LAKEWOOD RANCH — Thirteen years ago, Manatee East Little League was one step away from advancing to finals of the Little League World Series.
Now more than a decade later and with a newly renovated ballpark, Manatee East once again has its sights set on reaching Williamsport, Pa.
On July 16, Manatee East’s 11 –and 12-year-old All-Stars defeated Manatee West 13-3 to capture the district title in the District 26 Little League All-Star Tournament at Lakewood Ranch Park.
The team showed its dominance throughout the tournament, compiling a 7-1 record and outscoring its opponents 78-9. Manatee East’s lone tournament loss came on July 9, when the team fell 5-4 against Braden River, which finished third in the tournament.
“These things tend to go in cycles, and our league’s goal is to always be consistently in the top tiers of the district every year,” Manatee East President Tim Bazell said. “A lot of our players are now playing baseball in fall and spring, and some are playing AAU, IBC, etc., which gives them more time playing the game. This obviously helps in reinforcing the fundamentals of the game and gives them experience in playing in pressure filled situations against some of the bay area’s best talent.”
Manatee East now will advance to Bloomingdale for the Section 4 Tournament July 24-25, with the winner advancing to the Florida State Tournament July 29-30.
Manatee East’s 11- and 12-year-old All-Stars weren’t the only ones making headlines this summer. The league’s 9- and 10-year-old and 10- and 11-year-old All-Stars both captured district titles in their respective divisions.
The 9- and 10-year-old team won its second-consecutive district title, defeating North River National 9-6 July 10. The team posted an 8-1 record throughout the tournament with its lone loss — a 13-10 decision to North River National — coming in Game 1 of the district finals.
“Our 9- and 10-year-old team focused on pitching and defense,” manager Ken Shanahan said. “Throughout district play, I was very proud of how our team made the routine plays and knew what to do with the ball when it was hit to them. We also had a very disciplined approach at the plate.”
Manatee East outscored its opponents 99-20 while posting a .468 team batting average and .558 on base percentage.
Likewise, Manatee East’s 10- and 11-year-old All-Stars saw similar success, capping off a perfect 4-0 record by defeating district runner-up Braden River 7-6 and 15-2 in the best of three finals July 8-9. The team remained dominant throughout the tournament, outscoring its opponents 60-4.
“Our boys were very focused during district play,” 10-11 manager Jeff Rampinelli said. “We had good practices and preparation plans, which our boys executed despite the many rain delays.”
In the past two years, Manatee East has seen a vast amount of success in the District 26 Little League All-Star Tournament — success that Braden River had seen in years past.
“I would have to say that the training we give our coaches and the way we determine who will coach is the key to our success,” Bazell said. “ I’m very proud of our players and our league this year, as it is very hard to keep players interested in playing baseball as there are many more sports that compete with baseball. Retention and expansion of our player base is the most important key that has contributed with the success of the league.”
Dave Dillingham, 11-12 manager, agreed.
“We’re very proud of the championships at Manatee East,” Dillingham said. “I think it says a lot for everyone on the board to the experience of the coaches and players, that shows when everything is working together you have success.
“Every league has stronger years and weaker years as kids come and go, but there’s a high level of commitment at Manatee East to make it as competitive as possible,” he added. “After this year it looks like we should be able to compete for years to come.”
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].