SEBRING - Avon Park and Sebring's brilliant tournament runs came to an end on Tuesday night, as Avon Park fell 12-4 to Spring Hill while Sebring was edged by West Seminole, 5-4, to wrap up the Dixie Boys (ages 13-14) State Tournament at Max Long Complex.
Both teams managed to reach the semifinals before bowing out, with Avon Park winning back-to-back elimination games after falling into the loser's bracket on the second day of play.
"I'm just so proud of my guys," Avon Park coach Abe Cervera said. "I can't stress that enough. No Avon Park team has ever made it this far - and to do it with kids I've come up with it - I'm just so proud of them."
Knowing that Sebring had just been no-hit by one of Spring Hill's aces, Avon Park came out playing great defense. But after recording two quick outs in the top of the first inning, Luis Cervera walked consecutive Spring Hill hitters. Dominic Mallone followed with a two-run double and a wild pitch scored another run. Zack Lawrence singled to score to give Spring Hill a 4-0 lead.
Avon Park's usually prolific offense struggled against Spring Hill's Mallone. The All-Stars struggled to put the ball in play, and for the first time in two games, they were held scoreless in their first at-bat.
Spring Hill piled on three more runs in the top of the second to take a 7-0 lead. After Avon Park failed to score any runs in the bottom of the inning, a rousing speech from assistant Dwayne Council appeared to revitalize the team's morale.
"Never give up," he told the team as they trotted back out of the dugout. "That's not how we got here - we don't give up."
And in the top of third, Avon Park's defense came to life, as Cervera held Spring Hill scoreless.
The speech seemed to resonate with the team's offense as well, as Avon Park scored its first run of the game in the bottom of the third. Deont'a' Kerney reached on a single, followed by Dylan Pantaline who got on base after getting hit by a pitch, and Anthony Torres scored Kerney with a single.
A charged up Cervera retired the side in the top of the fourth. But despite a leadoff double from Adarius Council in the bottom of the inning, Avon Park stranded him at third.
And in the top of the fifth, Spring Hill sucked the life out of the All-Stars with another three-run inning. Paul Coumoulas started the inning with a bang, blasting a solo home run. Lawrence reached on a walk, and Luke Laferty advanced to second when Jacques Gordon tried to dive a for a sharp blooper in center field.
Cervera decided to make a pitching change with runners in scoring position, but Noah Siem scored a run with a single and an error by Pantaline allowed another run to come in and make it 10-1.
Avon Park battled back in the bottom of the fifth and sixth innings to cut into the lead, but the deficit was just too big to overcome.
"Where we made it too, and how far we got, there's nothing to be down about," Cervera said. "We proved that we could compete. And we did it against a really good Spring Hill team."
Meanwhile, in the late-afternoon game, Sebring fell by one run to West Seminole. The boys in blue had fallen into the loser's bracket after being shutout, 10-0, by Spring Hill during the midday game. Siem was on the mound for Spring Hill then, going the distance and tossing a no-hitter while striking out 11 and giving up just four walks.