SEBRING — Call them the Purple People Eaters of Dixie Baseball.
The Okeechobee All-Stars utilized their left-heavy lineup to roll past the Sebring All-Stars by a score of 8-2 in the Dixie Ozone (ages 11-12) District 8 baseball tournament Friday night at the Max Long Complex.
“I think we were pressing out there a little bit,” said Sebring coach John Bender. “It seemed like every hitter was trying to go out there and do too much.”
With the victory, Okeechobee advanced into the winner’s bracket of the tournament, and played the Lake Placid All-Stars on Saturday. Gang Green defeated county rival Avon Park 15-3 in four innings on Friday to advance.
Falling into the loser’s bracket, Sebring battled the Avon Park All-Stars in an elimination game on Saturday. Results from the games were not available at press time.
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Okeechobee opened Friday’s game against Sebring on a tear. Okeechobee scored four runs in the top of the first, largely thanks to a slew of fielding errors from the boys in blue.
Lucas Osceola got things started, leading off with a double into center field. Robert Ward followed with an RBI single to put Okeechobee up 1-0 and the team never looked back.
Okeechobee ace Jay Krall breezed through the bottom of the inning, retiring the side. Rising to the occasion, Sebring pitcher Junior Algate answered by shutting down Okeechobee in the second, fanning two hitters.
But in the top of the third, critical errors let Okeechobee tack on two more runs to go up 6-0.
“Tonight was our first game together as a team,” Bender said, whose squad has had little time to practice thanks to a bevy of thunderstorms in the Heartland last week. “It seemed whenever we tried to practice, it was either pouring or the field was soaked.”
Sebring seemed primed to explode in the fourth. The bases were loaded with no outs, but Okeechobee turned a spectacular 6-4-3 double play to snuff the scoring threat. Blayne Huter, however, managed to plate a run when Okeechobee misplayed a ball in the outfield, which allowed Gunner Leonard to scamper home from third.
After trading a scoreless fifth, Okeechobee capped its offensive exhibition with a two-run blast in the sixth.
Ward, who battled back from an 0-2 hole belted two foul balls to stay alive. Just looking to get on base, he launched a pitch into the parking lot beyond left field to put his team up 8-1.
Sebring’s Keyshawn Hicks quieted the Okeechobee faithful when he smashed a pitch deep over the fence in center field to cut the deficit to 8-2.
But the Sebring bats fell silent to end the game.
Despite the loss, Bender said he was confident his team will turn it around.
“All we need is time to gel,” he said. “And I think playing this game gave us that time. Now we just need to come out Saturday and bring it again.”