AVON PARK — JC Cobb singled in the go-ahead run in the bottom of the sixth inning to lead Avon Park to a 6-3 win over McKeel Academy in the Class 4-District 9 championship game on Friday night at Charles R. Head Field.
The win improved the Red Devils to an impressive 20-4 on the season and gives them a home game against Tampa Catholic in the regional quarterfinals on Thursday night.
“I’m proud of the guys,” said Avon Park coach Whit Cornell. “We’ve worked hard all season and you have to give McKeel credit because they have a good team and played us tough.
“JC came through with a big hit and we’ve had different guys come through with big plays all season.”
Avon Park jumped on top in the bottom of the first inning as Luis Martinez walked and Tyrone Perry drilled a triple to left-center field off McKeel right-hander Ben Cheshire to score Martinez.
Mykel Gordon followed with a sacrifice fly to left field to plate Perry to give the Red Devils a quick 2-0 lead.
McKeel got on the scoreboard in the top of the second inning as Clark Grenfell and Trent Garcia reached on Avon Park errors and Brian Barbosa lined a single to right field off Red Devil left-hander Kenny McGrath to make it 2-1.
Avon Park answered in the bottom of the frame as Cobb smacked a one-out single to center field, stole second and third base and scored on an infield single by Alfred Brown to give the Red Devils a 3-1 lead.
McGrath, who allowed only three hits, cruised through the McKeel lineup until the top of the fifth inning.
Garcia led off with a bunt single down the third-base line and Barbosa singled to left field. That was all for McGrath as Perry was brought in to try and stifle the Wildcats’ threat.
A wild pitch moved the runners into scoring position and Jo Rivera lofted a sacrifice fly to center field to score Garcia.
Perry uncorked another wild pitch and Barbosa raced home to tie the game at 3.
McKeel Academy made a pitching change and brought in Dylan Lefebver in place of Cheshire.
Lefebver retired the Red Devils in order in the bottom of the fifth inning, but the right-hander ran into trouble in the bottom of the sixth inning when he lost his control.
Avon Park second baseman Mason Jahna got things started with a leadoff single to right field, designated hitter Kyle Kelley single to left field and Alex Gomez worked a walk to load the bases with no outs.
That brought up Cobb who stroked a single to right field on a 3-2 pitch to plate the first run of the inning.
“I was a little nervous at first, but I kept calm and just tried to put the ball in play,” Cobb said. “I was expecting a fastball, but I adjusted to a change-up and when I saw the ball land for a hit it was the best feeling ever.”
The Red Devils weren’t done as a wild pitch scored another run and McKeel went to its bullpen.
Brandon Smith came on in relief and walked Martinez and Perry to force in another run to give Avon Park a commanding 6-3 lead.
McKeel, down to its last three outs, refused to fold and had one last threat in the top of the seventh inning.
Barbosa lined a one-out single to right field and Smith worked Perry for a walk to bring the tying run to the plate with two outs.
Perry, a hard-throwing right-hander, bore down to retire the last batter to seal the victory and the district championship for the Red Devils.
“Kenny gave us a solid start and Tyrone did a good job in relief and we came through with some clutch hits in key situations,” Cornell said. “We got contributions from different players and that’s the way it’s been al season.”
McKeel Academy will play at District 10 champion Berkeley Prep in a regional quarterfinal while Avon Park will host district runner-up Tampa Catholic Thursday night.
“Tampa Catholic has a good team,” Cornell said. “Between our two schools we have won a lot of state championships and it’s going to be a game between two tradition-rich programs.
“We match up well with them and we’re thrilled to be able to play at home in front of the best fans and a great atmosphere.”