Seven area teams – down from 10 in 2013 – will descend upon Sumter County beginning Saturday morning for the Dixie T-Ball (ages 5-6) All-Stars District 6 Tournament.
The week-long, double-elimination event takes places at Millennium Park in Wildwood.
The field is expected to include: Brooksville, Bushnell, San Antonio, Spring Hill, South Lake, Wesley Chapel and host Wildwood.
Webster (whose program folded), Sumter, Ridge Manor and Oak Griner will not be represented in this tourney. Wildwood is the two-time defending District 6 champion.
For now, only the top two teams will advance to the fifth annual T-Ball State Championship July 5 at Mulberry. That’s subject to change.
It’s been almost a decade since Brooksville’s T-Ballers have raised a district championship banner.
Since the millennium, Brooksville has captured two district titles: in 2002 at Wildwood, under Tom Bronson, and 2005, at Ernie Wever Youth Park, under Bruce Price.
Neither of those two teams advanced to states because until three years ago there was no state event held for this age group.
Last year’s Brooksville nine finished third in districts at 3-2 at Bushnell’s Community Center and advanced to states in Sebring.
In Highlands County, skipper J.P. Janssens’ squad went 1-2 to finish 4-4 overall.
Brooksville’s 2014 T-Ball All-Star squad features a 12-member roster: center fielder Kayden Curtiss, catcher/right fielder Zayne Derryberry, third baseman/left fielder Ivan Edwards, first baseman/pitcher Kaine Ellis, center fielder Khaden Graves, right fielder Trenton Harvey, shortstop Austin Knierim, right fielder Aaron Rojero, left fielder Chase Shamblin, third baseman/left fielder Anthony Sparks, second baseman Reagan Wilkes and pitcher/first baseman Addison Wright.
The lone returning All-Star from last year’s team is Ellis.
Brooksville will be guided by golf professional Jim Knierim. Knierim will be assisted by
Shane Derryberry, Tyson Ellis and Ben Shamblin.
Knierim admits that his staff has had to do a lot of coaching, but that his players have been receptive, acting as sponges soaking up the baseball knowledge.
The Brooksville mentor acknowledges that his team is excited about the opportunity of playing this weekend.
His greatest concerns revolve around being able to take an extra base here and there and making precise throws on defense.
“We’ve got a bunch of young kids that are getting better every day,” noted Knierim. “We’re making the transition on defense of not chasing kids down and throwing the ball and catching the ball.”
On prepping his team to run the required five extra feet to reach each base, “It’s a huge challenge at this age group,” detailed Knierim. “Running an extra five feet is big. Throwing the ball from third base to first base is something we have to learn to do.”
Knierim predicts his team’s offensive presence will be provided by Derryberry, Ellis and his son, Austin Knierim.
Though the tourney opens with three games on Saturday, Brooksville drew the opening-round bye.
“My son and I will be there Saturday just soaking it all in,” explained Knierim.
Due to the bye, Brooksville won’t play until 6 p.m. Monday against Saturday’s survivor of San Antonio/Spring Hill.
“It really doesn’t matter who we play on Monday,” declared Knierim. “For a lot of our kids this will be the first really competitive situation. It’s critical for our kids to have some fun.
“Our goal is get as far as last year’s team,” added Knierim. “There are no hidden agendas with this age group. These boys want to go to states and the mindset is to have fun doing it.”
❖ ❖ ❖
In 2013, Spring Hill’s first-ever T-Ball squad under Craig Hotop turned heads.
Though the West Hernando County nine finished fourth in districts at 2-2, it was granted a berth in the state field.
Hotop’s team, which improved with each game, reached as deep as the state championship before losing to an extremely talented Wildwood Blue, 17-11.
In fact, Wildwood Blue handed the Spring Hill squad three of its four losses last summer during a smashing 6-4 debut.
This year’s Spring Hill T-Ball All-Star 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,
First-year skipper Dave Lawson will be assisted by Steve Reif, Andrew Sitar and Bob Roach.
Interestingly, not one All-Star returns to this year’s Spring Hill team. Lawson says his group isn’t particularly big, but is an athletic group that can hit the ball.
Lawson’s biggest issue is the transition to all the All-Star rules. He indicated that his troops are adapting on the fly.
“My biggest concern is simply taking care of the baseball. That sounds simple,” pointed out Coach Lawson. “But if you can’t play pitch and catch, you’re in trouble. Even if a kid rips one into the alley, can we limit the damage to a single instead of a triple?”
Similar to Brooksville, Spring Hill has been adjusting to playing on the bigger diamonds.
“Throwing an extra five feet with this age group is a big deal,” insisted Lawson.
