AVON PARK - A day after the Heartland All-Stars suffered their first loss of the Dixie Majors (ages 19 under) State Tournament to Hernando County, the boys in red returned the favor on Tuesday with a thrilling 4-3 win.
The win moved Heartland into Wednesday's championship game. The Dixie Majors state champion advances to the Dixie Majors World Series in South Carolina.
Results were not available at press time.
Heartland starting pitcher, Josh Baber, pitched into the seventh inning giving up three runs on four hits, but nearly did not make it out of the third.
With the game scoreless and one out in the third inning, Baber gave up two singles and walked two batters consecutively as Hernando took a 2-0 lead. Heartland Coach Chad Wright nearly took Baber out of the game, but decided to leave him in.
"I went out there and I asked him how he felt," Wright said. "He said he felt great and please don't take him out. When a player wants the ball and I have all the confidence in the world in him, I am going to leave him in."
A sacrifice fly into center field brought home another run to cap the scoring and give Hernando a 3-0 lead.
Heartland got one run back in the bottom of the third as Rick Miller led off the inning with a walk and stole second base. After being moved over on a ground ball to first base by Seth Abeln, Miller scored on a ground ball to the third baseman by Brandon Rhea to cut into Hernando's lead, 3-1.
Heartland took the lead in the bottom of the fourth scoring three runs on one hit.
Josh Gomez led off the inning by being hit by a pitch. A throwing error on the Hernando pitcher on a sacrifice bunt attempt by Trey Marley put runners on second and third.
A walk to Kyle Cunningham loaded the bases with no outs.
Miller hit a hard ground ball between the shortstop and third baseman that brought home Gomez as Heartland drew within one of Hernando with the bases loaded and no outs.
After a force play at the plate, Josh Townsend brought the tying run home when he was hit by a pitch.
Rhea rounded out the scoring with a routine ground out that brought home Miller, who was able to sneak his hand onto home plate before the tag by the Hernando catcher as Heartland took the lead 4-3.
Baber gave up only one hit over the next three innings before being taken out in the seventh inning with one out because he hit the pitch count limit.
"It means a lot to me," said Baber about staying in the game. "Especially pitching with these guys because this is the last time I'll get to play with some of these guys. It was real good to get back on top and win the game."
Baber moved to the catcher position as Wright called on Clayton Mason to close out the game. Mason preserved the win by getting two of the next three batters to fly out as Heartland won the game 4-3.
"The whole team came up huge," said Wright. "They play well together as a team and they are a fun bunch, I enjoy every minute of it. We're excited about playing in the state championship game and we'll see what happens."