Five years ago, the nucleus of the North Brandon Reds Majors team started its Little League career as a group of kids playing in the minors.
Monday night, the Reds ended an amazing three-year run with an 8-6 victory against South Brandon in the District 13 Tournament of Champions final. In those three years, the Reds have posted a record of 75-6 (59-1 in the last two years) while winning three North Brandon Majors (ages 10-12) championships.
"These kids are just amazing," said Gary Cates Sr., coach of the Reds. "They know the fundamentals of baseball. Everyone who sees them play comes up and says, "You have such a well-organized team.' We've taught them how to play Little League baseball."
As 10-year-olds, the nucleus of Reds lost their first two games in the Tournament of Champions. Last year, the same players finished third.
This season, they won the tournament and finished the season 31-0. They defeated their five opponents by a combined score of 46-7, shutting out three teams and producing two no-hitters. Gene Reynolds Jr. pitched a 7-0 no-hitter against Belmont Heights, and Ryan Raburn pitched a no-hitter in last Friday's semifinal against Lutz.
The championship game against South Brandon wasn't a breeze, however. North Brandon got an early lead, but had to stop two South Brandon rallies to win.
With the help of a Daniel Tosca single, North Brandon went ahead 1-0 in the first inning.Gary Cates Jr., who stole second and third to score the Reds' first run, had an RBI single in the third. Reynolds followed with a three-run homer, his first of the year, to make the score 5-0.
But South Brandon countered with four runs in the third. Cates came back in the fourth with a two-run hit and Rayburn followed with an RBI single to give North Brandon an 8-4 lead.
South Brandon scored twice in the sixth and final inning, but Reynolds came on in relief to strike out the final batter. Tosca, the nephew of Carlos Tosca, a coach in the Florida Marlins organization, earned the victory.
Coach Cates was quick to credit manager Gene Reynolds Sr. and assistant coach Johnny Raburn. Both Reynolds and Raburn are pastors and Cates said that had an influence on the team's success.
"A lot of the kids are good church-going boys," Cates said. "They're very disciplined and listened to what we said. A kid who thinks he's all-everything but doesn't listen is going nowhere.
"We didn't holler at these kids. We just told them congratulations and do better next time."
Six players from the North Brandon Reds team _ Cates Jr., Reynolds Jr., Tosca, Raburn, Denny Summerall and Chris Renick _ will play for the North Brandon All-Star team that begins play on July 5. Cates has trouble guarding his optimism about North Brandon's chances.
"To be honest, we're looking at going to Williamsport," Cates said, referring to the Little League World Series site in Pennsylvania. "I know we're going to need a lot of breaks, but a lot of the same kids were playing together five years ago. We're just so proud of them."
Senior baseball (ages 13-15): Clint Devault's two-run homer in the first inning sparked the North Brandon Red Sox to a 10-2 victory over the North Seminole Blue Jays in the Tournament of Champions final. Devault has another two-run blast in the fifth.
Nerril Griffith pitched five solid innings and contributed five RBI to the Red Sox's cause. Ronnie Merril came on in the top of the sixth and picked up the save.
It was the second time in as many games the Red Sox defeated the Blue Jays by the score of 10-2. Friday night, North Brandon earned a berth in the championship game by overcoming a 2-0 deficit. Blue Jays pitcher Marlon Bell (brother of major-leaguer Derek Bell) had held the Red Sox scoreless, but was forced to leave after taking a line drive on the leg.
In the final, North Seminole was able to keep it close until the third inning when an error allowed three runs to score.
"We were doing okay until then," Blue Jays coach Mike Dunsworth said, "but that really took the wind out of our sails."
"We have a great pitching staff," North Brandon coach Bill Weston said. "That's what won the tournament. That and good hitting.
"Our 14-year-olds also came through and got base hits, keeping the pressure off the 15-year-olds."
Senior softball (ages 13-15): After losing the first game of the District 13 championship 10-5 to Bloomingdale, forcing a final game, the East Bay girls turned on the offense Monday night to claim the title 16-3.
Monica Triner, Misty Spencer and Paula Holmes helped East Bay to a five-run first inning and a seven-run second. Triner also performed well on the mound, striking out three, and was backed by solid defense.
The key to the victory, according to coach Glenda Spencer, was the shift of Triner (.778 batting average through the tournament) to the No. 3 spot in the order. Hitting behind her were Spencer (.467) and Holmes (.563).
"The other team always seemed to walk her (Triner)," Spencer said. "We moved her to three in the order, putting Misty and Paula behind her. That is what helped us produce the runs in the first and second."
Majors softball (ages 10-12): An eight-run fifth inning turned a close game into a blowout as Bloomingdale defeated East Point 16-5 in the Tournament of Champions final.
Bloomingdale took a 4-0 lead in the top of the third, only to see East Point come back with five runs in the bottom of the inning.
Bloomingdale recaptured the lead with two runs in the fourth. Heather Bedford (two doubles), Shannon Lee, Lauren Gasparino and Mindy Laing all contributed to the offense.
Pitcher Jackie Juzysta allowed three hits in the game and pitched three no-hitters in the tournament. Erin O'Brien did a solid job behind the plate, and Lauren Rainey made three key defensive plays to stop East Point rallies.
_ Correspondent Carey Freeman contributed to this report.