SEBRING - After thumping their first two opponents and scoring 25 runs combined, fans were expecting a lot fireworks on Sunday afternoon at Max Long Complex for the match up between Sebring and Avon Park in the Dixie Boys (ages 13-14) State Tournament.
But it turned out to be a one-sided affair, as Sebring downed Avon Park 12-2 in five innings to send the team into the loser's bracket.
Rain outs delayed an elimination game between Avon Park and Havana, which was moved to Monday afternoon. Results were not available at press time. Meanwhile, the win earned Sebring a bye, and the boys in blue will play tonight at 8 p.m. against the winner of Monday's Wildwood-Spring Hill game.
"We came out hitting the ball well and played good defense," Sebring coach Andrew Bible said. "We played well as a team."
"Every kid has contributed," he added. "And that's what teamwork is about."
Luis Cervera got the start on the mound for Avon Park, and forced Sebring's Brendan Doty into a ground out to open the game. Seth Cannady reached on a line drive single and Jay Bible scored him with a single of his own. Cervera recovered to strike out Kyle Helms, but another RBI single from Justin Bickman scored Bible to give Sebring a 2-0 lead. Cervera fanned Trevor Thomas to end the inning.
Fresh off of a 12-0 thumping of Hernando, Avon Park was looking to get its bats started early. But Sebring's Helms would have none of that.
Helms sent Adarius Council down swinging for the inning's first out. Derrick Hawthorne laid down a bunt for a single, but was caught trying to steal second base, while Jacques Gordon flew out to center field.
An in between innings speech from Avon Park's coaching staff seemed to rally the players, as a rejuvenated Cervera retired the side. And the team's offense appeared inspired too, as Dylan Pantaline lead off with a single, promptly stole second base, and advanced to third on an errant throw.
Anthony Torres followed with a strike out, but Cervera scored Pantaline with an RBI ground out to cut Sebring's lead in half. It was the last run Avon Park would score until the fifth inning.
Sebring pummeled Avon Park in the top of the third. Highlighted by back-to-back two-run doubles from Helms and Bickman, the boys in blue scored a game-high five runs in the inning. Doty got things started with an infield single. Cannady reached on a walk, and Bible loaded the bases when he ricochetted a pitch off of Cervera's leg.
Down in the count, a pitch near the bottom of the strike zone would've sent Helms back to the dugout, but it was called a ball and Helms smashed the next pitch he saw onto the warning tracks in center field.
Bickman added two more runs with his double before Avon Park manager Abe Cervera decided to make a pitching change, bringing in Pantaline for Cervera.
Pantaline struck out Thomas for the inning's first out, but allowed another run to score on Gabe Gomez's RBI ground out. Undeterred, Pataline battled back to strike out Wyatt Cordell to get out of the inning.
Avon Park had little success behind the plate in the bottom of the third, as Johnny Perry and Hawthorne both went down on called third strikes, drawing the ire from their coaches and teammates that they needed to swing the bat.
Two Sebring home runs in the top of the fourth all but sealed the victory for the boys in blue. After Clint Patrick grounded out to start the inning, Doty reached after he was hit by a pitch. Cannady followed by smashing a pitch over the outfield fences - nearly hitting the cars in the parking lot - to give Sebring a 9-1 lead.
Bible flew out to center field for the second out, but Pantaline surrendered a solo blast to Helms. He eventually settled down to strike out Bickman to escape the inning.
Helms recorded two quick outs in the bottom of the fourth before being pulled for Damian Lusby. A pitching change did little to revamp Avon Park's offense, though, as Lusby forced Torres into a soft grounder back to the pitching mound for the inning's last out.
In the top of the fifth, Sebring scored again on the strength of a two-out rally. With runners on first and second, Cannady singled to score Lusby. Bible followed Cannady with his second RBI single of the afternoon to put the team up 12-1.
Down big, Avon Park would need to score at least two runs in the bottom of the fifth to stave off the 10-run mercy rule. After Cervera flew out to center field, Joel Serrano reached on a walk. Perry followed with a strike out, but when Sebring's Helms bobbled the ball, Kerney advanced all the way to third and Serrano scampered home to make it 12-2. The scoring burst was shortlived, however, as Council went down swinging to end the game.
"We just didn't play up to our abilities," Avon Park coach Abe Cervera said. "We didn't have that same drive that we had the other day against Hernando. We'll have to do better."