Going in, the expectations for Year 2 of Spring Hill T-Ball have altered.
“This is a completely different team than last year,” emphasized Lawson. “Nine of those kids are playing Rookies All-Stars. We haven’t compared this group to last year’s group – that wouldn’t be fair. The expectations are there based on what happened last year.”
Spring Hill opens at 10 a.m. Saturday against San Antonio. The East Pasco County program did not compete in districts in 2012, but went 0-2 and finished in a tie for ninth last summer.
“Winning Game 1 is really important,” said Lawson. “The guys are understandably nervous before the game. This is the one to get those jitters out of the way. I’d rather bat first and score first to put pressure on the other team.”
The team’s focus is undeterred.
“Our goal is to go out there and win. We expect to do well,” Lawson said. “I’d be lying if I didn’t expect us to win a game. We just don’t want to add any more pressure to these kids. I like the underdog role whether our kids are 5 or 15.”
At a Glance
What – Dixie Youth League T-Ball (ages 5-6) All-Stars District 6 Tournament.
Who – Seven teams in a week-long, double-elimination format featuring: Brooksville, Bushnell, San Antonio, Spring Hill, South Lake, Wesley Chapel and host Wildwood.
Where – Millennium Park, 6500 Powell Road, Wildwood.
When – Saturday through next Friday (weather permitting), with June 14 as a makeup date.
At Stake – District champion and district runner-up will advance to T-Ball State Championship Tournament July 5 in Mulberry. At the discretion of the state tournament director, additional teams could advance to states.
2014 Brooksville T-Ball All-Stars
NO. NAME POSITIONS
1 Kayden Curtiss CF
3 Austin Knierim SS
6 Khaden Graves CF
7 Chase Shamblin LF
8 Kaine Ellis* 1B/P
10 Zayne Derryberry C/RF
13 Trenton Harvey RF
15 Aaron Rojero RF
21 Ivan Edwards 3B/LF
23 Addison Wright P/1B
24 Anthony Sparks 3B/LF
99 Reagan Wilkes 2B
* Denotes returning All-Star selection.
Head Coach – Jim Knierim
Assistant Coach – Shane Derryberry
Assistant Coach – Tyson Ellis
Assistant Coach – Ben Shamblin
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
2013 Final T-Ball (ages 5-6) District 6 Tourney Standings
at Bushnell’s Community Center
PL TEAM W L .PCT RS RA
1. Wildwood Blue* 5 0 1.000 117 50
2. Wesley Chapel Red* 3 2 .600 109 106
3. Brooksville-HYL* 3 2 .600 124 100
4. Spring Hill* 2 2 .500 102 73
5. Bushnell 2 2 .333 99 110
6. South Lake 1 2 .333 79 100
6. Wildwood White 1 2 .333 78 110
6. Wesley Chapel Navy 1 2 .333 56 72
9. (tie) Sumter 0 2 .000 29 61
9. (tie) San Antonio 0 2 .000 71 83
TOTALS 18 18 .500
* Denotes qualified for T-Ball State Championship Tournament in Sebring.
HYL Dixie League T-Ball Recap (2002-13/12 Seasons)
- Compiled by TONY CASTRO
Year Team Coach W L .PCT RS RA Ratio PL
2002 HYL American Tom Bronson 5 1 .833 184 145 +39 1st
2002 HYL National Swede Oleander 0 2 .000 58 77 <19> -
2003 HYL American Don Whitehead 0 2 .000 51 64 <13> -
2003 HYL National Brent Young 0 2 .000 39 45 <6> -
2004 HYL American Don Whitehead 2 2 .500 110 108 +2 -
2004 HYL National Christie Williams 0 2 .000 45 67 <22> -
2005 HYL Bruce Price 6 1 .857 142 65 +78 1st
2006 HYL Mark Griffith 1 2 .333 71 85 <14> -
2007 HYL Tom Williams 0 2 .000 39 60 <21> -
2008 HYL Don Whitehead 1 2 .333 61 80 <19> -
2009 HYL Steve Taylor 1 2 .333 66 68 <2> -
2010 HYL Wes Van Alstine 1 2 .333 90 96 <6> -
2011^ HYL Kevin Bittinger 7 4 .636 236 49 +187 3rd
2012 HYL Sean Harmon 1 2 .333 52 81 <29> -
2013^ HYL J.P. Janssens 4 4 .500 167 147 +20 3rd/-
2014$ Spring Hill Craig Hotop 6 4 .600 224 165 +59 4th/2nd
^ Denotes state qualifier/placed third in districts.
$ Denotes state runner-up.