District 6 is pursuing a distinctive streak beginning Saturday in Polk County.
After Florida Dixie Baseball’s first four state tournaments at the T-Ball (ages 5-6) All-Stars level, the perennially tough District 6 teams – programs from Hernando, Pasco, Sumter, Lake and Marion counties – have returned home with three state titles.
Wesley Chapel American captured state crowns in 2010 and 2012 while Wildwood Blue turned the trick last summer.
The quest for the district’s third straight state title begins Saturday at 11 a.m. at Mulberry Park.
The expected five-day event features 12 teams including the top four squads from District 6 – Wesley Chapel, Wildwood, Bushnell and Spring Hill – along with Bartow, East Lakeland, Freeport, Hardee County, Sebring, West Seminole, West Volusia and host Mulberry.
A new state tourney format will be implemented this week. Two pools of six teams will be pulled from a hat during a coaches meeting Friday night.
Each team is scheduled to play five pool opponents – two on Saturday, two on Sunday and another on Monday – to trim the field to four teams.
In all, an ambitious total of 30 pool games are expected to be completed by Monday night.
The top two teams in each pool advance to a double-elimination bracket set for Tuesday and concluding Wednesday evening (weather permitting).
❖ ❖ ❖
Spring Hill hopes it’s a case of déjà vu. Last summer, Spring Hill’s first-ever T-Ball All-Star squad, guided by Craig Hotop, turned heads by placing fourth during the District 6 Tournament.
After a 2-2 District 6 run at Bushnell Community Center, Hotop’s crew took full advantage of the opportunity to play at states with an inspired 4-2 run.
Both losses arrived at the hands of the talented Wildwood Blue nine. Interestingly, none of last year’s All-Stars are on this year’s team.
The 2014 Spring Hill team features: catcher/right fielder Logan Bruce, first baseman/pitcher Ryan Engley, third baseman/second baseman Nolan Franklin, second baseman/shortstop Chase Lawson, outfielder/pitcher Jordan Lendo, outfielder/third baseman Mario Monteleone, pitcher/shortstop Johnathan Poissan, outfielder/third baseman Joey Reif, left fielder/first baseman Ryan Roach, outfielder/third baseman Clayton Rodgers, shortstop/second baseman Nathaniel Sabino and outfielder/catcher Drew Sitar.
Steve Reif, Andrew Sitar and Bob Roach are assisting first-year skipper Dave Lawson.
Lawson’s team finished 2-3 during this year’s District 6 Tournament at Wildwood’s Millennium Park. In five games, the West Hernando County squad was outscored 100-97.
Lawson readily admits his team hasn’t stopped improving since falling to Bushnell in seven innings in its last game, 31-28.
“We went back through and started cleaning up everything,” insisted Coach Lawson. “Looking back, I thought we gave away too many bases. The main emphasis for us is defense.”
Lawson’s crew will have its work cut out for it defending enemy bats against 180-foot deep fences in Polk County, compared to the cozy 120-foot fences at Wildwood.
“We’ve got to ward against inside-the-park homers and we have to stop chasing runners,” insisted Lawson.
Dixie Baseball’s attempt to spice up the tournament doesn’t really matter to the Spring Hill skipper.
“I don’t know if pool-style play will help or hinder us,” said Lawson. “Everybody’s in the same boat. We’re expecting to play at 11 o’clock Saturday morning and return to the field for a 4-5 o’clock game both on Saturday and Sunday.
“Playing twice in this heat with 5-6-year-olds will be interesting. It’s hard to keep those kids at bay,” stressed Lawson. “We’ve got to find a way to win 3-4 games to get into the final (four).”
In a general sense, Lawson is upbeat.
“Everyone is excited about going to states. We’re happy to be a part of it,” he said. “The kids responded every day in practice; I think we’re ready.”
Perhaps Spring Hill’s biggest ally is being battle-tested in one of the state’s toughest districts.
“There’s no doubt we’ve been tested,” noted Lawson. “We feel we’ve played three of the toughest teams in Mulberry to get there.”
On the keys to success, “We’ve got to go out there and cover the basics,” Lawson said. “Our hitting was sluggish during the first four games (at Wildwood). We’ve got to turn it up a notch on our hitting.
“We shook things up in our last game and we hit better but we’ve got to split up the bottom of the lineup to get some production,” detailed Lawson. “In a tournament like this, offensively we can’t afford a 1-2-3 inning.”
On comparing his team to Hotop’s squad, “There’s really no comparison. We don’t have anybody back from that team,” Lawson pointed out. “But just like those guys, we received an invitation to states and we’re taking this seriously. I think we’re a lot better prepared now than we were before we reached Wildwood.”
At a Glance
What – Fifth annual Dixie Baseball T-Ball (ages 5-6) All-Stars State Tournament.
Who – Bartow, Bushnell, East Lakeland, Freeport, Hardee County, Sebring, Spring Hill, Wesley Chapel, West Seminole, West Volusia, Wildwood and host Mulberry.
Where – Mulberry Park, 1520 NE 2nd St., Mulberry.
When – Saturday through Wednesday (weather permitting).
At Stake – Top two teams will receive trophies. There is no World Series for this age group.
2014 Spring Hill T-Ball All-Stars
NO. NAME POSITIONS
1 Ryan Engley 1B/P
2 Nolan Franklin 3B/2B
3 Jordan Lendo OF/P
4 Chase Lawson 2B/SS
5 Joey Reif OF/3B
6 Mario Monteleone OF/3B
7 Clayton Rodgers OF/3B
10 Johnathan Poissan P/SS
12 Ryan Roach LF/1B
18 Drew Sitar OF/C
23 Logan Bruce C/RF
24 Nathaniel Sabino SS/2B
Head Coach – Dave Lawson
Assistant Coach – Steve Reif
Assistant Coach – Andrew Sitar
Assistant Coach – Bob Roach