Machine Pitch All Stars head to state

LAKE PLACID — It took four days, four games and a come-from-behind victory, but the Okeechobee Rookie Machine Pitch All Stars are headed to the state tournament in Sebring on June 28.

The All-Stars opened the district tournament in Lake Placid with a 15-0 win over the home team, the Lake Placid All-Stars, on June 14. The next day Okeechobee lost a close game to Avon Park 12-8. Avon Park then went on to defeat Lake Placid to eliminate them from the tournament and set up a double elimination championship game against Okeechobee.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/OCRA
The Okeechobee Rookie Machine Pitch All-Stars are district champions and on their way to the state tournament.

All-Stars head coach Clint LaFlam played Dixie Youth baseball himself growing up in Okeechobee. He played against Avon Park many times in those days, and there was one constant theme throughout those games — Okeechobee always lost to Avon Park.

On June 15 the All-Stars started the first of their two games against Avon Park and were able to jump out to a 7-1 lead before inclement weather forced the game to be postponed until the next day.

Bad weather would force the June 16 game to be canceled as well, so the All-Stars had to wait yet another day to finish their game.

Finally, on June 17, Okeechobee made the trip back to Lake Placid to take on Avon Park. The All-Stars were able to win the first game against Avon Park 12-2, which gave them one more shot to earn a trip to the state tournament.

Avon Park took a 4-1 lead in the third inning and it looked like Okeechobee would once again fall short against the Avon Park All-Stars. But a well-placed bunt helped spark a rally that Okeechobee rode all the way to a 9-6 victory.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/OCRA
Players on the Okeechobee Rookie Machine Pitch All-Stars celebrate after defeating Avon Park in the district tournament on June 17.

“I played Dixie Youth in Okeechobee since I was 6 years old all the way to high school,” said LaFlam. “I never made it to a state tournament. We were always beat out. And I never beat Avon Park as a kid. So when they beat us in that first game, I kind of thought, ‘Well, here it goes again.’ But then our kids beat them twice in one day. That was huge. I’ve been telling the kids that where they are right now at 8 years old, we were nowhere near that. They’re far better than we were. They’re tough.”

LaFlam said the coach of the Avon Park team is a friend whom he played against growing up. Now, both coaches have kids playing against each other in Dixie Youth.

Okeechobee will now travel to Sebring on June 28 to compete in the state tournament, with a shot at the World Series on the line.

“We’re going to be going against some of the top teams in the state,” explained LaFlam. “But we have a good group of kids. Great coaches and great kids. We have all the pieces together, just have to see what happens.” If you’d like to watch and cheer the Okeechobee team on but can’t make the trip to Sebring, Jock Jive will be streaming the games live on their website at https://www.jockjive.com/fldyb.html.

Richard Marion is a staff writer and photographer at Lake Okeechobee News and can be reached at rmarion@newszap.com.

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