O-Zone All-Stars stack wins in state tournament

BRISTOL — The Okeechobee O-Zone All-Stars are currently tied for first in the round robin portion of the state tournament after three games played.

Okeechobee opened the tournament, which is being held in Bristol, Fla., with a game against Spring Hill National on July 6.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/Amanda Whidden
The Okeechobee O-Zone All-Stars pose for a photograph after their performance in the district tournament in June.

Spring Hill National went up on Okeechobee early by putting up three runs in the first two innings. By the top of the third, the National’s lead would increase to 6-1.

But it didn’t take long for the Okeechobee bats to come alive. The All-Stars had inched closer to National by bringing the score to 6-5 when, with the bases loaded and two outs on the board, Okeechobee’s Jason Jolly plunked a little slow-rolling blooper toward the pitcher’s mound to bring in two runs and give his team its first lead of the game.

By the end of the game Okeechobee’s offense had racked up double-digit runs as the All-Stars would go on to win 16-9.

O-Zone All-Stars head coach Edmundo Cruz had said he planned to work on the team’s batting ahead of the state tournament and it appears that extra work has paid off.

The next day on July 7, Okeechobee faced the other team from Spring Hill, Spring Hill American. This game wasn’t as high-scoring as the first, but Okeechobee did enough to win it with a final score of 2-1.

Charlie Micco had a standout game for Okeechobee on the mound, allowing only one run and three hits in six innings. Up next Okeechobee faced a team they were all too familiar with, the Sebring All-Stars.

Okeechobee and Sebring had last faced each other a few weeks ago in the district championship. The championship was decided in a double-elimination match which meant it would take two wins to earn the championship trophy. Sebring took the first game with relative ease thanks to a sluggish offensive performance by Okeechobee. But in the second game, Okeechobee fought its way into a tie with the home team in the sixth inning, when the All-Stars nearly had a walk-off victory but had it taken away thanks to a controversial call by the home-plate umpire.

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 district championship winning run.

After such a close call in the championship, it goes without saying that Okeechobee was ready for another shot at the Sebring team. The two teams’ match-up in the state tournament on July 8 started out as a pitchers duel early. Okeechobee’s Caleb Cruz threw multiple three-up, three-down innings to limit the Sebring offense. In the top of the fifth, Cruz threw only three pitches to get three outs. He was able to force three easy ground balls to retire the side.

But in the top of the sixth, the wheels came off the Okeechobee defense and Sebring was able to jump out to a 5-0 lead.

In the bottom of the sixth Micco was able to bring in one run thanks to a well hit ball to center field, but another controversial call at home plate denied Okeechobee another run. That’d be as close as Okeechobee would come to a rally and Sebring would go on to win 5-1.

The next day Okeechobee played their final game in the round robin portion of the tournament. They faced Holmes County in an early game at 9 a.m. on July 9.

Okeechobee scored early and often against Holmes County, and by the end of the first inning the All-Stars lead 4-0. They would go on to win 8-1.

That win gives the All-Stars one of the best records in the tournament so far at 3-1. Okeechobee now waits to see how the last few games will shake out on July 10 to see who they’ll face in a likely playoff on July 11.

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

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