AVON PARK - Daniel Simons and Kenneth McGrath combined to give up just three hits as the Heartland All-Stars shut out the Chipley All-Stars by a score of 4-0 in the Dixie Pre-Majors State Tournament on Monday at Charles R. Head Field.
"Great job, Daniel Simons threw 45 strikes and 21 balls," said Heartland Coach Whit Cornell. "That's how you go out there and really compete. He had his fastball and change-up working really good today."
Heartland jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first courtesy of Alfred Brown. Brown led off the inning with a double and stole third base.
With one out, he dashed home on a slow rolling ground ball to the Chipley first baseman, who was forced to make the play at first when he realized he had no chance of getting Brown at the plate.
Both Simons and Jordan Finch for Chipley engaged in a pitcher's duel over the next couple of innings as the score remained 1-0 heading into the bottom of the fourth.
At that point, Finch faltered as he walked Heartland's Simons and Kyle Kelley to start the inning. Heath Harris punched a sacrifice bunt in between the pitcher and the third baseman that allowed him to reach first safely and load the bases with no outs.
Kyle Thompson did the damage for Heartland as he blasted a two-run double into left-center field that allowed Simons and Kelley to score and Harris to reach third.
Chipley's Finch recovered quickly getting the next two batters out to minimize the inning as Heartland led 3-0.
Simons completed five innings, leaving the mound with a 3-0 lead while allowing only three hits and striking out six.
"I was mainly throwing fastballs and change-ups," said Simons. "I didn't have control of the curveball today, so I didn't throw it as much."
Chipley made a pitching change in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Luis Martinez led off the fifth with an infield single and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Alex Gomez.
Simons followed with a hard ground ball to third base. The Chipley third baseman fielded the ball, looked at Martinez to keep him at second and made the throw to first base.
Martinez broke to third base on the throw to first. The Chipley first baseman made a bad throw to third that allowed Martinez to score, increasing Heartland's lead to 4-0.
In the top of the sixth, Heartland brought in McGrath as relief for Simons. McGrath shut down Chipley for the final two innings allowing no hits and striking out three to preserve the win.
"Kenny (McGrath) has been our bullpen guy for the last four years," Cornell said. "He was in a pressure situation and he responded well for us."
Simons earned the win and McGrath earned a save for their pitching efforts as Heartland remains in the winner's bracket in the Pre-Major State Tournament.
Lost in the excellent pitching performances by Heartland is the play of Brown both in center field and at the plate. Brown went 2 for 4 against Chipley, both hits being doubles down the left-field line.
"Alfred (Brown) has been a four-year starter for us and we lost a lot of seniors last year," stated Cornell, who is the Avon Park High baseball coach. "He has really stepped up to take that leadership role. The last couple of weeks he has elevated his game even higher with his work ethics and around the clubhouse to include leading the team in prayers. It's what you look for in your seniors."
Heartland faced East Polk for a second time on Tuesday, a rematch of the first game of the tournament in which Heartland won 6-3.
Results were not available at press time.