The Sebring Dixie Youth Ponytails and Belles were invited to participate in the 2020 State Championship in Belleview last weekend. The Ponytails (ages 11-12) were undefeated and are now the State Champions. The Belles (ages 13-14) gave it their all and never gave up but were eliminated from the competition.

“I am very proud,” Ponytail Coach Chris Young said. “They played hard and dug deep when the game got close at the end.”

The Belles and Ponytail teams had one month to prepare for the double elimination state tournament. This year the tournament made a few changes due to COVID-19 such as turning the event into an invitational. The dugouts were expanded to encourage social distancing, the stands were closed to spectators and spectators were encouraged to bring their own chairs and social distance along the fence line.

The state tournament began Friday, the first game for the Belles was against Around the Lake but unfortunately the Belles fell short. The Ponytails had better luck in their game against Wahneta and won 7-1. Sebring had three pitchers that shut down Wahneta and only allowed one run. The Ponytails’ game last 2 hours and 50 minutes.

“We shut them down and hit the ball well,” Young said. “We are going to have to hit the ball better if we want to continue doing well. They played very well against Wahneta. Our catcher (Autumn Reynolds) had a girl try to steal second base on her but she threw her out and Wahneta didn’t try to steal again. When we were fielding, the game went really quick, but when we were at bat, it took a long time. Wahneta went through six different pitchers. Everybody did their part and stepped up when they needed to perform; it was a team win.”

Day two of competition the Sebring Ponytails dominated shutting down Belleview 11-1 in four quick innings. It was a team effort led by pitchers Amber Young and Kaylee Grigsby.

“We scored on a lot of walks against Belleview,” said Young. “Belleview’s pitching wasn’t great. Amber (Young) and Kaylee (Grigsby) did fantastic on the mound.”

Though the Belles were eliminated from the competition they were thankful for the opportunity to play and for those that supported them.

Sunday was the third and final day and the Ponytails made it to the championship where they faced Belleview once again. It was a hard-fought battle until the end. Sebring edged Belleview 5-4. Autumn Reynolds stood out when she drove in two runners and stole home to put Sebring up 3-0 during the first inning. Belleview answered with two homers to narrow the deficit to 3-2.

“We held them off in the bottom of the sixth for the win,” Young said. “The girls were extremely excited and now we are ready to load up and head to Alabama for the World Series.”

For most of the young ladies on the Ponytails team this is their second year in a row as State Champions.

Last year the girls that won were called Angeles (ages 8-10) and this year several of them moved up to Ponytails. Eight of the girls that moved up were part of last year’s state championship team ... eight of the 12 girls.

There will be a couple of other teams representing Florida in the World Series this year. If you played in the state tournament the teams automatically qualified for the World Series. It is up to each individual team whether they decide to go or not.

“We do not know who we will be facing yet but we do know that there are seven teams in the bracket including us,” explained Young. “We are going to practice, practice, practice. Our defense and pitching are strong but we need to work on our hitting a little bit. Our hitting is OK but it could be better. We will be in the batting cages quite a bit for the next two weeks. My theory is don’t change what ain’t broke. The pitching rotation and the defense we have are working very well so we will see what happens. We do have the option to change some things up but we aren’t going to fix it if it isn’t broke. Our pitching is very strong with five pitchers. These girls are working really hard and will do their best to represent their hometown.”

The World Series begins Friday, July 31. The Sebring Ponytails are looking forward to the World Series and have begun practicing. As for the Belles, it is unknown if they will participate in the World Series at this time. The Belles’ coach was unavailable for comment.