VENICE — The kid they call T-Mac was T-Rific.
Travis McAfee hit three home runs, drove in seven runs and pitched a shutout to help the South Fort Myers 10-11-year-old All-Stars capture the Section 6 title last weekend at Chuck Reiter Stadium.
South's 3-0 weekend propelled them into the eight team state tournament that starts Friday evening in Zephyrhills. The championship is scheduled for Monday at 6 p.m.
After going homerless a year ago, McAfee reached double digits this season with one homer each in wins against Sarasota Florida, Manatee East and Greater Naples.
By belting Nos. 9, 10 and 11, the tall smooth-swinging lefty — who throws right-handed — fulfilled a pre-tournament prediction.
"He told me he was going to hit three home runs this weekend," said South manager Bruce McAfee, Travis's father. "I told him if you hit one I'll be happy. He called three."
And three it was. All were smoked to nearly the identical spot over the left-center fence.
"That's where he usually hits them," said manager McAfee.
Travis led South's impressive hitting barrage, one that produced 21 runs in three games.
Of equal importance was South's performance on the mound. Their deep pitching staff survived the rapid sequence of three games in less than 24 hours.
T.J. Feeney and Spencer Hobby — South's Nos. 4 and 5 pitchers — combined to beat Greater Naples, 7-5, on Saturday afternoon, clinching a spot in the state tournament.
"It was a good game to see how many guts we really had," said McAfee. "We had two pitchers today that hadn't pitched a lot for us, but they came in and sucked it up."
Feeney retired nine of the first dozen batters before running into trouble in the fourth with South leading 7-0. A three-run home run by Christian Fernandez spoiled Feeney's shutout bid, but the right-hander bore down by striking out the next two batters to end the inning. In four and one-third solid innings, Feeney fanned six, walked three and allowed six hits.
South took a 2-0 lead in the first when Bretton walked and scored on an error, and Afanador, who was hit by a pitch, came home on a ground out by Feeney.
South made it 4-0 in the third on a two-run triple by Zach Belcher.
In the fourth, McAfee crushed his third home run in less than 24 hours, a three-run shot that made it 7-0.
A seemingly comfortable lead slowly dwindled as the District 18 champions battled back.
In the fifth, an error and three singles brought Greater Naples to within 7-5 when Hobby, who has been rock solid for South in the infield and as the leadoff batter throughout the post-season, relieved Feeney.
After two walks loaded the bases, Hobby got out of the jam with a pair of strikeouts.
"Both pitchers did very well because they haven't pitched for over a month. They were throwing strikes," said Travis McAfee, who took over catching duties when Shane King was injured on a foul ball in the fourth.
Already nursing a cracked wrist, King proved to be South's unsung hero with a strong performance behind the plate. While other teams were plagued by wild pitches and passed balls, King was very efficient in blocking pitches in the dirt.
With the game against Greater on the line, Hobby was thrilled to be on the mound.
"I like pressure," he said.
Indeed. Hobby shined again in the sixth. With one runner on and two outs, he sealed South's perfect weekend by striking out Nathan Leedy, Greater's tough-luck losing pitcher who scattered eight hits in a complete game effort.
"I just wanted to throw a strike and hope the guy didn't hit it," said Hobby.
Greater Naples (1-2), which received three hits from Drew Tomaini, proved to be a tougher foe than South anticipated.
"We thought we were going to blow them out because they got beat by (19) runs by a team we beat," said South outfielder Fabian Afanador in reference to Manatee East's 20-1 rout on Friday. "I think we came out and thought it was going to be easy. That wasn't our best game."
Perhaps South's best will come this weekend. At times, their bats have been eerily quiet for a team that wields powerful swings.
So far the offense has managed to spring to life when needed.
"We had some ups and downs," said shortstop/pitcher Paul Bretton Jr., who went 2-for-3 with a walk against Greater. "I think we could have played a little better. We need to work on our defense and making contact with different speeds."
Case in point came in the opening 5-0 win against District 16 champ Sarasota Florida, a game which was delayed by rain and lightning in the fourth and then shifted to an adjacent field.
South didn't produce timely hits early, but finally got the spark it needed from McAfee when he cranked out his first homer of the weekend — a solo shot — that broke a scoreless tie in the fourth.
McAfee's spark turned into a full-fledged inferno, one that generated a five-run inning. Feeney, Corey Gibson, Belcher and Shane King notched consecutive singles following McAfee's homer. Belcher (2-for-2) laced a shallow single to left that brought home the second run. Two more runs crossed the plate on a throwing error following King's bunt single.
South went up 5-0 on another unearned run.
The five-run pad was more than enough for McAfee, who tossed a complete game three-hit shutout.
In what proved to be a crucial victory Saturday morning, South knocked off Manatee East, 9-5. Both teams entered the game having won their openers.
Manatee jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the top of the first thanks in part to a two-run double off the fence by Tyler Dauphinee against Bretton.
South proved in its District 9 clinching win — when they rallied from six runs down to beat Cape Coral National — that no deficit is too great to overcome.
"If we're down a lot, we can come back," said infielder Collin Quigley.
Trailing for the first time in the sectional tournament, South responded in the bottom of the first inning, and it was Hobby and Bretton who led the charge.
Hobby, who hit safely in all three games, led off with a long single.
Bretton, a powerful hitter in the No. 2 spot, then crushed the first pitch he saw from Patrick Heuler over the right field fence to make it 3-2.
South wasn't finished. Afanador drew a walk and McAfee then came through in the clutch once again by ripping his second home run of the tournament. The two-run dinger gave South a 4-3 lead and knocked out Heuler, who was replaced by Phillip DeLandro.
Bretton managed to emerge unscathed from a bases-loaded jam with no outs in the second by getting two pop-ups and a ground out.
South padded its lead with one run in the second when Hobby, who singled with one out, scored on an infield error off a ball hit by Afanador.
Meanwhile, Bretton nearly got out of another bases-loaded, no-outs situation in the third, but after getting two forces at home, he surrendered two runs, one on a clean single by Justin Greenaway and another on a soft squibbler down the third base line by DeLandro that tied the game.
South regained the lead for good in the third when King singled with two outs and made it all the way home on three wild pitches.
After replacing Bretton to start the fourth, Gibson, like his predecessor, had to work out of precarious situations. With runners at first and third, Gibson got Heuler on a ground out to end the inning.
In the fifth, Manatee East loaded the bases with two outs, but Gibson ended the threat when McAfee, playing first, gobbled up a grounder and, after a brief bobble, beat Forrest Wilson to the bag by one step.
As he did throughout the weekend, Hobby was the catalyst in igniting a big inning. This time it was a one-out single in the fifth. With the bases loaded, Hobby scored when Afanador singled to left on an 0-2 pitch.
A sawed-off single over first base by Feeney made it 8-5.
Afanador (2-for-2 with a walk, 2 RBI) concluded the three-run inning by scoring on a double steal.
Gibson retired the side in order in the sixth, the first time either team went down 1-2-3 in a marathon game that lasted two hours and 20 minutes.
With the victory against Manatee East, South was in charge of its own destination, and never let go.