LAKEWOOD RANCH -- It was a bitter defeat that has fueled this year's Lakewood Ranch Little League 10-11 year old All-Star team to the Florida State Tournament, scheduled to begin this weekend.
Last season, Lakewood Ranch was one out away from reaching the state tourney as a 9-10 year old team.
Despite the setback, the core group has remained to put together this season's run that has brought them to Friday's opener, held at Lakewood Ranch Little League.
"What has made us so successful is that almost all of our 13 kids play travel ball at a high level in the area," Ranch manager Dave Frishman said. "We've found that has given our kids a big edge when it comes to Little League."
The club marched its way through last weekend's Section-IV tournament with
three victories in two days, compiling 39 runs in the process.
That hot hitting, which began with the District-26 tournament, has been led by a bevy of players.
They include: Peter Balos (.650 average), Jake Danowski (.500 average), John Schroeder (.500 average), Cam Martin (.480 average, home run), Stone Frishman (.375 average, six RBIs) and Nick Romagnola (two home runs).
"We're going to see some really good pitching this weekend, so this will be a test for our bats," Dave Frishman said.
Meanwhile, Ranch's pitching staff has been a strength. It has allowed just four runs in three section games.
Between district and sectional play, Brady Greenamoyer (2.25 ERA, 18 strikeouts in nine innings pitched), Dalton Roby (0.00 ERA, five strikeouts and a save) and Schroeder (ERA just over 4.00, nine strikeouts in eight innings pitched) have anchored a staff of about seven-eight pitchers, Frishman said.
The recipe has led to the first-ever state tournament appearance for a 10-11 year old team from Lakewood Ranch Little League.
The league was renamed a few years ago. Under the old name, Manatee East Little League, two 11-12 year old teams advanced to the state tournament in 1997 and 2004.
Most notably, the 1997 Manatee East "Majors" Division team finished as the United States runner-up after securing district, section, state and Southeastern Region titles. That team, led by future Major Leaguer Lastings Milledge, ended up at Williamsport, Pa., for the Little League World Series.
"Even if we win the state tournament, we'll go to North Carolina -- that's as far as we can go," said Frishman, as there is no World Series available for the 10-11 year-old division.
Ranch begins its quest Friday against Apopka, and a victory means it will finish its pool play games at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday. A loss and it will face games at 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday.
The state tournament features two pools in a round-robin format. The top teams from each pool following the three round-robin games will meet Sunday for the state title.
The other teams competing in Ranch's pool are South Fort Myers and Southwest Port St. Lucie.
"It's a huge advantage to be in your back yard," Frishman said. "Especially if you look at the Saturday schedule. We could play as early as 10 o'clock and then not have another game until 4. And there's other teams that could be in that same scenario. Well, they have to kind of hang out and go to lunch hang out in restaurants and maybe stay out in the sun. We can actually send our kids home. They can relax for a little while, and stay in the air conditioning and be in their comfortable surroundings."