SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — The postgame news conference caused some anxiety.
Playing for the first time at the Little League World Series? That was the easy part for the Citrus Park Little Leaguers from northwest Hillsborough County.
Playing like a team accustomed to competing on Little League's largest stage, Citrus Park scored eight first-inning runs, received no-hit pitching from three pitchers and cruised to a 10-0, four-inning victory Friday over Rapid City, S.D., at Volunteer Stadium in the opener for both teams.
"They're more nervous now than they were on the baseball field, I promise you," Citrus Park manager Joe McGuire said. "These guys are just unbelievable. They are never nervous."
The Citrus Park players were so relaxed Thursday night that they went to bed early and slept well on a night most 11- and 12-year-olds might have been tossing and turning.
Wide awake and refreshed, Levi Gilcrease, Darren Miller and Kevin Merrell combined on the no-hitter, while the offense collected eight hits. The trio pitched with a big lead the entire game.
"I felt good. I wasn't nervous at all," said Gilcrease, who started and went 11/3 innings. "If you're starting, you hope they get a lot of runs, and that usually happens a lot."
Before many fans had settled into their seats, Citrus Park served notice that it could be one of the field's best teams, putting the game's first seven batters on base. Wyatt Reid's bases-loaded triple to deep right put Citrus Park ahead to stay 3-0.
Danny Lastra continued the scoring barrage with an RBI single. Three batters later, Merrell ended the eight-run rally, belting a three-run double to centerfield. Essentially it was an extension of the Southeast Regional final last week in Gulfport when Citrus Park pounded Alabama 11-0, scoring six fifth-inning runs.
While Citrus Park was loose and relaxed, Rapid City seemed tight from the start. Starting pitcher Tanner Simons eventually settled down and was sharp in the third and fourth innings, but it was too late.
"We know that's not the team that won the Midwest Regional," Rapid City manager Steve Nolan said. "These kids believe in themselves and we believe in them and we hope to compete well (today)."
The only time Citrus Park ran into any trouble was in the second inning when two errors helped Rapid City load the bases with two outs. Miller relieved Gilcrease and calmly ended the threat, striking out two straight on eight pitches.
Miller and Merrell retired eight straight to end the game and struck out five.
"There was a little bit of pressure, but in warmups I threw a couple good curveballs and I was on," Miller said. "After I was throwing a little bit I felt better."
Merrell and Reid combined for four hits and six RBIs for Citrus Park, which next plays Hawaii at 8 p.m. Sunday. Rapid City faces Connecticut at 3 p.m. today.
The game ended after four innings due to Little League's 10-run rule.