GULFPORT — Up until the championship game at the Little League major baseball Southeast Regional, the hot topic making the rounds at Arnold S. White Sr. Stadium centered around Westside Alabama's power-laden lineup.
In four games prior to Friday's title game, Alabama scored 45 runs. The team from Mobile crushed an astounding 20 home runs.
The championship game eventually turned into a home run derby. However, it was Citrus Park doing the smashing at the final Southeast Regional game to be played at the Gulfport stadium.
Holding a comfortable 5-0 lead heading into its half of the fifth inning, Citrus Park put Westside away with four home runs. The last, coming off the bat of Wyatt Reid, closed a dominating performance by Citrus Park and put an exclamation point on an 11-0, mercy rule-shortened victory, clinching a spot in next week's World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
"Once we get it going, we seem to hit in bunches," Reid said. "We finally got it going. It's the first time we've hit all tournament."
Toward the conclusion of the game, it seemed the final question remaining to be answered was whether Citrus Park, located in northwest Hillsborough County, would get to 10 runs to enforce the mercy rule.
Danny Lastra drilled the first pitch he saw for a two-run shot to give Citrus Park a 7-0 lead. Brett Wilkosz hit a solo homer off reliever Dominick Martin, and Kevin Merrell hit a towering solo home run over the ESPN tower in straightaway centerfield to make it 9-0 before Reid smacked a two-out pitch over the leftfield fence.
"Really, I wasn't happy with the finish of the game," Citrus Park manager Joe McGuire said. "Those guys from Alabama are nice guys."
Citrus Park pitchers Mike McGuire and Reid held Alabama's vaunted offensive attack to just three hits. McGuire started, lasting two innings and striking out four before leaving because of a hand injury.
"On a bare-handed play that he made, when he threw the ball, he said it felt like his arm was going to fall off," Joe McGuire said of his son. "I had to make the switch."
Reid, who hit two home runs and finished with seven RBIs, continued right where Mike McGuire left off. The kid nicknamed Vegas struck out four and kept the Alabama hitters guessing all night.
"I'll tell you one thing, he was dealing it from the mound," Joe McGuire said.
Reid's RBI groundout gave Citrus Park a 1-0 lead in the first inning. His three-run homer in the third put Citrus Park firmly in control.
With the victory, Citrus Park heads to the Little League World Series. It opens play Friday at 2 p.m. against the Midwest Regional champion (to be determined today). Citrus Park will start fundraising for the trip this morning.
"I told the boys before the game we need to come out and hit like we did in the state championship game," McGuire said, referring to the team's 12-1 victory against Fort Myers. "They came out and they did it."