Not since 1979 has a team from the North Suncoast done what the West Pasco Little League All-Stars did this month.
Every Little Leaguer has dreams and aspirations of playing on national television in the Little League World Series. A minute percentage, no matter the talent level, ever get the chance. In fact, less than one percent of current major leaguers have played in the tournament.
West Pasco was one victory from joining that elite fraternity. The local team of 12-year-olds was one win away from getting as far as any other North Suncoast team in history, but a 5-4 loss to Rockledge at the state championship game ended that hope. As it stands, the group finished just behind a mark set by Dade City Little League in both 1953 and 1979.
The run for West Pasco began two months ago when league officials named the members of the 2009 Majors All-Star roster. At the time, there was no way any of them could have known what kind of journey lay ahead.
"In the beginning, we knew we were good," Blaize Grabowski said, "but there is no way we could have known we were going to get that far."
Performances all over the diamond carried West Pasco to a 12-1 record during the District 12 and Section 7 tournaments. On the mound, nine different pitchers combined for a 2.11 earned run average, allowing only 26 runs in 13 games. In the batter's box, the lineup was potent with hitters combining for a .361 average, 31 home runs and 96 RBIs during the postseason.
The big hitters for the club were catcher Harrison Keslar and pitcher Tyler Hawks. Keslar led the team with seven homers and a .595 average, also adding 11 RBIs, a team-high six doubles and 16 runs. Hawks was not far behind in any of these categories. He hit for .488 with six home runs and a team-leading 17 RBIs. He also scored 16 runs.
Hawks also combined with Grabowski as the workhorses of the West Pasco pitching staff. The two hurlers each threw more than 22 innings, Grabowski was the only pitcher with more than 10 innings thrown to post a sub-1.00 ERA. His 0.79 mark included a 4-0 record with two saves and 36 strikeouts. Hawks was 2-1 with a 2.69 ERA and 29 strikeouts.
After completing its Section 7 championship, West Pasco readied itself mentally for the tournament in Winter Park for a shot at the state title, which would have made them Team Florida, advancing to the Southeast Regional tournament. From there, the team would've headed to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Penn., which is where ESPN begins to televise Little League contests.
That did not escape any of the kids or the coaches.
"After the win over West Melbourne in the semifinal, something clicked," West Pasco coach Dave Grabowski said. "The realization that we had a chance at winning the title was both positive and negative, and I think some of the kids started to overlook Rockledge."
Even with all of the impressive stats the team posted in its 13 games, the numbers won't be what the kids remember. It will be the camaraderie and experience of playing on a big stage that will be their memories years from now. And though the team handled the experience with maturity and understanding, the final loss hit some harder than others.
"After already beating them before, the whole team was really upset and some of us got teary-eyed," Hawks said. "It's hard when you realize that it's all over."
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