SEBRING — The North team weathered a late rally from the West squad to hold on for a 4-3 victory in the 36th annual FACA All-Star Baseball Classic at Firemen’s Field on Sunday.
The West mounted an improbable comeback against the East team on Saturday, but came up just short against the North, as Ocala-Vanguard’s Darren Kelly closed the game with a spectacular 10th inning.
“It was nice to see the ball in his hands,” said North coach Mike Bullock, who also serves as head coach at Ocala-Vanguard. “I’ve watched him for four years and it was good to have him out there — he was on.”
After a tumultuous start to the afternoon, which saw both teams light up the scoreboard through the first four innings, pitching dominated the latter half of the game. The bats fell silent between the sixth and ninth innings, as opposing pitchers combined to strike out eight batters.
The defense in the field was airtight as well. In the bottom of the eight, with the West threatening to score with the bases loaded and only one out, Ponte Vedra’s Max Miller and Tallahassee-Rickards’ Tremayne Holmes turned a 6-4-3 double play to nullify the West’s scoring opportunity.
After a quick 10th, the West went back to the plate hoping for another miracle. Sarasota’s Dylan Busby led off the inning with a single, and errant throws in the infield let him scamper over to second base. Kelly recovered to strike out Clearwater Central Catholic’s Brendon Overton and Sarasota’s Brandon Overton, but Venice’s Dalton Guthrie ripped a single to plate Busby and cut the deficit to 4-3.
Guthrie made his way over to second base, but then got greedy. Trying for third with Manatee’s West Davis at the plate, Guthrie was picked off thanks to a heads up play by Pensacola-Catholic catcher Cody Henry and North Florida Christian’s Jared Barnes. Guthrie’s bungled steal attempt gifted the North a one-run victory.
“Both days our bullpen and defense played really well,” Bullock said. “When we got deep into the later innings, people just came in and played well in low-scoring games. We didn’t really give up much.”
Bullock, who made his third appearance in the FACA Classic this year, added that it was nice to finally get a win on the first day.
“Being on the North for my third year in a row, I don’t think we’ve beaten the South in the first game,” he said. “This was the first chance to get to play in the second game and I was happy we got it done.”
Bullock added that the logistics of ensuring 22 players get equal exposure in front of collegiate and MLB scouts is one of the Classic’s biggest challenges.
“The biggest thing to remember is that this is for the kids,” Bullock said. “They’re all good and they all deserve to be here.”
Bullock is acutely aware that a good outing in the prestigious Classic could boost a player’s draft stock or lock up a Division I scholarship.
“The tricky thing is that some of these kids might play out of position when we go through pitchers, but we tried to give everyone five or six at-bats over the weekend,” Bullock said. “The guys got together and really bonded over the weekend, too. The chemistry was good. They told me they wanted to come out here and win it, and they did.”
“Everything was about baseball,” Bullock added. “There were no attitudes or anything like that. It was all about playing the game.”