Lafayette manager Tim Hanson could not believe the incredible journey his team had just completed. Making its second appearance in the state tournament in the past three seasons, the Hornets accomplished the ultimate goal by winning the championship. Behind a complete-game shutout from starter Zach Yeager Lafayette won 2-0 over Chiefland in the Class 1A state championship Thursday night at jetBlue Park in Fort Myers.
Two years ago the club was blanked in a mercy-rule defeat to be sent home in the semifinal, and that same group had fallen just short in returning last season. This year featured a different group, and although the expectations were not placed on them to do so, they found their groove and boogied all the way to a celebration dance holding the state trophy.
“We always look to the state tournament, certainly, but I did not see this coming,” Hanson said. “To watch the kids at the end of the game is priceless. You’ll never be able to replace that. The community really traveled down too. It’s about a five hour drive to come here but the people decided to come out and watch.”
With only five seniors and just as many underclassmen on the squad, Lafayette (23-6) lacked the experience of the previous few squads. But that did not stop this group from working together to reach their goal.
“We started off pretty good and got into district play, where Madison moved down into our district and they beat us 16-1 in two games,” Hanson said. “We ended up coming back and beating them in the district tournament. It was the same rotation: Micah Byrd got us to the championship game and Zach won it. Then we went first round with Micah in the regionals and Zach finished it up, first round in states with Micah and Zach finished it up. We stayed with it and it worked. But it’s been a journey, no doubt.”
A night after winning big over Central to advance to the state championship for the second time in program history, it was Yeager’s turn to finish the job and complete the dream. The right-hander proved up to the task by working efficiently to stymie the Indians’ lineup. Yeager scattered three hits and four walks and struck out a pair, including a strikeout against the final batter that ended the night and triggered the celebration.
Following a Gatorade shower compliments of his excited players, Hanson could not help but grin and enjoy the moment his guys had earned for themselves.
“The kids are great,” Hanson said. “They work their butts off and they are great kids too. I know the community is very proud of them. Not only do they come to practice every day and work but they are super kids. I love being around them. Win or lose tonight I was going to be just as proud.”
Those fans that made the journey were rewarded with an early lead that helped fuel the excitement. In the bottom of the second inning Calb Land reached on an infield single, Bryson Bracewell dropped down a sacrifice bunt to move him to second and Coley Hingson pushed Land to third after getting the ball on the ground to the right side for a 4-3 groundout. Kayne Hurst then delivered a single up the middle to send Land the final 90 feet home for a 1-0 lead.
Backed with a lead, Yeager excelled at getting fly balls that were easily handled by his defense. Chiefland (24-5) had 14 flyouts and struggled to get any offense going.
The Hornets added an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth. Byrd walked and was replaced by pinch-runner Kerby Hanson. Kerby stole second base and then raced around and scored thanks to an RBI single up the middle from Mason Herring.