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Hernando Majors fall at state

Things were going so well for Tim Sims and his Hernando Youth League Dixie Majors in the state tournament at Avon Park. The team was pitching well, manufacturing runs, and capitalizing on other team's mistakes.

Monday night, they got a taste of their own medicine.

The Majors had two bad defensive innings and wound up losing their first game of the state tournament to Marion County, 12-6, despite a sterling pitching performance from Francisco Garcia.

"We're in a good situation, though, we're still in it," said Sims, whose team faced Lake Sumter late Tuesday with a chance to advance to the title game tonight.

Hernando was doomed by a fourth inning that started with a walk, a sacrifice bunt that was dropped by the first baseman, and a hit batter, allowing Marion County to load the bases before pushing its lead to 6-1.

Hernando came back in the fifth to keep Marion County in its sights. Jay Pingley, Randy Smith, Bert Bodiford, Mike Harrison and Matt Morgan each got hits, with Harrison and Morgan combining for three RBI as Hernando closed the gap to 6-5. But that was as close as it would get.

After a three-run fifth inning for Marion County, Pingley drilled a solo home run to left-centerfield to cut the score to 9-6. But the bottom of the sixth was, as Sims put it, "ugly."

"We just kind of self-destructed, and that's the best word for what happened," he said. "We self-destructed instead of playing baseball."

The destruction began quickly. The first two Marion County batters reached base on back-to-back errors and came around to score on three consecutive wild pitches.

Garcia pitched 5 innings, allowing four earned runs on six hits. He struck out 11 and walked five while throwing 133 pitches.

"He threw the game we wanted him to throw against the team we wanted him to throw it against," Sims said. "Everything that we were doing to other teams came back and happened to us."

The Marion County game was a stark contrast to Hernando's previous two games. Those included a Jason Branch grand slam and a pitching performance by Morgan that included eight strikeouts in seven innings in a 12-5 win against Chipley.

Hernando's next game was a 13-3 defeat of host Avon Park that featured a 55-minute inning in which Morgan hit a three-run homer and Hernando scored 10 runs to end the game early.

PRE-MAJORS FALL: Another Hernando team playing in the state tournament is the Pre-Major 14-year-olds.

Coach Brent Lynch's team lost its first game Monday night in Sebring, dropping a 3-1 decision to Belleview. It was to play again Tuesday for the chance to advance to the tournament final.

In Hernando's opening game, John Neal pitched six innings, allowing one run on four hits while striking out 11 as his team beat Bartow 2-1.

The third inning was a busy one for the two teams as Hernando scored twice in the top half and Bartow followed with one in the bottom of the inning.

Hernando's Eric Kendall knocked in Mike Hill and Matt Hammond, both of whom had singled, with a double.

"The first game was a close one," Lynch said, "but we came out and jumped on them in the second game."

That would be where Hernando scored five runs in the first, two in the second and three in the fifth for a 10-5 victory over Okeechobee.

Matt Balogh started the game and was relieved by Adam Boyer and Tim Ames, who came in to pitch the seventh for the second game in a row and struck out two.