O-Zone All-Stars slide into the state tournament

SEBRING — The Okeechobee O-Zone All-Stars battled their way into a second place finish during the Dixie Ozone district 8 tournament in Sebring on June 18.

They now move to play in the state tournament in Bristol, Fla., starting on July 6.

Okeechobee kicked off the tournament in dramatic fashion with a walk-off win over Lake Placid in the sixth inning thanks to a home run hit by Ethan Blomefield. The late-inning home run gave Okeechobee the 9-8 win in what had been a nail-biter against Lake Placid. Lake Placid would go on to lose its next game to Sebring.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/OCRA
The Okeechobee O-Zone All-Stars nearly pulled off two walk-off victories during their district tournament in Sebring.

That put the O-Zone All-Stars up against Sebring in a double-elimination match for the district championship. Sebring took the first game with relative ease thanks to what Okeechobee coach Edmundo Cruz called a sluggish offensive performance by his team.

Still, Okeechobee was down, but not out. The two teams squared up again, and any hope Sebring had of an easy victory was put to rest once the game began.

Okeechobee fought its way into a tie with the home team in the sixth inning, when the All-Stars nearly had another walk-off victory. “We had an inside the park home run,” explained Cruz. “But the umpire called our player out at the plate because he didn’t slide. There is a rule that you have to slide at the plate if the ball is thrown and there is a play. But I didn’t think there was a play. You can’t really argue with the umpire at that point, though. So that was it. We would’ve won 6-5 in the sixth inning with that play.”

With the game still tied in the bottom of the sixth, that meant the championship would need to go into extra innings.

Okeechobee was able to hold back the Sebring offense through the seventh and eighth innings, but after a few walks in the ninth, a Sebring batter was able to pop the ball up and bring home the winning run.

“The boys played real hard,” said Cruz of his team. “In that second game, the hitting is what killed us. I’m really proud of these boys. … We have a chance to win the state tournament, and that’s what we’re shooting for.”

With practice time the team now has before the tournament, Cruz says he plans to focus on hitting the ball and putting runners on base.

Okeechobee will get another shot at that Sebring team in Bristol starting on July 6.

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

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