The Avon Park Red Devils did exactly what they wanted to in Monday’s Class 4A-District 10 tournament game with Mulberry at Webber International University. They were able to dispose of the Panthers in five innings, while saving their pitchers for Tuesday’s game with DeSoto in the 15-3 victory.
“It was a good overall team effort,” said Avon Park coach Whit Cornell. “We had some seniors — Colton Brock, Stevie Flowers, Josh Gomez and Tori Pringle — who had big nights. Mason Jahna, a junior, also drove in some big runs.”
The Panthers scored an unearned run in the top of the first, but the Red Devils battled back to tie the score when Tyrone Perry led off the bottom of the first with a double and scored on an RBI single off the bat of Gomez.
Avon Park scored three more times in the bottom of the second, as Brock and Pringle drew walks and Jahna hit an RBI double. Flowers followed with a sacrifice fly and Alfred Brown’s two-out single brought home Jahna with the third run of the frame.
Mulberry did its best to keep it close, scoring two runs in the top of the third on Dustin Caldwell’s two-out single, only to see the Devils answer with three runs of their own.
Kyle Kelley reached on an error and Brock and Pringle followed with bunt singles. Kelley scored on a wild pitch and Jahna hit a sacrifice fly. Flowers’ RBI double made it 7-3 entering the fourth inning, which is where the game was decided.
Mulberry’s first two hitters reached base and the Panthers had runners on second and third with no outs, but Brock was able to escape the inning unscathed.
“Colton did a good job tonight,” Cornell said. “He’s a senior and he’s been in our program for four years. We know he’s going to throw strikes and change speeds if he needs to.
“Once we were able to get ahead he was able to come out with his fastball and make them beat us. Fortunately for us, they hit some balls at us and we made the plays on the balls they hit at us.”
Brown’s one-out walk in the bottom of the fourth got the ball rolling for the Red Devils and Gomez reached base on a third-strike passed ball. Kelley was hit by a pitch and Brock delivered an RBI single. Pringle’s bunt single was followed by Jahna’s two-run single. Flowers delivered an RBI single and Perry followed with one of his own.
An RBI grounder by Lou Martinez brought home another run and the Red Devils quickly had a 15-3 lead.
“We were able to get on base and once we were on base we were able to put pressure on them and make them make decisions,” Cornell said. “I was real proud of the way our guys played small ball tonight as far as bunting people over and bunting for hits. There was a lot of good execution on our part.”
Of the Red Devils’ 13 RBIs, seven of them came from Jahna and Flowers — the team’s No. 8 and No. 9 hitters.
“We’ve averaged over nine runs a game all year; our big thing has been getting people out,” Cornell said. “We generally put up runs and you’re not going to put up those kinds of numbers without the bottom of your order being pretty good hitters and good athletes.”
Cornell said he knew going into the game the Red Devils were going to have to score a fair amount of runs.
“Mulberry is a scrappy group and they’ve really impressed me with how much they’ve improved over the last two years,” he said.
The Red Devils played DeSoto on Tuesday, with the winner advancing to Thursday’s championship game. Results were not available at press time. See Thursday’s Highlands Today sports section for details.