AVON PARK - The Heartland All-Stars battled their way out of the loser's bracket and defeated Spring Hill by a score of 6-1 to win the Dixie Majors (ages 19 under) State Tournament on Wednesday at Charles R. Head Field.
The Heartland All-Stars won the Dixie Majors State Tournament for the second consecutive year and earned a berth in the Dixie Majors World Series in South Carolina.
"We're excited and to win the state championship in back-to-back years is awesome," said Heartland All-Star coach Chad Wright. "I'm so proud of all of our players and coaches and we faced some real quality teams and pitchers in this tournament.
"I like our team and we're looking forward to representing the Heartland."
The Heartland All-Stars had a bye in the first round of the five-team, double-elimination state tournament and lost to Hernando by a score of 2-1 in their first game.
The boys in red bounced back to win three consecutive games and the state title, including a thrilling 4-3 win over Hernando on Tuesday night.
"Hernando is a real solid team," Wright said. "We had two good games against them and both came down to the end."
The championship game against Spring Hill was scoreless until Heartland got on the scoreboard in the bottom of the second inning.
Josh Baber walked, moved to second on a ground ball, advanced to third base, and scored on a passed ball for a 1-0 lead.
Heartland added to its lead in the bottom of the third inning as Seth Abeln lined a leadoff double and Josh Townsend followed with an RBI triple. Brandon Rhea plated Townsend with a sacrifice fly to center field for a 3-0 lead.
Heartland pitcher Clayton Mason cruised through the potent Spring Hill lineup and allowed no runs in his four innings of work.
"Clayton filled up the strike zone which is what we wanted," Wright said. "He got ahead of the hitters, let his defense work for him and got us to the back end of our bullpen."
The Heartland offense went back to work in the bottom of the fourth inning as Josh Baber drilled a solo home run over the left-field scoreboard.
Josh Gomez singled, advanced to third base on a pair of ground outs and scored on a single by Rick Miller for a commanding 6-0 lead.
Mason allowed the first two Spring Hill batters to reach base in the top of the fifth inning and Nate Green came on in relief.
Green was able to work his way out of a bases-loaded jam by allowing only one run.
"Nate did a great job of getting out of that inning with only one run scoring," Wright said. "That was a key part of the game and to keep a big lead was huge."
Lane Crosson came in to pitch the final two innings for Heartland and the hard-throwing hurler handcuffed the Spring Hill batters to preserve the lead and seal the state championship.
"This is a great group of kids and I'm so proud of them," Wright said. "They play hard and do what I ask them to do."
The Heartland All-Stars will become Team Florida when they compete in the Dixie Majors World Series in North Charleston, S.C., beginning July 27.
"We're looking forward to competing in the World series," Wright said. "We finished fourth last year and we're hoping to do even better this year"