For four innings, the Dixie County (Cross City) Bears baseball team was doing everything right in the 1A state semifinal game at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers.
But the tide turned in the last two innings, and Dixie County’s unprecedented run came to an end.
Bozeman (Panama City), the top-ranked team in 1A according to Max Preps, scored eight runs in the fifth and sixth—including a six-run sixth frame—and rallied past the Bears, 8-4, to advance to the 1A state championship game on Thursday night in Fort Myers.
Bozeman (25-4) will face Holmes County (Bonifay), who eliminated first-time semifinalist Fort White, 4-1, in the other 1A state semifinal.
For Dixie County (13-10), it’s a tough way to end the season after winning its first regional final last Friday over Chiefland and advancing to the state final four.
“Games like this you have to finish,” Dixie County coach Shannon Smith said. “In the sixth inning, when (Bozeman) scored those runs, there was an error and other mental errors that weren’t considered errors on the field, but championship teams make those plays and we just didn’t make a couple of them.”
The Bears got on the board in the opening frame as Kolten Hunt reached on a throwing error by Bozeman shortstop Byron McClain, and senior starting pitcher Carson St. Laurent drove in Hunt with an RBI double down the right-field line.
Dixie County added three more runs in the third to open up a 4-0 edge. An error by Bucks’ second baseman with St. Laurent at the plate brought in Dylan Corbin and Jordan Marlo for a 3-0 lead. The lead was extended to 4-0 when Hunt stole home on the front side of a double steal.
Bozeman pitcher Jeremy Todd was dominant after that, allowing only one hit and a walk to the Bears in the final four innings.
Meanwhile, the Bucks’ offense, which had only two hits in the first four innings against St. Laurent, awoke in the fifth inning.
After Brody Langlotz walked and Todd singled, McLain cut the Bucks’ deficit in half with a two-run double. St. Laurent was able to avert further damage, but couldn’t do the same in the sixth inning.
“To be down 4-0 in the fifth inning of the state semis going into the fifth inning shows they have a lot of grit,” Smith said. “Hats off to them and hats off to Todd for making some big pitches late in the game and I wish them the best of luck tomorrow.”
Bozeman sent 10 batters to the plate in the sixth, picking up six hits and six runs.
Connor Smith’s RBI double cut the Dixie County lead to 4-3 and after Langlotz tied the game with a run-scoring single, McClain ripped a double to straightaway center to give the Bucks their first lead.
Larry Street added an RBI single and Payton Gay scored in a fielder’s choice to extend the Bozeman lead to 8-4.
St. Laurent ran out of gas on a hot, 93-degree afternoon in Fort Myers. But Smith couldn’t be more proud of his senior left-hander and got emotional when asked about St. Laurent after the game.
“I don’t know if I can say enough about Carson,” Smith said. “As a coach, you are lucky to have one or two kids who are warriors, and every time we put him out there on the field we knew he was going to give us 95 or 100 pitches that were quality.
“You don’t replace these guys, you just reload. I’m going to miss him (Carson) as a player and a leader.”
For Bozeman, it was their win in the state semifinal round after four previous losses, and the Bucks will play for their first state baseball on Thursday night.
For Dixie County, the focus now goes to the Bears’ softball team, who will also play in their first 1A state semifinal in Clermont next Tuesday against Fort White following a regional final 9-0 win over Taylor (Pierson).
“The first time ever, when you live in a small town like we live in, this is huge,” Smith said. “To see the boys and girls persevere and both the boys and girls getting to this point is nothing short of awesome.”