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Lakewood Ranch U12 All-Star team has World Series dreams

The Lakewood Ranch Little League 12U All-Stars have dreams of reaching Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and the Little League World Series.
The Lakewood Ranch Little League 12U All-Stars have dreams of reaching Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and the Little League World Series.
Photo by Ryan Kohn
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If his head coach is to be believed, the best 12-year-old baseball player in Florida plays for Lakewood Ranch Little League. 

That 12-year-old and his teammates are now hoping for a special summer. 

Gustavo Omana stands like a big-leaguer in the field and at the plate. He's never distracted or lackadaisical, instead thinking about where he should throw if the ball comes to him on defense, or focusing on getting his timing right on the next pitch.

This summer, Omana plays on LWRLL's U12 All-Star team, which has aspirations of reaching Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and the Little League World Series. Every player on the team is considered elite for their age. Even so, Omana's smooth play makes him unique. 

"The kid is unbelievable," U12 Head Coach Josh Batey said. "It does not matter where you put him. I strongly believe he would be the best player on the field at every position. He's that good." 

Gustavo Omana hits leadoff and can play any defensive position for the Lakewood Ranch Little League 12U All-Star team.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

In the team's first district game June 21 against Buffalo Creek Little League, Omana hit leadoff and went 2-3 with two RBIs in the team's 12-1 win, which was ended after four innings. It's not just his play that makes him special, Batey said, but his attitude. He's a charismatic figure in the dugout, egoless despite his talent. He's loved by his teammates, Batey said. 

In Omana's mind, if the players perform to their abilities, they will be headed toward Williamsport. 

"It's going to take effort and work," Omana said. "We need more practice and we need to not be lazy. We need to stay focused on the game." 

The U12 team has the same roster from a season ago, when it reached the state level of the All-Stars tournament. Everyone involved believes it has the talent to get there again, and perhaps advance into the regional stage.

The importance of the experience the kids received a season ago is incalculable, Batey said, and many of the kids have played together longer than that, some for as long as four years. The league has also made All-Stars a priority this year, with high-level clinics held starting in January as a way to get kids ready. 

Against Buffalo Creek, the team looked ready. Seven players had hits over the four innings, and three players who went hitless still reached base via a walk. Omana, Austyn Murphy, Charlie Springstead and Landon Rosenberg all had RBIs.

Though Buffalo Creek did score one run via a pair of walks and some heads-up base running, Lakewood Ranch pitchers James Clark and Ethan Snyder, who pitched two innings each, did not allow a hit. 

Mario Reyes takes a swing during the Lakewood Ranch Little League 12U All-Star team's game against Buffalo Creek Little League on June 22.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

The team's patience at the plate stems from the players' ability to listen to coaches and put their advice into action. Batey said the team's buy-in is an advantage over other talented teams. 

"This is the best team I've ever coached," Batey said. "They are gamers." 

The team also limits its mistakes. While Buffalo Creek walked eight batters and made defensive errors that gifted Lakewood Ranch runs, Lakewood Ranch pitchers walked just two batters while the position players behind them were calm and made throws on time and with accuracy. Lakewood Ranch has the talent to beat other teams, and is unlikely to beat itself, which is a fatal flaw for many teams in its age category. 

It is not lost on the players how important that is. 

"You need communication," Jude Batey, Josh Batey's son, said. "Otherwise you cannot bond and you won't know what is happening." 

The players unanimously said they watch the Little League World Series each summer. They know the quality of teams that reach that stage. So do the adults at LWRLL. The league's 1997 team reached Williamsport and is still the only Manatee County team to do so. In February, the team was honored with a plaque at the Lakewood Ranch Park fields. 

Getting another team to Williamsport would beat the odds, but no one is counting this team out. Josh Batey said the team can accomplish anything as long as it continues to believe it can do it. 

No matter where the team's story comes to a close, the players won't let results affect the bonds they have made during the All-Star process.

"When we step off the field (after a game), we're friends no matter what," Omana said. 



Ryan Kohn

Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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