Local Sports

Devils stomp 'Dogs

FROSTPROOF - The scoreboard resembled the outcome of a Dixie Youth baseball game - 18 runs on 18 hits for Avon Park, and 10 runs on 12 hits for Frostproof.

"We really swung the bat well tonight," Red Devils coach Whit Cornell said. "So many of our guys did a great job that it'd probably take me another inning just to name them all."

After bolting out to a 10-0 lead, the Devils gave up seven runs in the second inning, but pulled away late to thwart Frostproof, 18-10 at Gary Garrett Field, for a critical Class 4A-District 9 victory.

The win improves the Devils to 13-3 overall and 5-1 in district play, while Frostproof dropped to 3-11 and 1-5.

"Frostproof answered, but we kept battling," Cornell said. "I'm really proud of how we responded."

In the early going, the game appeared to be a blowout. The Devils scored five runs in the top of the first, and another five in the second, largely thanks to a two-run blast from Alex Gomez. With the bases loaded, Avon Park's Mykel Gordon smashed what appeared to be a grand slam, but Frostproof's Ja'Darius Hawthorne made the defensive play of the game, plucking the ball from just over the edge of the outfield fence to keep the deficit manageable.

The momentum carried over into the bottom of the inning, as Frostproof rallied to score seven runs and cut the Devils' lead to 10-7.

"Obviously, we relaxed a little bit when we got a big lead. It's natural, but we answered when a lot of teams would've given in to the pressure," Cornell said. "We made big plays in the field when we needed to and stayed calm at the plate."

The Bulldogs took advantage of a few Avon Park errors in the middle innings, shrinking the Devils' lead to four runs by the top of the sixth inning.

But Kyle Kelly gave Avon Park some breathing room.

With the bases loaded, Kelly stroked the first pitch he saw over the left field fences for a grand slam. In just seconds, the Devils were up by nine runs.

"Kyle has really done a great job this year," Cornell said. "He's been in a limited role, but he's really embraced it and done a great job with it. I'm really impressed with his resolve."

Cornell put in Luis Cervera at third base in the bottom of the sixth, and the freshman owned the Bulldogs hitters.

Cervera made several acrobatic plays, calmly retiring two lasers hit his way. It was the time the underclassmen had been on the field at the varsity level, and his play caught the attention of his coach.

"He's been on junior varsity all year, but he came in tonight and made some fantastic plays," Cornell said. "A lot of guys would shy away from that situation, but he excelled."

Avon Park hosts non-district foe LaBelle tonight at 7 p.m. The Devils welcome McKeel Academy (6-13, 3-3) to Head Field on Friday night, and the Devils are looking for some payback.

"McKeel is one of our three losses," Cornell said. "We're definitely looking for some revenge."

Avon Park wraps up its district schedule on Tuesday at Mulberry (8-13, 4-3). The Devils will host the district tournament this year, which starts April 21. The top two teams advance to the regional round.