SEBRING The wait turned out to be worth it for the Elks in Saturday's Dixie Ozone finals of the city tournament. With a steady downpour that pushed the start back four hours to 8 p.m., it was the Elks who claimed a 7-6 victory over a determined Pool Paradise squad to capture the city title.
The friendly gamesmanship between the two teams started well before the began, as Pool Paradise coach Anthony Gaines did his best to persuade Elks coach Hector Rivera to agree to a one-game winner-take-all scenario, as Pool Paradise entered Saturday with one loss, while the Elks still had an unblemished record.
"He didn't fall for it," Gaines said with a grin. "I tried though."
Gaines' team came out ready to play, scoring two runs in the top of the first, with Drew Morris and Kamiron Taylor stroking one-out singles and Junior Algate drawing a walk to load the bases. Nick Piccione walked to bring home one run and Clayton Osha singled home another.
The Elks responded with consecutive two-out singles by Joshua Rivera and Gabriel Perez in the bottom of the first and Rivera scored on a wild pitch to cut the Pool Paradise lead in half.
Starting pitchers Danny Cardoso and Algate kept the opposition at bay in the second inning and the score remained 2-1 entering the third.
Pool Paradise erupted for three third-inning runs, as Desmond Gaines and Morris hit one-out singles and Taylor delivered a run-scoring single. Algate followed with a two-run base hit and it was quickly 5-1.
The Elks got one run back in the bottom of the fourth inning when Rivera belted a line-drive over the wall to make it 5-2.
The bottom of the fifth inning was the game-changer, as Dalton Green was plunked by a pitch with one out and Christopher Cardoso drew a two-out walk. Danny Cardoso moved away from an inside pitch, but was awarded first base when it was ruled he was hit. Trey Bender drew a bases-loaded walk to make it 5-3, setting the state for Rivera, who hit a screaming line-drive over the right-centerfield fence for a grand slam and a 7-5 lead.
Coach Rivera said it was great to see the guys at the bottom of the order come through and get on base when the team needed them to.
"That was big for us," he said. "It took one hit batter-two according to the umpire-and a few walks to set up a perfect situation."
The Elks weren't out of the woodwork just yet, as Pool Paradise mounted a sixth-inning rally, as Morris reached base on a missed third strike and scored on Taylor's single. Algate reached base and Zach Doorlag sacrificed to put runners on second and third with two outs. Taylor broke for home on a pitch and catcher Danny Cardoso was able to apply the tag just in front of home plate to secure the win for the Elks.
"It's not the first time this season we've done that," Coach Rivera said. "We had to come back several times.
"You have to give it up to Pool Paradise. They came out to play and they came out swinging the bats, so you can't take anything away from those boys."
Gaines said he was proud of his team and the way they stepped up during the tournament.
"We finished the regular season in third place and were fighting to stay out of fourth, so to finish second in the tournament is a testament to the boys," Gaines said. "They played hard and fought and I can't ask for anything more than that."
Both Gaines and Rivera wanted to thank their sponsors-Pool Paradise and the Elks-for making it possible to play, as well as the parents and assistant coaches, who are always there to help.
"Overall, it was a great season from both teams," Coach Rivera said. "It took a lot of hard work to get here."
Rivera said the fact that the teams were even able to play was a testament to those involved with the league.
"It took a lot of effort between the coaches to get the field ready to play this game," he said. "It was a great game and I'm glad we came out on top."