AVON PARK - Opposing pitchers are still searching for a way to cool Avon Park's bats.
McKeel Academy got its chance Friday night, but the Wildcats had no such luck, as the Red Devils pummeled them by a score of 9-2 at Charles R. Head Field.
The resounding Class 4A-District 9 win avenged an earlier loss to the Wildcats, and secured the Devils a No. 1 seed for the upcoming district tournament.
"I'm really proud of the guys," Avon Park coach Whit Cornell said. "We reached one of our goals this year, which was to be the No. 1 seed heading into the district tournament."
In the early going, though, the game had all the necessary ingredients for a classic pitching duel. Avon Park's (15-3, 6-1) Kenny McGrath didn't allow a hit through the first three innings, while McKeel's (6-14, 3-4) Ross Nelson was just as stingy.
"Kenny did a really good job out there, especially on a night where he didn't have his best stuff, but he's better than most," Cornell said. "And then Tyrone came in and did a good job to close the game."
The Devils stayed disciplined at the plate. In the third inning, they finally broke through the Wildcats defense. After two quick outs, Nelson walked Luis Martinez and Tyron Perry. Mykel Gordon singled to bring home Martinez and give the Devils a 1-0 lead.
Avon Park's offensive momentum carried over into the fourth inning as well. The Devils loaded the bases, and Martinez blasted a single to left field to plate Trey Frazier. Perry followed with an RBI ground out to put Avon Park up 3-0.
It all unraveled for McKeel in the fifth inning. With a new pitcher on the mound, the Devils exploded for four runs.
Avon Park had runners on first and third base when Kyle Thompson launched an RBI single to center field. Martinez followed with his second RBI of the game, hitting a sacrifice fly to score Frazier. Gordon tallied his third RBI of the night when he plated Thompson with a single, and some alert baserunning from Alfred Brown gave the Devils another run to cap the inning. Gordon finished 2 for 3 with a game-high three RBIs.
McKeel managed two runs in the sixth inning. Trent Garcia scampered home thanks to a fielder's choice, and Bryce Barter singled to score James White.
But the Devils countered in the bottom of the inning thanks to a booming double from Brown and a wild pitch. Brown's smash to center field left him waltz into second standing up, scoring Norris Gordon in the process, while a passed ball let Frazier show off his speed as he sprinted home to cap the Devils' scoring.
"We had a really good game offensively," Cornell said. "Against us last time, McKeel had a lot of timely hitting and put the ball wherever they wanted to, but tonight we did that."
Avon Park wraps up its district schedule on Tuesday night at Head Field. The Devils host Mulberry (9-13, 4-3) at 7 p.m. and will be looking to sweep the regular season series against the Panthers.
Despite locking up the top seed in the district tournament, Cornell warned now is not the time to let up.
"We're not going to change our approach just because we've secured the No. 1 seed," he said. "We need to go out and play quality baseball and represent the city of Avon Park regardless of whether its a regular season or postseason game."
The Devils will host this year's district tournament, which runs from April 21-25. Avon Park will have a bye in the first round and play the winner of the No. 4 and No. 5 seed game.