SEBRING The Sebring Blue Streaks know the road to a district title will most likely go through Winter Haven. They also know that they will have to put together a better game than the two times they have played them this year if they plan to become district champions.
The Winter Haven Blue Devils beat the Blue Streaks 12-6 back on March 21 in Winter Haven and then came to Sebring and shutout the Blue Streaks 7-0 at Firemen’s Memorial Field on Tuesday night.
The loss drops Sebring to 9-13 for the year, but they are 3-2 in Class 6A-District 9, which currently puts them in second place with both losses at the hands of the Blue Devils.
The stark contrast of the game was the pitching. Winter Haven’s Joe Lopez held the Blue Streaks to only four hits over six innings,while striking out six and walking three. He allowed just one Sebring base runner to reach third base.
“You have to give their starting pitching all the credit,” said Sebring coach Buck Rapp. “He kept us off balance and limited base runners.”
Sebring experienced the opposite as starting pitcher Jonathan Struck allowed the leadoff batter to reach base in three of the four innings he pitched.
A leadoff walk in the first inning to Ruglass Odor would lead to a score after Odor stole second and third base. With two outs in the inning, a single by Reilly Johnson brought Odor home to give Winter Haven a 1-0 lead.
Winter Haven’s Jordan Pike started the second inning with a single into left field. A hit batter and a bunt single load the bases with no outs. Pike would score on a fielder’s choice to second base by Luis Morales.
The runner at first was forced out at second, but Sebring was unable to turn the double play at first, but did get a second out at third when they caught the base runner in no man’s land in between third and home.
Struck avoided disaster in the inning by getting the final out and holding the Blue Devils to only one as the Blue Streaks now trailed 2-0 after two innings.
Sebring got Winter Haven’s leadoff batter out to start the third, but a walk, hit batter and a single into centerfield would increase the Blue Devils’ lead to 3-0 after three innings.
The Blue Streaks would not be as fortunate in the fourth inning as a walk, hit batter and another walk would load the bases with one out. With two outs, Luke Borders hit a slow roller to the shortstop, who charged the ball and tried to make a play at first.
The throw went wide, allowing not only the base runner on third to score, but allowed the runners on second and first to also round the bases and touch home plate. After four innings, Winter Haven held a 6-0 lead over the Blue Streaks.
Sebring brought in CJ Payne to pitch in the fifth and sixth innings. Payne held the Blue Devils scoreless to keep the score at 6-0 going into the seventh inning.
With Matt Portis pitching for Sebring in the seventh, Winter Haven would again get its leadoff batter on base, this time on an error by the shortstop. That mistake would lead to the Blue Devils’ seventh run of the game off a two-out single by David Whann.
Winter Haven brought in Trenton Gantt to pitch the final inning in a non-save situation. Gantt sandwiched in two walks between two strikeouts to give Sebring a glimmer of hope, until he induced a harmless fly ball into right field for the third and final out of the game and preserve the 7-0 win for the Blue Devils.
“We had seven strikeouts and eight fly-ball outs,” said Rapp. “That’s 15 of 21 outs that they did not have to work hard or play a whole lot of defense. We’ll have to make some adjustments; we will come back and work harder.”
Rapp said that they have three more games to play, and then it is win or go home.
“Hopefully we will see these guys one more time” he said. “And that will be in the district championships.”
Sebring will play their final district game of the season at Lake Gibson on Friday. They will then host two games next week, the first being against Lake Wales on Tuesday and Port St Lucie on Thursday.