Last week, the Bartow Majors team in Dixie Youth Baseball set off for Arcadia for their next tournament as champions of District 7.
Thursday night, they returned to Bartow with an escort by the Bartow Police Department and Bartow Fire Department as 2013 Florida State Champions, having defeated Brooksville 5-3 in the state finals.
Bartow swept through the six games undefeated, but it wasn’t as easy as it may have seemed. Along the way the team had to battle back from deficits and strong performances by opponents, but they always got the job done.
The first game was an extra inning nail-biter, played against one of the two Bushnell teams. Bushnell was the Florida state champion last year that went on to win the 2012 World Series. Bartow quickly trailed, but it gave the first glimpse of the team’s character.
“We were down 5-0 in that first game,” said team manager John Marc Tamayo. “From the start, we had to play the way we knew how. Our team had confidence in what they could do and didn’t get down.” The result was a 7-6 Bartow win, helped in large part by the bat of Carlos Fernandez.
From there, it was a matchup with Brooksville that saw the Bartow bats come to life for a 15-3 drubbing. The Monday affair would send Bartow against the host DeSoto County squad. Strong pitching held the host team to a single run on their fields. Bartow added more offense with nine runs in that game. The Tuesday opponent was Bushnell, but this time it was the other Bushnell squad that had scored 20 runs and given up nothing. Bartow became the first team to score on them, getting four runs while the Bartow pitching and defense again rose to the occasion.
The 4-3 Bartow win made the team the only unbeaten squad in competition. Wednesday’s game saw a rematch with the first Bushnell team. Bartow scored six runs in the first inning, then tacked on two more. Confidence was high, but Bushnell showed the heart that displayed why they were among the elite teams in Florida. The opponent rallied back to tie the game at 8-8, which put the Bartow character to the test.
“They hung in there tight,” remembered Tamayo as the bats went to work. Bartow just kept racking up runs with big innings, moving the margin to 15-8 and then adding seven more including a grand slam.
Coming up in the bottom of the fifth, Bushnell trailed 22-8 and needed runs to extend the game to its full six innings. They could only manage three and Bartow headed to the championship on a 22-11 win. Meanwhile, Brooksville had fought back against Bushnell to take a 10-9 win on a nearby field, setting the stage for Bartow’s opponent.
The Wednesday games had been played with occasional rain, but the championship Thursday had none of that in the forecast. The game was scheduled at 5 p.m., played early in case Brooksville won and a second game was needed that night. Temperatures were warm and the shaded seating areas were popular. Those who opted for seating along the foul lines brought their own shade.
Brooksville scored in the top half of the first inning with a sacrifice fly bringing home the first run, but could add nothing to it. Bartow came to bat in the home half of the first and Jordan Daughtry tried to get things started with a single up the middle. He was able to get to third before a ground out ended the inning.
Brooksville went down in order in the second as pitcher Ryan Harbin fanned one and the Bartow defense took care of the rest.
Bartow tied the game when first baseman PJ Sloan worked a 2-2 count and drove the next pitch over the center field fence. Tucker Wiltrout singled, but was forced out on a fielder’s choice, putting Jake Manley at first. Bryce Walker hit the ball to the pitcher, who threw wildly to first as Manley was rounding the bases. Walker headed for second and the throw went past the defender into the outfield. Walker kept going and by the time the ball reached the infield, Walker had circled the bases and came home with Bartow’s third run. The 3-1 lead held until Brooksville scratched out two runs to tie in the fourth inning.
Nic Tamayo came on to pitch for Bartow in the fifth inning, giving up a single to the first batter, then striking out two of the next three hitters. Tamayo attempted to help his cause in the bottom of the fifth by stroking a one-out single and stealing second, but his mates couldn’t bring him home. The game went to the final inning all tied up.
The first Brooksville batter raced down the line of a slow grounder and beat the throw. That runner was able to advance to third after a few passed balls, but not until the first out of the inning was recorded when left fielder David Wilson made fine running catch of a ball drifting foul. The runner on third attempted to go home when the ball was hit to the pitcher, who tossed to catcher Harbin as the runner was caught between third and home. In the rundown, Tamayo took the throw and collided with the runner, putting on the tag for the second out. With a runner on second, Brooksville’s effort died with a called third strike for the final out.
As home team, Bartow had the last chance and would be facing a new Brooksville pitcher. On his way to the third base coaching box, Tamayo told the team, “I don’t need heroes. I need line drives. Any way you can, we need you on base.”
Harbin responded by roping a drive to the right field fence, but the Brooksville defense kept it to a one base hit. On the next pitch, Sloan sealed the deal with a towering walk-off home run over the left field fence to give Bartow the 5-3 win and the state championship.
After the on-field ceremonies and trophy presentation, the team made the trip back to Bartow for a victory party at Beef O’Brady’s. As the motorcade hit the city limits, it picked up the escort and the team was met by a few dozen supporters who got the word. Soon the restaurant would be filled for a perfect way to cap the state tournament.
“We’re so excited about this,” said Tamayo. “The kids worked hard and stayed very focused. I am real proud of what we’ve been able to do.”
Many factors played into the victory, but power and speed are among them. The team hit at least 10 home runs, coming from five different players.
“We have a lot of speed,” Tamayo pointed out. “Your team speed can affect the other team because they have to always be aware of it. We also did a good job of cutting down the strikeouts.”
The team has versatility as another key component with several players able to play different positions.
“We have a lot of kids who are very athletic,” added Tamayo. “They’re good athletes who like to play baseball. we can move them around and they all know their role.”
Tamayo thanks everyone for the support of the team, citing everyone who made the daily trip to Arcadia, those who listened to the games and the Bartow Police and Fire Departments among them.
With the honor and title, Bartow, as state champion, goes to the Dixie Youth Baseball World Series. Though the team was in the series last year, it was there because it was the host team. This year, it’s different, an honor brought on by winning in competition. The players won’t be sleeping in their own beds, but traveling to Laurel, Miss., with play starting on Aug. 3. The first opponent will be the yet-to-be-determined Arkansas champion.
The team has less than a month to raise the necessary funding to take the journey to the next step and plans are underway on how to get this done.
“We need to get money for the hotels, gas and other expenses,” said Tamayo. “These kids deserve the continued support. They have earned that support and they appreciate it.”
Private donations are welcome and community-based fund raisers will soon be known. Tamayo and Bartow Dixie officials will be gathering the donations. Contact information to make a donation can be found at www.bartowbaseball.org or e-mailing Tamayo at email@example.com.
Tamayo was assisted by coaches Mike Walker and Wayne Olinger. Members of the 2013 Florida state champion are Jordan Daughtry, Carlos Fernandez, Ryan Harbin, Noah Lewis, Jake Manley, Mason Neller, Jacob Olinger, PJ Sloan, Nic Tamayo, Bryce Walker, David Wilson and Tucker Wiltrout.