In the state tournament, little plays can mean the difference between winning a title and going home. Such was the case for the Land O' Lakes Little League Junior baseball team Sunday in the state tournament at Port St. Lucie.
Trailing 3-1 entering the sixth, Land O' Lakes looked like it might rally to win the game and advance to the semifinals. Land O' Lakes had the winning run on base when a fly ball to center scored a run to make it 3-2.
But a base runner at second tagged and tried to advance to third on the play, only to be thrown out. The double play ended the game and the season for Land O' Lakes.
But Land O' Lakes manager Harry Olsen said, despite the depressing loss, the tournament experience was an uplifting event.
'It was one of the best experiences I've ever had as a manager of a team in any sport,' Olsen said. 'Just getting the kids that far and seeing how excited they were and how hard they were trying, it was just fantastic. I got to know a lot of parents just from the time we stayed together at the hotel and sitting by the pool. It was just a great experience all around.'
In the third and final game of pool play, Michael Hebert did his best to get the team over the hump. He had two hits in as many at-bats and drew a walk. He also pitched five innings, holding Viera down long enough to keep his team in the game.
'He threw 93 pitches and was outstanding,' Olsen said. 'It was the best I have ever seen him play.'
Saturday, in the first game of pool play, a game Land O' Lakes won 8-5 against Coral Springs, Chad Witkowski and Herbert both homered. In the second game Saturday, Land O' Lakes lost to Fort Myers 7-4.
Another element of the tournament Olsen will remember fondly was the sportsmanship displayed by opposing teams. 'The other kids were classy,' he said. 'There was a lot of good respect from all the kids.'
Land O' Lakes Seniors Prove They Can Compete
The Land O' Lakes Little League Senior baseball squad may want to forget how the state baseball tournament at Winter Garden unfolded for the team (it failed to reach the semifinals), but the team members will be remembered for a long time.
At the Land O' Lakes Little League fields, whenever a team reaches a state tournament, the names of the players of that particular team are engraved in the walls of dugout, enshrined for future players, parents and fans to see.
'The kids' names will be remembered for a few years,' Land O' Lakes manager Scott Hilgenberg said. 'Now they will be able to see their names up there. They were excited about that. That's a nice little thing.'
Entering the tournament, Hilgenberg had heard so much about how strong the teams were, he wondered if his squad could complete. Although losing two of three games, Land O' Lakes hung with the other teams, even after a disastrous start to Boynton Beach in the first game of the tournament.
Three of the first four Boynton Beach batters belted home runs, including the leadoff batter, who drove the first pitch of the game over the fence.
'Once we settled down we played all right,' Hilgenberg said. 'You take away that one inning and it's a different game.'
Several of the Boynton Beach players were members of the Boynton Beach Major Little League team that played in the Little League World Series.
For Land O' Lakes, Joe Connelly had seven hits in 10 at-bats and hit three homers in the tournament.