Avon Park thumps Okeechobee Offense rolls in Ozone win, Sebring crushes Okeechobee

LAKE PLACID - Lake June Ball Field had its fair share of fireworks Friday evening. Avon Park and Sebring kicked off the first night of play in the Dixie Youth Ozone district tournament (ages 11-12) by scoring 25 runs combined in their two games. Avon Park started the afternoon theatrics, thumping Okeechobee 10-5 while Sebring finished off Lake Placed in the nightcap 15-4 in a five-inning, mercy-rule shortened affair. "The boys came through, and we just started hitting," said Avon Park coach Buckie Turner. "That was the turning point." Up 3-1 heading into the top of the third inning, Avon Park started showing the bunt, which led to a meltdown on the mound for Okeechobee. Avon Park finished the inning with four runs, punctuated by first baseman Cooper Tyler's two-run single.
Two Okeechobee pitching changes did little to stem Avon Park's offensive onslaught, as the team's batters always managed to find a way to get on base. "We showed a little small ball, then we went back to big ball," Turner said. Pitching and baserunning was key for Avon Park as well. Eli Fautheree got the start, and was unhittable through the middle innings, as he struck out seven. On the base paths, Avon Park helped Okeechobee rack up a handful of errors, as Okeechobee's defense always seemed to be a step behind the runner, often throwing the ball into the outfield or into the backstop behind home plate. "We work on baserunning at least a good thirty minutes at every practice," Turner said. "We're out there running double-steals and everything." Okeechobee had a spirited comeback attempt in the bottom of the fifth inning, but it was too little, too late. Down 8-1 with two outs, Jose Holmes and Mark Thomas belted back-to-back two-run doubles to close the deficit to three runs. Avon Park answered in the next inning, scoring two more runs to make it 10-5. Gunner Leonard came into relieve, and shut the door on Okeechobee, holding them scoreless in the their final at-bat. Friday's nightcap had considerably less excitement than the earlier game, as Lake Placid blew an early 2-0 lead to Sebring on the strength of three back-to-back-to-back home runs. Those three blasts only set the stage for what was to come, however, as Carson Angell capped off the scoring barrage in the next inning with a grand slam. "We haven't even had a full team practice yet," said Sebring coach Anthony Gaines. "Most of our kids are fresh off a long car ride from Cooperstown." The time away from the diamond appeared to have little impact on Sebring, as the team looked crisp on offense and defense. Sebring also finished the game with zero errors. "One of our kids, Josh Rivera, just pulled up from a 28-hour car ride," Gaines said. "He stepped out of the car, started the game, and hit a home run in the third inning. I can't take credit for that. Our guys put a lot of work in - they play year round - they're just ball players." Lake Placid tried to make the score more respectable late in the game, scoring once more in the top of the fifth inning off of Katwan Ward's RBI ground out, but it only served as a small interruption to Sebring's rhythm behind the plate. Sebring ended the game on a 10-run mercy rule in the bottom of the same inning soon after by racking up five more runs. Gaines added that having a motivated bench of younger players has really helped keep his older kids focused. "What really helps our kids stay motivated is the bench," Gaines said. "The kids who only get to bat once due to Dixie rules, are raring to get higher into the lineup, so the older guys have to be aware that they're gunning for them. It's almost like a game within a game." With the win, Avon Park and Sebring moved into the winner's bracket and played each other on Saturday. Results were not available at press time. Meanwhile, Lake Placid and Okeechobee fell into the loser's bracket and faced each other in an elimination game on Saturday. Results were not available at press time. bhoward@highlandstoday.com 863-386-5841