Saturday, November 18, 2017
Sports

Plant City Majors team one step closer to Williamsport

RECOMMENDED READING


PLANT CITY

Monday's win for the Plant City Little League Majors All-Star team was so important, they allowed themselves to celebrate.

For all of 20 seconds.

Humble but hungry — the mantra for this special group — helped the team claim its first Majors state championship since 1995, beating Windermere 5-3 in comeback fashion.

Now, Plant City will represent Florida and challenge seven other states at the Southeastern Regional tournament starting today in Warner Robins, Ga. At stake will be a trip to Williamsport, Pa., for the Little League World Series.

Plant City has never made it to the World Series.

"This is awesome," said Plant City manager Tate Whatley, who can't stop gushing over his group.

He notes their celebration, a quick little bit of jumping up and down after the win over Windermere, was the only such display he has seen this summer.

"Winning district and sectional, they reacted just like it was any other game," Whatley said. "Just shake the opponent's hand and say 'good game' that's it. This is a very tight bunch of young men and each game and tournament they've grown."

After falling in the sectional rounds in recent years, this Plant City team won several close games to advance past that stage and on to last weekend's state tourney. The action was held at DeBary Little League in between Daytona Beach and Orlando.

And it didn't start well. Bayshore defeated Plant City 9-6 in its opening game of pool play July 27. That put Plant City into must-win mode for its two Saturday games.

And since a 2-1 record might have meant needing a tiebreaker, namely having the fewest runs allowed, it became pretty simple: score a lot, and don't give up many.

But Plant City has a tremendously deep pitching staff, and an offense that caught fire all at once. The result? Wins over Boynton Beach (15-2) and South Fort Myers (18-2). Plant City easily won its pool thanks to the runs-allowed tiebreaker.

In Sunday's semifinals, Plant City knocked off Merritt Island 17-2. The finale was a different story, as Windermere led 2-0 through four innings before Plant City rallied, getting three in the fifth and two more in the sixth to prevail.

Whatley made it a point to credit the entire team for its consistent play.

"We have had outstanding pitching performances from TJ Gayner, Cody Ginther, Austin Eldridge and Christian Laird, not to mention some very sharp defensive plays made by Zack Ford, Will Johnson, Emilio Rivera and Matt Byars," Whatley said. "We have also had some very good offense from Cody Cribbs, Benji Hidalgo, Tate Whatley and CJ Kirkland.

"So far it just seems like whenever we need something big to happen or just a spark that any one of these kids step up and perform, whether on the mound, in the field or at the plate, I have total confidence and faith in every one of them."

Despite the success, Whatley says the group remains humble. Even the prospect of playing on national TV, which will happen if Plant City ends up in the top two of its four-team pool, doesn't have a demonstrative effect.

"Their motto is 'win one game in a row.' After we beat Windermere it was the little celebration and then 'Okay coach what's next?' And I told them, Okay, Alabama's next," said Whatley.

Darek Sharp can be reached at [email protected]

Comments
Lightning finds its game too late, loses to Islanders

Lightning finds its game too late, loses to Islanders

TAMPA — The firepower showed up in the third period.Yanni Gourde and Ondrej Palat scored 13 seconds apart. Gourde scored again.Suddenly it was a one-goal game, and the Lightning appeared on its way to one of those comeback wins that would be remember...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Lightning journal: Jon Cooper thrilled with stellar start

Lightning journal: Jon Cooper thrilled with stellar start

TAMPA — If you told coach Jon Cooper his team would open the season with wins in 15 of the first 19 games, well, "I’m not sure I can sit here and say I would have predicted that," he said Saturday morning.But the Lightning did just that to lead the N...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Sunday’s sports on TV/radio

TODAYAutosMonster Energy Cup: Ford EcoBoost 4003 p.m.NBCCFLSaskatchewan at Toronto1 p.m.ESPNewsEdmonton at Calgary4:30 p.m.ESPNewsCollege basketballMonmouth at Virginia1 p.m.FSFWomen: Maryland at Connecticut1:30 p.m.ESPNPuerto Rico Tip-Off, fifth pla...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Roger Mooney’s takeaways from Lightning-Islanders

Roger Mooney’s takeaways from Lightning-Islanders

This is what happens when you have the best record in the league: You get the best from the other team. The Islanders came out strong and the Lightning couldn’t match it, falling behind 4-0 early in the third. For the most part, the Lightning has bee...
Updated: 2 hours ago
No. 14 UCF rolls Temple 45-19, heads to War on I-4 unbeaten

No. 14 UCF rolls Temple 45-19, heads to War on I-4 unbeaten

PHILADELPHIA — There were so many reasons for UCF coach Scott Frost to worry about his team’s focus. With a huge game against USF looming, playing an improving Temple team in a stadium where the empty seats outnumbered the filled ones by about a 3-1 ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Gerald McCoy to Ndamukong Suh: ‘Let them remember us’

Gerald McCoy to Ndamukong Suh: ‘Let them remember us’

TAMPA — In the spring of 2010, one of the biggest debates during the week leading up to the NFL draft was which defensive tackle would be selected first: Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh or Oklahoma’s Gerald McCoy.Both figured to be highly productive NFL pla...
Updated: 2 hours ago
No. 2 Miami finishes on 30-0 run, tops Virginia 44-28

No. 2 Miami finishes on 30-0 run, tops Virginia 44-28

MIAMI — After Miami clinched the first Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal Division crown in program history, upset the then-No. 3 team in the country, claimed one of the top four spots in the College Football Playoff rankings and after many of the nat...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Early Lightning awards: Tough call on MVP

Early Lightning awards: Tough call on MVP

TAMPA — It’s still way early, but if the Lightning’s record start continues, there will be a lot of hardware up for grabs. And we’re not just talking about the Stanley Cup. Nikita Kucherov has league MVP written all over him. Andrei Vasilevskiy coul...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Bucs’ belief in Jameis Winston has been shaken

Bucs’ belief in Jameis Winston has been shaken

TAMPA — Belief is the biggest attribute a quarterback can bring to his team. Belief in his talent. Belief in his commitment to winning. Belief in his ability to bring everyone together and have his voice lead the path forward.But the belief the Bucs ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Topkin: As Rays start dealing, how far will they go?

Topkin: As Rays start dealing, how far will they go?

After collecting intelligence at last week’s GM meetings, the Rays soon will launch their offseason mission of trading at least a couple of veterans to reduce payroll.The question is how far they will go — how many players they deal, and how big of n...
Updated: 2 hours ago