• Emma Hansford gives a high-five to her Palatka Babe Ruth Under-8 All-Star team manager, Brent Meyers, after getting out of an inning against Winter Springs. (MARK BLUMENTHAL / Palatka Daily News)
  • Palatka’s Tenley Wilkinson slides home safely on a two-run single by Grace Reynolds during the fourth inning. (MARK BLUMENTHAL / Palatka Daily News)

Babe Ruth State Softball Tournament: Under-8 High Five

Palatka-8U outlasts rain, Winter Springs for title shot; other teams eliminated

LAKE CITY – While the other four Putnam County representatives from District 3 were shown the door during the weekend, the Palatka Babe Ruth 8-and-under All-Star softball team gladly has stayed.

And now, this group of Lady Panthers is one victory away from a state championship this morning.

Having to wait the entire weekend to play due to rain, Palatka defeated the Winter Springs Lightning, 5-1, in four innings to capture the winners bracket title and are one win from the state championship in the Diamond Divas level of that age group.

Palatka will play at 9:30 this morning at the Southside Complex against Winter Springs or North Tampa for the title. If Palatka loses the first title game, it has a second title game at 11 a.m.

If Palatka wins one of the two games, it will automatically qualify in that division for the Babe Ruth World Series as Florida’s representative in Jensen Beach in the last week of the month.

Palatka manager Brent Meyers was still nervous going into Monday’s game.

“I feel good about what this team has done so far, but I would be lying to you if I didn’t tell you I had a major case of butterflies from the moment I woke up (Monday) morning all the way to infield practice,” Meyers said. “We were sluggish in hitting the ball because we hadn’t played since Friday. We practiced, but it’s not the same as game situation. But we got through and hopefully, our hitting will come alive (today).”

Playing under the 75-minute time limit for teams at this level, Palatka jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the second inning when Grace Reynolds tripled home Tenley Wilkinson. Reynolds came through again in the fourth when she hit a single to center field to score both McKenna Clemons and Wilkinson. Charla Griffin and Zoey Avila added RBI singles to finish out the win.

With the tournament extended a day due to the terrible weather Lake City got over the weekend, Meyers was concerned he may not have everyone available to play today’s possible twinbill. But he has most everyone committed to returning.

“It gets tricky now because of the extra day and parents have to go back to work,” Meyers said. “And I understand as a single dad the situation. But most of these girls will be here for (today).”

Meyers’ team is playing in the lower diva division of the tournament because only teams that finished in the final advanced to the elite level of the 8-and-under state tournament. Palatka took third and was one win away from qualifying for the upper level. Neither Santa Fe team that made the District 3 final and reached the elite level state tournament final this weekend here.

“You know it’s good in a way we didn’t make it to (the elite tournament),” Meyers said. “There were some teams south of us who were picking from like a dozen (regular-season) teams to make an All-Star team and I had 20 girls to pick a team from. That’s competitive.”

While the Palatka 8-and-Under team goes after a state title, the other four teams were done by Sunday. 

In the 12-and-Under elite division, Palatka lost twice on Sunday by scores of 12-1 to the Winter Park Wildcats and 7-5 to the Altamonte Pirates. The Palatka 14-and-Under elite team that lost its opener on Thursday morning and had to go through an eight-game gauntlet to win. It all started strong with wins of 17-2 over South Orlando and 12-3 over North Tampa on Saturday. On Sunday, Palatka lost, 3-0, to East Bay.

And in the 16-and-Under elite division, Palatka got eliminated by Keystone Heights, 13-6, while in the winners’ bracket final, West Volusia of Debary had its way with Melrose, 10-0, both games taking place Saturday. On Sunday, Melrose, which beat Keystone Heights for the District 3 title and in the opening round of the state tournament, was knocked out by Keystone, 16-7, in the elimination bracket final. Keystone Heights lost the state final to West Volusia, 8-2, on Sunday.