ENGLEWOOD — Timely hitting powered Lemon Bay past Sebring by a score of 11-6 in the semifinals of the Class 5A-District 11 baseball tournament Tuesday night at Jack Llewellyn Field.
The Manta Rays (11-12, 5-2) had a productive night at the plate, utilizing two four-run innings to dispatch the Blue Streaks (8-16, 2-5).
At the outset, however, it was Sebring that seemed primed to explode. The Streaks loaded the bases with no outs in the top of the first inning, but after scoring two runs, the Rays turned a double play to stop the bleeding. While Sebring eventually cut Lemon Bays lead down to two runs late in the game, the Rays were able to thwart a Streaks comeback.
“We left everything we had out on the field tonight,” Sebring coach Jasone DeWitt said. “Obviously the outcome wasn’t what any of us were hoping for or anticipating. But I’m proud of these guys for the way that they fought, the way that they worked this year, the dedication they put in, and that’s all I can ask for.”
Trailing 6-2 to start the fourth inning, the Streaks again loaded the bases with no outs. Cullen Lovett took advantage of a weary Rays pitcher, blasting an RBI single to plate Justin Bickman. Lemon Bay’s Jaryd Clary followed with a balk to bring in another Streaks run.
Sebring’s offensive surge carried over into the bottom half of the inning, as Everett Hurst and the Streaks defense made quick work of the Rays lineup. But Sebring could only cool Lemon Bay’s bats for a few innings, and the Manta Rays exploded for four more runs in the bottom of the fifth to extend their lead to 10-4.
Undaunted, Lovett and Matthew Portis belted consecutive triples in the sixth to cut the deficit to four. Seth Cannady ripped a pitch to Lemon Bay’s shortstop, who bobbled the ball, and Cannady reached first safely while another run came across the plate to cap the Streaks scoring.
“They played to the very last out, and that showed a lot of character on their part,” DeWitt said. “And I’m just proud to be a part of this program.”
DeWitt, who completed his first season as Sebring’s coach with Tuesday’s loss, said he felt for the seniors who played their last game in a Streaks uniform.
“It’s not a good way to finish out the season, for sure,” he said. “And it’s tough to see the guys in the way they’re hurting right now. That’s what hurts me the most. They’re great kids — great young men. They showed a lot of character tonight. And that’s what I told them, is that I appreciated the time they gave me, coach (Buck) Rapp, and coach (Hoppy) Rewis in their freshman year.”
Sebring lost a solid nucleus of seniors to graduation, but DeWitt said the journey for the Streaks doesn’t end at the conclusion of the high school season.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who are going to stick together through travel ball in the summer,” DeWitt said, adding that he plans on coaching a handful of them. “We’ll probably bring in a few extra arms for major tournaments, but a lot of our guys are going to be together.”
DeWitt also said that he plans on implementing a series of offseason workouts designed to help Sebring stay in top condition over the summer.
“We’re working on a couple things, primarily with weight programs,” he said. “We’re gonna’ get stronger, quicker, and continue to play the best game and enjoy it.”