LAKEWOOD RANCH — Eleven-year-old Justin Klawans couldn’t wait to take the mound for the fifth and final time this season.
The Willis Elementary fifth-grader had won each of his three previous starts and came on in relief in another game, recording six consecutive outs to preserve the win.
So, it was no surprise that Klawans was eager to get his fourth start under way — even if it was by far the biggest game of the right-hander’s young career.
“I was excited because I didn’t really allow many runs in the regular season,” Klawans said. “I wasn’t nervous at all.”
And yet it wasn’t until the final out had been made that Klawans, who had been nicknamed “Iceman” by his coach, finally displayed his excitement.
Klawans pitched a complete game for Czaia & Gallagher, propelling the Pythons to a 6-4 victory over Skyking Fireworks in the District 26 County Cup Minors Division Championship May 25.
Following the game, Klawans was surrounded by his teammates, who threw their hands in the air and jumped up and down on the mound in celebration.
“I was very happy; and it was just very exciting because if we won that, then we went undefeated and we didn’t have to play the other games,” 10-year-old Charlie Robinson said of winning the County Cup. “I just enjoyed it very much.”
With the win, Czaia & Gallagher finished the tournament undefeated and became the first team in the history of Manatee East Little League to win the County Cup.
“I was just so proud of these guys,” head coach Tim Bazell said. “They’re fighters, and they were never willing to settle for anything less than being the champs.”
After forming through a draft process, the team came together at the beginning of the year and set its goals for the season — with the main goal being to win the County Cup. Czaia & Gallagher lost two of its first four games. At that point Bazell wasn’t sure what the rest of the season would hold.
But the players — the majority of whom had never played together before — rallied together. The team voluntarily practiced on Sundays, looking for ways to improve.
The Pythons hard work paid off. The team won all but two of its remaining games and won the Minors division.
“We all stuck together and played it as a team sport,” Klawans said of the team’s success. “It was a good experience for me learning to work together with some other kids.”
“This is a team that stays together and when they stay together they never lose,” he said. “It was a good experience because I got to get along with other people.”
After winning the Minors division, Czaia & Gallagher rolled through the County Cup, comprising 35 Minors division teams from across Manatee County, winning its first four games and landing a spot in the championship game.
“I think we went into County Cup knowing we were a competitive team and that we had a very good chance of winning it,” Bazell said. “We didn’t go into it thinking we were going to lose. We went into it thinking we were going to win every game.
“We had some very hard-fought games,” he added. “But it really wasn’t an option not to win County Cup.”
Contact Jen Blanco at email@example.com.
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