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League's second crown was a long time coming

It took 26 years for a Land O'Lakes All-Star team to win the second sectional championship in league history.

The wait was unexpectedly extended when the Land O'Lakes Junior baseball team (ages 13-14) went home Monday after six innings tied at 2 against Windermere because of a rain delay and an 11:30 p.m. Little League curfew.

Land O'Lakes needed one inning Tuesday in Clermont for a 3-2 win 3-2 to claim the Section 4 title, the league's first sectional crown since a Senior softball title in 1976.

"When you have the first team since the mid-70s to advance past the sectionals, it's a major accomplishment," manager Robert Peterson said. "To do that and have a chance for a state championship is something these kids have probably been dreaming about."

Land O'Lakes opened with an 8-6 loss to Plant City before 13-5 and 3-2 wins over Windermere.

Coupled with a 5-0 record en route to the District 13 championship, Land O'Lakes is 7-1 in the postseason and advances to the state tournament Saturday in Coral Springs.

On Tuesday, Jacob Neely singled in the top of the seventh and scored the game-winner on Ricky Howroyd's sacrifice fly.

Howroyd also helped Land O'Lakes clinch the title with his right arm. The catcher threw out two baserunners attempting to steal second in the bottom of the seventh with shortstop Jonathan Brewster applying the tag on both plays.

"We were all baffled that (Windermere) tried to do it again," Peterson said of the second failed stolen base attempt.

Second baseman Eli Jones made a nice running catch for the final out by snaring a popup in shallow centerfield.

Land O'Lakes took a 2-0 lead in the third as Howroyd and Neely scored on wild pitches, but a two-run home run allowed Windermere to tie it in the fourth.

Caz Piurowski, who took the loss in the Plant City game, pitched 1 innings of relief to earn the win in the title game.

Left-hander Jeff Bloomer (3-0 in the postseason) pitched a complete game to earn the first win against Windermere.

"After that first loss, at the hotel we had a big team meeting," Bloomer said. "We all played really hard the next two games."

Bloomer benefitted from an offense that banged out 15 hits and overcame a 4-0 deficit, highlighted by a seven-run third inning.

Eli Jones, one of six players with two hits in the game, had a two-run single in the third.

Howroyd, Piurowski, Bloomer, Wes Fulglesang and Danny Sutton also had two hits in that game. Brewster chipped in with a run-scoring double and three walks.

The top two teams from the Coral Springs site advance to the state final for games Monday and Tuesday at Niceville.

Then, the state champion would be among eight teams to play in a southern regional Aug. 3-9 in Cartersville, Ga. That winner qualifies for the World Series on Aug. 12-17 in Taylor, Mich.

"We can still go a lot further as long as we keep hitting and don't make errors," Bloomer said.

In eight playoff games, Land O'Lakes has outscored the opposition 67-24 with three shutouts.

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