Eagle Lake Minor League Baseball Team Heads to World Series After Winning State
by James Coulter
Against all odds, the Eagle Lake Minor A All-Star 10u team will be heading to the World Series after winning the State Championship last week at Palm Beach Gardens.
The game itself proved intense. Head Coach Kip Windham described the final game as starting out slow and not good for his team. But as the game progressed, his players defied all odds and rose to the top.
The last inning proved especially nerve-wracking. Deric Morris approached the plate. The opposing team was up three-to-one. Nobody was on base. There were two outs and two strikes on the batter. And yet, somehow, Morris gets on base with a walk.
The next batter, Nicko Brigante, down by two strikes, gets hit by a pitch. This puts the runners on first and second, but still down by two runs.
The batter after that, Josh Hunter, faced greater odds. He was down by two strikes. They are again only one strike away from losing, and he fouls off many of the pitches. Finally, Hunter hammers the ball past the second baseman and it rolls between the right and center fielder. He ends up on second base with a double. The game is tied.
“We are going nuts,” Windham said. “Our fans are going crazy. The next batter, Owen Windham, hits a single to right on the first pitch. Hunter scores. We go from down two runs to our final strike three times. Now we have a one-run lead.”
Bottom of the last inning, his players turn a game-ending double play. With one out and a runner on base, a ground ball is hit to their pitcher. The game is over. They have won. Now they’ll head to the World Series.
Windham remembers winning a State Championship while playing for Lake Wales High School. That feeling pales in comparison to what he felt as a coach seeing his players win the state title. As a coach, he said, it’s just different.
“It surpasses that feeling,” he said. “It was absolutely incredible. I still don’t have words to describe the feeling. I can describe the game. I can describe the plays. I can describe how we got there and how we ended up there. But the feeling, I cannot describe it. I do not have words.”
Coach Windham has been coaching for more than 20 years. He started his career in South Florida. He has been coaching at the Eagle Lake Sports Association (ELSA) for several years. This year, he was asked to be the head coach for the 10-And-Under All-Star Team.
They started their all-star season with three to four weeks of practice. Prior to districts, they played at three invitational tournaments in consecutive weekends in preparation for districts. Between those three tournaments plus districts, they totaled 17 wins and no losses.
Winning district was nothing short of exciting, and attending the state tournament was even more so, Windham said. If their team won State, they would automatically participate in the World Series. It was either that or play Regionals in Tennessee if they became runners up.
“The stakes can’t be higher,” Windham said. “You lose this game, you have to play in Tennessee. I don’t think my families would have agreed to make that trip.”
The last four games they played in the State tournament, they were either tied or losing late in each game. Yet still they persevered, and in the end, they won big. Coach Windham owes their success to their perseverance and good sportsmanship.
“We came from behind with a great victory,” he said. “When we went to state, we knew the competition would be tough. But coming out and playing a great team and winning that first game, [I knew] we could compete there.”
Coach Windham remembers growing up and watching the World Series on television. Being able to compete there was nothing short of a dream. Now his players will be able to realize how it feels to accomplish such a dream, he said.
“The players do not grasp yet the opportunity they have, but I do and the other coaches do,” he said. “And I know the parents do. And we couldn’t be more excited.”
The coach hosted a parent’s meeting at his house last week to share details of the World Series tournament with them. They spent two hours reminiscing on their children’s accomplishment and making plans for the upcoming trip to Palm Beach Gardens. All the while, they played the championship game in the background to revel in the victory.
“The feeling is incredible,” he said. “This is truly a once in a lifetime experience for these boys and the parents.”
Currently, their team’s main objective is two-fold: practice and fundraising. Practice got them to where they are now, and practice will hopefully continue to push them forward. Honing pitching during practice could prove especially fruitful, as their team has the advantage of every player being able to pitch, Windham said.
“It doesn’t hurt that all of our kids can pitch, and that helps our chances over teams that don’t have the number of pitchers we do,” he explained. “Certainly pitching and defense helped us win. We had good bats and some hot bats, but pitching and defense was spot on.”
Their team had hosted several fundraisers over the past few days, including at Gator’s Dockside in Lakeland and Publix Supermarket in Winter Haven. Several more weekend fundraising events are scheduled at the Publix on Highway 27 in Lake Wales and at the Publix across from Legoland. They’re hosting these events to not only raise money for their big trip, but also awareness for their endeavors.
“We want the community behind us because we are representing Eagle Lake and Winter Haven and the businesses and people here,” he said. “So, we would love their support. We are doing it for us and them.”