LARC Softball Challenge hits one out

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By Jenna McKenna

"We can hit," said Betty Walker, executive director of Levy Assocation for Retarded Citizens. "We just can't run."

Before Saturday's classic showdown featuring LARC staff and clients against the polical candidates of Levy County, Walker was explaining her strategy for a LARC victory.

"We got to hit the ball out."

LARC won the two-inning tilt by a bare 4-3 margin, but aggressive baserunning, pitching and defense were as much a factor as power at the plate.

Walker, the starting pitcher, faced nine batters in one inning, allowing five hits and no walks, and striking out three. She was relieved in the second inning by Debbie Dexter who was credited with the win. Dexter also faced nine batters and recorded one K, allowing her fielders to do the hard work.

Walker led off for LARC with a single down the third base line. She advanced on a sacrifice by Barbara Gamble and was driven in by board member Shawn Mullins, who hit a standup double to left. Tina Haley also doubled on, and she and Mullins were driven home on a two-RBI smack to right field by Nick Brown. Brown and Lila Curry were left on base, but LARC had built a solid three-run lead in the first.

The candidates were not intimidated. A team drawn randomly from all the candidates present took the field down 3-0 and got right down to putting runs on the board. Sheriff candidate Bobby McCallum led off with a triple to deep center and was driven in by county commission incumbent Danny Stevens, who also tripled to center. Frank Akins, batting for incumbent property appraiser Francis Akins, knocked a single past short to bring Stevens home; Akins was brought in by county commission candidate John Meeks' double up the middle. The candidates tied the game at three after one inning, and Meeks and Megan Weatherford, who was batting for county commission incumbent Sammy Yearty, were stranded when LARC first baseman Mullins put out county commission challenger Al Macri in a footrace.

The rules of the two-inning challenge allowed each team a full nine batters regardless of outs recorded. LARC only needed four outs in the first inning, but took seven in the second to produce their winning run. The home team went deep into the bench for their second inning lineup, with client Brendan Pointing and trainer Robin Durrance batting 13th and 14th. Pointing wore out the pitcher with several nice cuts and a few foul tips, but was finally struck out. Durrance hit a nasty line drive at candidates' pitcher Meeks, who caught it in self-defense. The top of the order returned when Walker singled past short, with her courtesy runner, Liana Walker, easily beating the throw to first. Walker was out when Gamble hit into a fielder's choice, but Gamble made up for it with intimidating baserunning. Gamble came home on a single by Haley and LARC led 4-3.

Now was the time for defense. While Levy County Quilt Museum founder Winnelle Horne and county commission incumbent Sammy Yearty were hawking bottled water in the outfield, Mullins and Brown were busy holding off the candidates. Brown pulled down a high liner by county commission incumbent Tony Parker and Mullins ran the vacuum at first base. Dexter kept batters baffled. Of three baserunners, only two - Meeks and Stevens - hit; Weatherford reached on an error. Dexter fanned Macri for the final (seventh) out to end the game.

Announcer Wayne Weatherford berated plate umpire David Weatherford for his timidity during the first game, saying, "I think he's a little intimidated."

Things didn't get any better for the umpire during the second tilt, as two teams of candidates, dubbed "Candidates" and "Politicians" by the announcer, battled genially paid little heed to the blue's authority.

The teams appeared evenly matched, playing a standard three-outs format, and the teams were tied at 6-6 after one inning. In the second inning, however, the gloves came off. The Politicians batted around the order, then nearly did it again, piling up a further 11 runs before the Candidates could apply the brakes. The Candidates went scoreless in the second and had to absorb a further five runs from the merciless Politicians in the top of the third before rallying for three more runs in the bottom half. The Politicians won, 22-9.

The format of the event allowed a number of candidates to deliver short stump speeches between innings. Most gave a short accounting of their own abilities and hopes for election, then turned to more important themes - the recent budget cuts that threaten LARC's services to the mentally handicapped adults of the Tri-County. Speakers reminded those present of the vital services - life skills training, as well as meaningful vocational work - that LARC provides for clients. They also informed business owners in the county that the Otter Creek campus has a small workshop where clients do small piece work and furniture refinishing.

The games, the brainchild of board member Toni Collins, were primarily a fundraiser for LARC, bringing in over $1,000 for the organization. They also showcased county political candidates, who snared the opportunity to put their best selves forward. One by one they embraced Walker and LARC board president Bob Williams, thanking them for the best event of the whole campaign trail.

"I'll need a week to recover," said Cal Byrd, county commission challenger, "but that's the most fun I've had this whole campaign."