SPRING HILL — Warming up during the regular season as the only Senior Division team for West Hernando Little League, the pressure had just begun for the Cardinals.
West Hernando had captured back-to-back crowns and three of the past four district titles in the Senior Division. Because of this growing legacy, the Cardinals were being counted to represent the league strongly in the District 15 Top Team Tournament in Beverly Hills.
"There was some pressure because of all the flags and banners hanging up around the field," manager Tom Masson said. "We're a young team, too, so there is some pressure associated with that."
Masson and the Cardinals knew they had to be motivated to continue this local streak. The Cardinals, although young and somewhat inexperienced, had no shortage of talent.
Greg Rittenberry, one of three 16-year-olds on the roster, was a member of the West Hernando Astros, the Senior Division District 15 Top Team Champions in 2008. Joey Asquith, a new addition to the club, was the offensive star of the tournament and was a member of the Spring Hill Dixie All-Star club that won the state crown last season. Angel Biel, the team's cleanup hitter, led the district in home runs.
The team, made up of 15- and 16-year-olds, went undefeated in the tournament. The bracket included the five leagues with Senior Division representatives in District 15. However, no game matched the dominance the Cardinals showed in the opening round against Greater Hudson. West Hernando topped Greater Hudson 14-0 behind Rittenberry's performance on the mound.
The Nature Coast sophomore tossed a perfect game, never throwing more than two balls to any one batter. Rittenberry needed just 57 pitches for the six-inning victory, and most of the performance took place in a close game. West Hernando led only 1-0 until a 13-run fifth inning.
"(Hudson) had a well-rounded team," Rittenberry said, "but that was one of the best games I've ever pitched."
Rittenberry, the staff ace, also had 14 strikeouts and it was the second time in the past two seasons he no-hit an opponent. While pitching for the Sharks as a freshman, he no-hit Lecanto in a high school game.
In the quarterfinals, the Cardinals strolled to another easy win in the double-elimination format, topping Inverness 18-2. The win advanced West Hernando to the semifinals against another undefeated and familiar foe, Shady Hills.
"I knew we were one of the better teams in the district when we beat Shady Hills during the regular season at their field," Masson said. "We won that game in extra innings, 13-12."
While Shady Hills would be the toughest club West Hernando faced during the tournament, it never slowed the Cardinals. In the semifinal, the local club outlasted its opponent 11-8, and in the championship final, the Cardinals downed Shady Hills 6-2.
Since the Cards are the lone Senior Division squad for West Hernando, almost the entire roster will now move on to the upcoming District 15 All-Star Tournament. That team will also be coached by Masson.
"After the performance we just had, we know that most of these other teams will see us as the favorites for All-Stars," Masson said. "They'll be gunning for us."
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