FORT LAUDERDALE — Listening to postitive postgame talks from their coaches, being awarded shiny state medalions and receiving heart-felt consolatory hugs from their parents didn't seem to lessen the pain on the faces of the South Fort Myers 9-and-10 All-Stars at Floyd Hull Stadium.
After 10 straight wins -- most by wide margins -- South encountered its first two losses this summer on Monday at the 9-10 year-old State Tournament in Fort Lauderdale.
The first loss -- a 9-6 setback against Lutz -- concluded pool play and didn't carry any significance except that the 11 inning marathon extracted more energy from South than it would have liked.
It was the second one -- another extra inning nail biter -- that left South stunned, and ended its season.
Winter Garden rallied from a six-run deficit to post a 10-9 semifinal win in eight innings against South, which had eyed a possible third state title in the past four years at the 9-10 level. Instead it will be Winter Garden that faces North Springs or Martin County North in the state championship game Tuesday morning at 10.
"It was a heckuva ride. Up until today, we were dominant," said South manager Jess Mesmer, whose team won district and sectional titles. "We had the team to get it done. We know we're one of the best four in the state and we can compete with anybody."
Hoping to have plenty of arms left for the state title game, South used an array of pitchers, but Winter Garden's bats became stronger as the game progressed.
South was in control with an 8-2 lead after three innings thanks in part to a two-run double by Drew Pflieger, a two-run single from Adam Cope and an RBI hit from Ben Slater.
Even a five-run cushion seemed to be more than enough for South entering the bottom of the fifth, but Winter Garden scored five times to knot the score. A two-run single by Collan Buddemeyer, who had three hits, brought Winter Garden to within 8-7. The tying run came home after South recorded a strikeout. Thinking it was the third out of the inning, South started to head off the field, but it was only the second out and a runner from third alertly sprinted home.
After working out of a two-on, nobody out jam in the seventh, South regained the lead in the eighth when Peyton Carr scored an unearned run.
Winter Garden responded in the bottom of the inning. A bad-hop RBI single by Justin LaGasse tied it at 8-8. South nearly turned an inning ending double play on a grounder by Tyler Meehan, but the winning run came home on an error.
"Down 8-2, the kids did not get themselves down," said Winter Garden manager Mark Deveault. "They battled. They kept their heads up. From the top to the bottom of the order, they were terrific."