Prose and Kohn: Ryan Kohn.
I had forgotten, after spending much of my time covering high school sports, how fun the younger generation can be.
The Lakewood Ranch Little League All-Star Majors team (ages 11-12) reminded me June 28.
The local team was playing Palmetto’s Buffalo Creek Little League in a District 26 playoff game. Both teams entered the game hot as Lakewood Ranch had beaten Braden River Little League 9-1, and Buffalo Creek had defeated Manatee National Little League 15-0.
Before the game, Lakewood Ranch coach John Schroeder told me eight of his players had been together since tee ball, reminiscent of the recent Lakewood Ranch High basketball teams. Those teams’ top attribute was chemistry, and this Little League team has that in abundance.
Of course, talent helps, too.
Lakewood Ranch's talent showed up all over the place. Catcher Andy Schroeder got things started with a two-run homer in the first inning and pitcher Jacob Traeger constantly blew away hitters with his fastball. Lakewood Ranch right fielder Lochlan Radloff threw out a Buffalo Creek hitter at first base on what normally would have been a single. Everyone on Lakewood Ranch's team seemed to have the ability to take the extra base.
All along the way, Lakewood Ranch's players oozed with passion. In the fourth inning, center fielder Mason Woolever made a diving catch as he went into the outfield wall. Woolever sprinted off the field like his catch had just saved the World Series. His teammates mobbed him with high fives and body slams.
This was more than a game. It was a celebration.
Eventually, Lakewood Ranch would go on to win 9-1.
It was obvious that the attitude of the team's coaches is a reason for Lakewood Ranch's success. Schroeder and assistant coaches Mike Woolever and Kurt Cummings preached positivity throughout, no matter the situation. The word of the evening was “outstanding,” told to a player whenever he did something worthy of praise (which was often). They then pointed out that thing to the rest of the team, making sure everyone was aware of the right way to play.
It didn't take running into a wall to draw praise. Liam Doran drew a walk on five pitches to start the fourth inning and was replaced by a pinch runner. The coaching staff made sure Doran’s effort was appreciated as he returned to the dugout.
“When he gets in here, you act like he just hit a home run,” Mike Woolever said to his players, “That was an excellent at-bat.”
They listened, and responded.
After the game, the party continued. James Cummings said his favorite part of playing for Lakewood Ranch has been “hanging out with (his teammates) after the games. We like to go to (Greenbrook) Adventure Park, we play basketball and football there.”
Mason Woolever’s favorite thing was different.
“We hit a ton of home runs,” he said.
He then said the players compete in the cultural sensation "Fortnite" game together. The players were asked who is best in "Fortnite" and every hand shot into the air. Confidence can be contagious.
"Fornite" might have to wait. Lakewood Ranch still had more baseball to play. The team was scheduled to play in the District 26 championship game July 2. If the team takes care of business, it then advances to the regional Little League tournament, to continue a path that hopefully will lead to the Little League World Series in August.
That's a long ways off, but these players have the attitude to make it happen.