SEBRING — Friday’s Dixie Ozone (ages 11-12) baseball game between Sebring Rotary and Hornick Homes had a quintessential sandlot feel to it.
Neither team had enough players to field a complete team, so each squad assembled a handful of youngsters seemingly from the surrounding neighborhood. Most of the substitute players on both squads were wearing jeans and T-shirts. The only thing missing was the P.F. Flyers.
Rotary, though, had much of its roster intact, and pulled away late thanks to an eight-run inning to win 15-8 at the Max Long Sports Complex.
“It was a big win,” Rotary coach Nate Vanderpool said. “It was a makeup game and we needed it for seeding in the city tournament.”
The Ozone season concludes tonight, with Rotary squaring off against the Sebring Elks. The Ozone City Championship Tournament runs from June 3-7. Each team qualifies for the tournament, but regular season records determine the seeding.
A sluggish start to Friday’s game belied the fireworks to come, as Rotary took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first when Zachary Miller scampered home on a wild pitch.
Each squad scored two runs in the second and third innings, but in the bottom of the fourth, Hornick Homes’ bats came alive. After loading the bases, a wild pitch game Hornick a chance at home plate and it tied the game at five apiece. Cope Brewer blasted an RBI double to open the offensive floodgates, and Kenny Palmerton and Xavier Holdman followed with consecutive RBI singles. Two more walks kept Hornick in prime scoring position, and LJ Daniels delivered, belting a double to plate Holdman.
“In this game, with an incomplete roster, we were just looking to see what the kids could do in this type of situation,” Hornick coach Johnny Evans said. “We were definitely seeing what we could be like next year, too.”
Seemingly in control with a 8-5 lead, Hornick’s defense faltered in the top of the fifth, as Rotary charged back with an eight-run inning punctuated by Solan Huter’s RBI double. Leading 14-8, Rotary piled on once more in the top of the fifth, when Tyson Bentley crushed a solo home run over the center field fence.
“There’s still some things we need to work on,” Vanderpool said. “But we’re playing well heading into the tournament.”
The goal for each team is to avoid Sebring’s Pool Paradise in the first round. Pool Paradise has been swinging a hot bat over the last week, belting nine home runs in its last two games. The squad is the only undefeated team in the league (10-0) and will likely be the tournament’s No. 1 seed.