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South Brandon keeps swinging

BRANDON — Solid pitching continues to be the theme during the South Brandon Little League Majors team's summer run and proved the difference last weekend as it captured the state title in Fort Myers.

"We have three No. 1 (pitchers) and two No. 1 catchers," manager Tony Saladino III said. "It all starts with the battery for us."

And now it's a theme that may play out on national television if the team can capture the Southeast Regional Championship in Warner Robins, Ga. South Brandon's dreams of reaching the mecca of youth baseball — the Little League World Series — resumes Saturday when they face West Virginia at 1 p.m. in the regional tournament.

"It really didn't sink in that we had won states until we got back to South Brandon that night to take a picture with the (state championship) banner to send to Georgia," Saladino said. "Then you could see the kids looking around and saying 'are we really going to Georgia?' "

Outfielder-first baseman Eion Mulrenin said being one tournament away from the most prestigious youth baseball event in the country is "a dream come true."

"It feels unreal being out here at these same beat-up practice fields that we were getting ready for districts on," he said. "I'm definitely looking forward to the experience and some better competition."

Saldadino said a South Brandon team has never reached the World Series and this is the first to reach the regionals since 1998.

"This is just a great group of kids and parents who enjoy each other's company," he said. "We all got together for a party between districts and sectionals for no reason. You can't teach camaraderie — and these kids and parents have it."

South Brandon faces North Carolina Monday and Georgia Tuesday to round out its half of pool play. The top two teams in each bracket then advance to the semifinals Wednesday. The tournament finals are Thursday and the winner heads to Williamsport, Pa.

Myles Caba, Marcos Herrand and Malachi Woodside have handled the heavy lifting on the mound for South Brandon. All three power pitchers sit in the low 70s with Caba being the lone lefty.

"I want to make it very clear that there is no order for the three of them," Saladino said. "Sometimes if a team is real lefty-heavy, we'll go with Caba, and Woodside has kind of served as our closer. It's a real luxury."

South Brandon went 2-1 during pool play of the state tournament, defeating Winter Garden and Sarasota National before falling to Southwest Port St. Lucie. But because South Brandon surrendered just seven runs in the three games compared with Port St. Lucie (eight) and Winter Garden (10), it advanced.

"And to be honest, our defense has been equally as good as our pitching," Saladino said. 'They have carried us to this point."

In the championship game, South Brandon overwhelmed fellow Hillsborough County team Bayshore 9-1. Adrian Malave and Dino Martin each homered to lead a 10-hit attack. And South Brandon kept up its mound dominance as Herrand and Woodside combined to strike 10.

"I've just been in awe of this whole experience," Mulrenin said. "I feel excited and happy. I'm just trying to absorb this whole thing."

Contact Brandon Wright at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

South Brandon keeps swinging 07/30/14 [Last modified: Thursday, July 31, 2014 7:43am]
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