EAST MANATEE -- It's business as usual for the Braden River Little League's Intermediate Division team this week.
Batting practice, field work and the same message the players got before their previous two tournaments.
"(We're) just telling the kids it's their last time playing on the little field; go out and have fun," Braden River assistant coach Darrell Hannaseck said.
The club begins the seven-team Florida state tournament Friday at Wellington Little League. The tournament is split into two pools, and Braden River is in the larger, four-team pool. A victory on Friday means Braden River's last two round-robin games will be at 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Saturday. An opening loss means Braden River will play Saturday's games at noon and 3 p.m.
The top team in each pool
reconvenes at noon Sunday for the state title.
A victory in that game sends the state winners into the Southeastern Regional tournament slated for July 18-22 in Apopka.
"You've got the top seven teams in the state, so we're expecting the same competition that we provide," Hannaseck said. "That's how we've been talking to the kids. You're one of the top seven teams in the state because you had to play to advance. It's not like a travel-ball tournament, where you are playing the state tournament and you are just paying money to enter something. You had to play to get here."
Braden River's road to the state tournament began with the district tournament and ran through the Section IV tournament last weekend.
The club won the District 26 All-Star tournament at Lakewood Ranch Little League without a key component for most of the tournament. Braden River's power pitching was on point throughout the event, while the bats hadn't heated up yet.
They awoke during the section tournament last weekend to the tune of 33 runs in 12 innings over two games.
"The bats finally turned on," Hannaseck said. "If they stay hot, we can compete with anybody."
Noah Miller's .625 batting average tops the team, but he has done it as a super sub with limited plate appearances (eight at-bats). That spark off the bench has aided the strong performance from the regular lineup, led by Sam Martin's .588 average.
Martin ranks third on the team with nine runs batted in.
Dalton Buckner, who hits third in the lineup, leads the team in home runs (six) and RBIs (16) to go with a .444 average.
The guys around Buckner -- such as Kaleb Quinones (.550 average, four HRs, 12 RBIs), Alen Bass (.412 average, two doubles) and Devin Guzman (.300 average, two doubles) -- have made life hectic for opposing pitchers.
"There's some support for Dalton with the lineup the way we have it," Hannaseck said. "Dalton batting third, Kaleb batting fourth, we've put together teams in this situation where they have to pitch to either Dalton or Kaleb. They can't continue to walk the bases."
Braden River also has received steady results from its arms.
The club's top three pitchers have logged several innings since district tournament play back in late June.
Bass (12 1/3 innings, 2.80 earned-run average, 14 strikeouts, eight walks), Quinones (11 2/3 innings, 4.00 ERA, 26 strikeouts, six walks) and Buckner (7 1/3 innings, 0.00 ERA, 13 strikeouts, six walks) are giving the club stability on the hill. That allows mixing and matching the remainder of the game with the bullpen.
"You can get four or five innings out of your starters, and you can piece the rest together," Hannaseck said.