff was quick to rectify any lack of focus their players might have as they trotted back into the dugout.
"You are your own worst enemy right now," assistant Dwayne Council said. "Don't relax, because this game isn't over until the final out - I don't care what the score is."
While Avon Park's defense managed to hold on for the shutout, it didn't come without a few scares. Hernando threatened to cut into the lead in the top of the fourth inning when it loaded the bases with just one out.
But a calculated pitching change to Javier Maldonado gave Avon Park a fresh arm on the mound. He struck out Kyle Bonak before forcing Trevor Gamble into a ground out to end the game on the 10-run mercy rule.
"We lost a little intensity when we got up by 12 runs, but that's natural," Cerveras said. "We played well on defense and offense, and ran the bases well - that's our forte. I'm real proud of these guys."