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Local teams claw to quarterfinals

Neither the Junior Boys A's nor Senior Girls A's battled for titles in the District 13 Tournament of Champions at Bloomingdale.

However, each Land O'Lakes team reached the quarterfinals in its respective series.

In the Junior Boys Division, the A's went 2-2 to finish fourth in the 14-team field. Land O'Lakes beat North Brandon 6-2 and Bloomingdale 10-6, but lost to East Bay 6-5 in 10 innings and South Brandon 3-1.

Blunders on the basepaths contributed to Land O'Lakes' downfall, coach Wally Deal said.

"It seemed like when we got a player on, for one reason or another, we were always getting picked off," he lamented. "Almost all the teams we played, we out-hit."

The A's went 20-5 in the regular season and entered the tournament with plans on running _ and often. "Speed ended up beating everybody else," Deal reasoned.

A's pitcher Aaron Deal (8-0) stopped North Brandon in the opener, throwing a three-hitter and striking out 10. James Bradley hit an RBI double, Curt Schafer went 2-for-3 with two runs scored and an RBI, and Stephen Estep scored twice in that game.

Clinton Bennett pitched 10 innings over two days (due to a curfew postponement), but took the loss against East Bay. Two errors and a wild pitch led to the winning run, tarnishing Bennett's 10-strikeout performance.

The A's had 14 hits, but were caught stealing four times and picked off base once in that contest. Land O'Lakes' Brian Apolonia hit a single and two-run double, and Jimmy Will had two hits and scored once.

Schafer pitched a five-hitter against Bloomingdale, striking out seven and walking five to earn the win. Estep, Deal and Mike Weimer each had singles and two RBI, while Bradley went 2-for-3 and scored once.

In the final game, Blake Lunsford pitched a three-hitter, but lost to South Brandon. He had eight walks, walking in two runners.

"He kept them off balance," the coach said. "They just had too many runners."

Deal singled and scored the A's only run against South Brandon, racing home when Bradley reached base on an infield error.

In the Senior Girls division, Land O'Lakes won three of five games to take fourth place in the tournament.

"I felt we were a much better team. We just lost it," A's coach Charlie Venator said.

The A's, 24-0 during the regular season, won the opening game by forfeit when North Seminole failed to field a team. In the next game, Land O'Lakes lost for the first time this season, 11-1 to Bloomingdale. The A's then beat Sulphur Springs 14-4 and North Brandon 11-1 before being eliminated after a 6-5 loss to East Point.

"We played the best team in the league cold," A's assistant coach Floyd DeForest said of the matchup with Bloomingdale. "That's certainly not the way to start. We fought our way through the losers bracket."

Venator thought his team was nervous against Bloomingdale, but admired the way the A's rallied from their only loss to outscore the opposition 25-5 in the next two games.

"They came back the next day ready," he said, adding that going undefeated "put them under a lot of pressure and they held up."

Perhaps no player had a better defensive series than rightfielder Stephanie Wright. She made several diving catches and an over-the-shoulder grab, and continuously robbed opposing batters with her speed and glove.