The Avon Park Red Devils utilized the 10-run mercy rule to dispatch Class 4A-District 9 rival Mulberry in five brisk innings Friday night, trouncing the Panthers on their home field by a score of 15-4.
"I'm real proud of the way we bounced back," said Avon Park coach Whit Cornell. "We had a tough loss against McKeel and to come out and play like this really tells me something."
Paced by J.C. Cobb at the plate, who went 3 for 3 against Mulberry (5-7, 2-2), the Devils opened up the offensive floodgates early, exploding for five runs in the top of the first inning.
Avon Park (7-2, 3-1) scored five runs in the top of the first, punctuated by a two-out rally where the Devils scored three runs. Daniel Simons got the start for Avon Park, and gave up two runs in the bottom of the first before settling into a groove.
"Simons did a good job out there," Cornell said. "He showed a lot of poise tonight on the mound."
The Devils tacked on two more runs in the top of the second thanks to a home run from Tyrone Perry. Alfred Brown led off with a single and promptly stole second base to get into scoring position. But it wouldn't have mattered where he was on the base path, as Perry launched a pitch over the right field fence to give Avon Park a 7-2 lead.
Avon Park's bats were relatively quiet in the top of the third, as the Devils managed a paltry one run, but they caught fire again in the top of the fourth.
The Devils scored seven runs to put the game out of reach. Perry opened the inning with a walk, followed by a double from Mykel Gordon. A wild pitch let Perry cross home plate, and back-to-back RBI singles from Cobb and Trey Frazier pushed Avon Park's lead to 11-4.
By the end of the inning Gordon and Brown would be back up at the plate. Gordon knocked in the Devils final run, scoring Brown on a single to right field.
"I was pleased to see us hit so well," Cornell said. "A lot of guys did a lot of good things. It was a total team effort."
Kenny McGrath went in before the top of the fifth to replace Simons. Cornell said both pitches threw well and he was impressed with their focus despite a large lead.
"That's the kind of focus we need to have in district game's, no matter what the score is," he said.
Simons went four innings, allowing four runs, four hits, and striking out seven. In relief, McGrath allowed no hits and struck out two.
Avon Park is about to head into its most brutal part of the schedule. Right in the middle of district play, the Devils will soon be playing three games a week. But Cornell knows his team is up for the challenge.
"We play in a tough district," he said. "All these teams are capable of winning on any given night. But we're just going to go out and work hard, practice hard, and keep our heads on districts and we'll be all right."
Avon Park plays consecutive road games before jumping back into district play. The Devils travel to Fort Meade on Tuesday for a game against the Class 3A Miners at 7 p.m. Then on Thursday they make the short trip down to Sebring for a match up against their bitter rivals, the Class 5A Blue Streaks. That game starts at 7:30 p.m.
Avon Park resumes its district schedule Friday, when it hosts Highlands County rival Lake Placid at 7 p.m.