The Mitchell Mustangs may not have known much about the Sebring Blue Streaks heading into Thursday’s Class 6A regional quarterfinal game. You can be sure they do now, as the Mustangs had to rally for a 4-1 victory in a game that was moved to Holiday’s Anclote High School.
Mitchell came into the game with a 22-5 record and was ranked No. 61 in the state by MaxPreps, while the Blue Streaks were 10-17 and ranked No. 330 in Florida. But records and rankings don’t measure heart and the Blue Streaks played with plenty of it on Thursday.
“We never quit,” said Sebring coach Buck Rapp. “We played seven strong innings. I have no complaints.”
The tale of the two starting pitchers couldn’t have been more different, as Mitchell started heralded junior Cobi Johnson, who has committed to Florida State University, while senior Garrett DeRoss, still hoping for a college offer, took the mound for the Blue Streaks — and equaled Johnson pitch-for-pitch through four scoreless innings.
Things picked up steam in the fifth, as Sebring’s Ty Little led off with a walk and Matt Portis followed with the Blue Streaks first base hit of the game to put runners on the corners with no outs.
Following a groundball to shortstop, Johnson unleashed a wild pitch that scored Little and moved Portis to third, but the Mustang ace was able to get two strikeouts to end the inning and leave Portis stranded.
In the bottom of the fifth, DeRoss retired the first batter and the Mustangs’ Josh Lamb followed with a groundball headed toward the outfield, but the Blue Streaks’ Cullen Lovett made a diving stop and threw to first from his knees and Lamb was ruled safe at first.
Chris McCormick followed with a perfectly placed hit-and-run to put runners on first and second and a wild pitch advanced them both 90 feet. Johnson delivered a two-run hit and later scored on a botched two-out grounder to give Mitchell a 3-1 lead.
Two Sebring errors in the bottom of the sixth, allowed the Mustangs to move in front 4-1, but the Streaks didn’t stop battling. Another walk to Little and Jimmy Peck’s two-out pinch-hit single brought the tying run to the plate, but McCormick was able to retire the side to preserve the win.
“We knew going in we were going to have to play pretty much perfect,” Rapp said. “We battled and I’m so proud of these guys, especially Garrett, he put his heart and soul in that game and a lot of others did. I told the guys to not give up and stay together and they did.”
Rapp said this team will hold a special place in his heart and there are always some mixed emotions when watching a group of seniors move on.
“Sooner or later the game is over for us at some level and these guys will go on and be successful in life no matter what they do,” he said. “A lot of these guys are going to be successful young men and dads one day and they’ll coach at some level. I told them to pass on some of the things they’ve learned.”