West Pasco was looking to finish what it had started. Returning nine of 12 players from the 2007 All-Star team, which qualified for the state championships, West Pasco was hoping to just win its district. Following a Cinderella-type season last year, West Pasco knew it wouldn't sneak up on any opponents this time around. Even with greater expectations, the team established itself as one of the eight best in Florida.
The biggest difference in 2008 was continuity. Once the All-Star season began in mid June, the team quickly gelled and their bond off the field translated into success on it.
"We did a lot of things together, following practice. We would all go out to eat and try and do things together," coach Dave Grabowski said. "I couldn't ask for a better group of kids. We've been together for about two months and there has been no bickering, arguing — nothing."
Hoping to avoid the three-game sweep it suffered a year ago in the championships, West Pasco knew it had to execute with runners on base. During two of the three losses, 26 base runners were stranded.
"We were a little nervous last year," pitcher Blaize Grabowksi said. "When we made it to states, we were a little more relaxed and didn't take it as serious as we should have. But we found out we can't do that against really good teams."
The team motto was Mean, Hard and Dirty. During the game, the opposition was their rivals, even if they were friends (mean), never give up (hard) and leave it all on the field (dirty).
One of the biggest strengths was its pitching staff. With three players throwing more than 60 mph, and another in the high 50s, the staff allowed just 14 earned runs in 10 games.
Once state championship play began last weekend, the team started out slowly, falling 10-0 to Oviedo. After an error that led to two runs ultimately decided a 6-3 win for Merritt Island, West Pasco recovered in the tournament finale.
"Last year, when our team got down, we would just put our heads down and struggle for the rest of the game," catcher Tyler Hawks said.
"But this year, even with our struggles, we just kept fighting and did what ever we could to win."
With two outs in the seventh inning, Blaize's RBI single proved to be the difference as West Pasco defeated Niceville, which finished as runner-up in the championship, earning the team its first win in tournament play.
During the off season, the team plans on practicing individually all year and make a run at the Little League World Series in 2009.
"We know that we have the foundation and, hopefully, can return all 12 kids," Grabowski said. "If this team plays to its potential, you might see them in Williamsport next year. That's the mind set we have now."
Submit feedback, story ideas to email@example.com.