It all started well for the Lake Wales Highlander baseball team last week.
Facing rival Winter Haven, on the road, in a district semi-final playoff matchup, the Highlanders saw five of their first six batters reach first base. But Lake Wales managed just two runs, stranding three additional would be run scorers on a fly-out and ground out with the bases loaded.
But the lack of timely hitting was only one issue that compounded against Lake Wales in a 13-5 loss to the Blue Devils who were the No. 1 seed in the Class 6A, District 8 playoffs.
The Highlanders, the number four seed, committed at least a half-dozen official errors, and had several other miscues, that underscored the team’s youth. Lake Wales has only two seniors on its entire roster, and a first-year head coach in Dave Andress.
He spent about 10 minutes talking with his club in short right field after the game.
“I wanted to thank my two seniors, and I wanted to let them know, don’t forget this, and don’t ever give up,” Andress said. “We hung our head a little bit after that fifth inning and you just can’t. We were down three, and that’s nothing in this game, you’ve just got to keep fighting, you can’t ever give up until the last out.”
The Highlanders only two seniors were third baseman Henry Seddon and catcher Clayton Hill.
“We’re young, but we’ve played defense good pretty much the whole year,” Andress said. “If you give any team more than three outs in an inning, you’re going to pay, and if you’re playing a very good team like we did tonight, you’re really going to pay. The bottom of the fifth there just got a little bit away from us and we couldn’t recover from that. We’ve just got to play seven next time.”
With the loss, Lake Wales finished the spring with a mark of 13-14.
“Our record wasn’t where we wanted it, but we had a lot of progress,” Andress added. Russell Klingler opened the night with a single, and after a grounder to second, Bryan Roecker, Brian Larr and Bryce Hulett delivered singles, followed by a walk to D.J. Irvis, which gave Lake Wales an early 2-0 lead.
The Blue Devils quickly answered with a three spot in the bottom of the first, and added another run in the second, to take a 4-2 lead.
The Highlanders hung tough, however, and actually rallied with one run in the third, fourth and fifth innings to take a 5-4 lead. A single by Irvis scored Larr in the third; Russell Klingler tripled and scored on a throwing error in the fourth; and Larr walked and later scored on an error in the fifth for the lead.
However, Winter Haven scored four in the bottom of the fifth, on just two hits and a walk. The hosts put up a five spot in the sixth to put the game well out of reach.
“We had our opportunities, and they gave us some too,” Andress added. “They threw the ball around a little bit, they just did it a little less than we did.”