LAKELAND - Leading 7-1 for most of Sunday's Dixie Youth Ozone (ages 11 to 12) State Tournament game, Lake Placid let slip away a six-run lead in the bottom of the sixth inning and lost to Marianna on a two-run, walk off home run by a score of 8-7. The loss eliminated Lake Placid from the double-elimination state tournament.
"We just fell apart in the fifth inning," Lake Placid coach Tracey Carpenter said. "I told them to keep on pounding, but even a 7-1 lead isn't enough in this tournament. No lead is safe."
From the game's outset, however, it appeared that Lake Placid would cruise to a big victory. Erskin Toliver got things rolling for Gang Green with a leadoff single. Cody Carpenter then stepped to the plate, and with two strikes, blasted a pitch over the wall in left-center field.
Kamari Brown reached after a ball hit him in the head, and Katwan Ward swatted another pitch over the outfield fences to give Lake Placid a 4-0 lead.
Marianna scored one run in the bottom of the first inning, when Jessie Harris scored Riley Torbett with a sacrifice fly. But that would be the last time a Marianna baserunner even sniffed home plate until the fifth inning.
After trading zeros in the second inning, Lake Placid rekindled its offense in the top of the third thanks to three Marianna errors.
With two outs already in the books, Cody Jolley reached on a single. Toliver followed with a laser to Marianna's second baseman, but he bobbled the toss to first base, and everyone was safe.
Randall Smith's balk advanced Jolley and Toliver, and with Lake Placid's baserunners in scoring position, all Carpenter had to do was put the ball in play.
But he wouldn't even need to swing the bat, as back-to-back wild pitches from Smith scored both Jolley and Toliver to give Lake Placid a commanding 6-1 lead.
The team's stellar pitching continued into the fourth, as Quiuesmael Sholtz was unflappable. After beaming Marianna's lead-off batter, he struck out Will Saunders and Wesley Pippen back-to-back before getting Smith to ground out to first.
Both teams went scoreless in the fourth inning, and Lake Placid scored its final run in the top of the fifth on another wild pitch, as Jolley was able to scamper home when the ball got away from Marianna's catcher.
But that's when things went downhill. A lengthy lightning delay would postpone the game for close to 45 minutes, and Lake Placid's pitching would never recover.
Despite racking up his seventh strikeout, Sholtz was pulled after he walked three of the first four Marianna batters. However, Toliver had trouble with his command as well, walking Smith to load the bases.
Before Lake Placid could even blink, Riley Torbett doubled to clear the bases, cutting the lead to 7-4. Wesley Rogers followed with an RBI single, scoring Torbett all the way from second.
Lake Placid's Carpenter then decided to make another change on the mound, bringing in Jolley for Toliver, who walked his first batter, but settled down to strike out Beau Alday to end the inning.
"We have very bad luck with the rain," Carpenter said after the game with a chuckle. "It seems to follow us everywhere."
Still up 7-4, all Lake Placid needed to do was hold on and the team would advance. But a costly baserunning error would cost the team a scoring opportunity in the top of the sixth.
After Ward reached on an error by the center fielder, Wyatt Moore hit a line-drive right to the shortstop, who caught Ward off guard and doubled him up. Royston Daley grounded out to third soon after to end the inning.
Everything went right for Marianna in the game's final inning.
Caleb Torbett lead-off with a single, followed by Loren Waldron's single, and a wild pitch from Jolley advanced both runners. After Jolley struck out Smith, Riley Torbett hit an RBI ground out to make it 7-6.
Now with both team's season coming down to the game's final out, the stage was set for Marianna's Harris. Jolley pitched valiantly, drawing a few foul balls on Harris to get ahead in the count, but he continued to battle. And he eventually got the pitch he wanted, sending it deep into the parking lot behind right-center field for a dramatic one-run win.
After the game, Carpenter said he was proud of his team despite the heartbreaking loss, and added that he's looking forward to next season.
"It means a lot to make it to state," he said. "Hopefully, we're just going to come put it to them again next year and see if we can go farther."
Sebring is the only Highlands County team left in the state tournament. The boys in blue faced off against Hardee on Monday night to decide which team moved on to the quarterfinals. Results of the game were not available at press time.