Roughly 34 miles separate the home fields of the Spring Hill and South Sumter Dixie Baseball Leagues.
Yet teams from those two organizations found themselves up in the Panhandle on Wednesday, playing in the final of the AAA Minors (age 9-10) All-Stars State Tournament at the MERE Complex in Marianna.
In the fifth meeting between the squads going back to last month’s District 6 Tournament at Anderson Snow Sports Complex, Spring Hill American White won 14-3 in four innings over South Sumter to claim a state crown and a trip to the World Series beginning Aug. 5 in Oxford, Ala.
“It was very nice,” said SH American White head coach John McMurdo, who led a Spring Hill team to state and World Series titles in the AA Machine Pitch division in 2015. “Last time we did it in Machine Pitch. This time we were relying on pitching. It’s a great accomplishment. It’s awesome, it’s just as good as the first one.
“Going into it we knew they (South Sumter) would probably be a pretty strong team. It’s never easy. That’s a team we worry about a lot because they are very talented.”
Back in districts, South Sumter won the first game between the clubs, 9-5, before SH American White won 2-0 in 11 innings and 17-4 on back-to-back days in the final round of the double-elimination event.
At states, SH American White started off on Saturday with host Marianna and captured a hard-fought 5-1 victory. Andrew Ward hit a two-run home run in the top of the first, then Travis Clark had a two-run double and scored on Brandon Higgins’ sacrifice bunt in the sixth.
After a rainy Sunday, SH American White met up with South Sumter again on Monday and came out on top, 7-3. Trailing 2-0 in the bottom of the fourth, SH American White scored five times on a double by Ward, a two-run double-bagger by Raymond Groetsch and an error. Ward tacked on two with a homer in the fifth.
On Tuesday, SH American White defeated Marianna a second time, 6-5 in walk-off fashion. A three-run bottom of the fifth put the Hernando County crew ahead, 5-3, when Dalton Williams plated a pair on a single and Zach Hotop came across on a passed ball.
Marianna tied it up scoring twice in the sixth, but in the bottom half Groetsch got hit by a pitch and traversed around the bases on three separate passed balls. That set up the finale versus South Sumter.
Squaring off with the Bushnell-based foe once more, SH American White was paced by Groetsch, who tossed a complete game while going 3-for-3 with four runs batted in and two runs scored. Ward and Clark drove in two runs apiece.
“The first three games, the hitting wasn’t great,” McMurdo said. “But they came out and hit the ball well (on Wednesday). There were a lot of extra-base hits. There were errors we capitalized on and kept it going.
“We’ve gotten a little used to them because we played them so much. The kids adjusted to their pitching. But it’s the same with them, they’ve seen our pitching.”
SH American White, now 9-1 overall, has a few weeks now to prepare for the World Series, a return trip for six players who were with McMurdo two years ago.
“We expect to run into some good teams there,” McMurdo said. “With these boys, we’re never surprised with how they’ve performed. We know they can do it as long as they stay healthy. Of course we want to go there and win it, but we know we have to show up and play hard.
“This team has played a lot of games out of town, too, in travel ball tournaments. We’ve been in a lot of tournaments. We’ll treat this as another tournament. We know it’s the World Series for Dixie. It’s a big deal. We’re proud of them. They’re looking forward to it and they’re excited about it. It’s definitely a plus to have that prior experience.”
Follow Chris Bernhardt Jr. on Twitter @cpbernhardtjr.