BRADENTON -- For 10 straight innings -- between Tuesday and Wednesday night’s games -- Lakewood Ranch Little League’s 9-10-year-old team stymied Braden River’s bats.
Then came the fifth inning.
Braden River erupted for eight runs, then held on as Lakewood Ranch mounted a last-inning comeback to win the District 26 tournament 9-8 at G.T. Bray park.
Braden River manager Austin Pearson said he told his club to have heart and never give up prior to Wednesday’s district championship.
With things looking bleak, Pearson rallied his troops once more.
“Some of our kids were down, and we told them to have heart ...” he said. “We had to be selective. They were going up there anxious that they had to get a base hit. ... And (they started) making the pitcher pitch whether they get walked or whether it was a bloop hit.”
That fifth frame saw Braden River send 10 hitters to the plate and go through three Lakewood Ranch pitchers, including starter Harrison Thiel, who quieted the Braden River bats for the most part in 41/3 innings.
The victory sends Braden River to the Section IV tournament in Haines City, which starts July 15.
But for most of Wednesday, it looked like Lakewood Ranch would advance.
The club had its chances to put the game to bed, but left the bases loaded in each of the final three innings.
Peyton Jula induced Chase Jackson, Lakewood Ranch’s No. 3 hitter, to pop out to shortstop Devin Guzman to end the game with the tying run just 60 feet away.
“We knew that was going to happen,” said Lakewood Ranch manager Todd Thoma about stranding the bases loaded in the final three innings. “It happened to them (Tuesday). They left the bases loaded twice and didn’t score. Anytime you leave the bases loaded ... you just can’t leave the bases loaded and not score, and that’s what we did. But the boys battled back. They came back and put themselves in a position to at least tie the game or win.”
Austin Brinling, Kaleb Quinones and Max Runde collected two hits apiece for Braden River. Teammates Caleb Whitson, Jason Hauck and Josiah Clark joined Runde with doubles. Charlie George (3-for-4), Matt Gelorme (2-for-4), Thiel (2-for-3, double, two RBIs), Paul Labriola (2-for-3) and Brett Thoma (2-for-4) powered Lakewood Ranch.
LAKEWOOD RANCH 20, BRADEN RIVER 7 -- Lakewood Ranch’s Connor Hetterich (4-for-5), Brock Sisson (3-for-4), Colton Zimring (4-for-5, home run, double), Steven Varone (3-for-5, two home runs, double), Tyler Weott (2-for-4, two doubles) and Garrett Kelly (home run) provided more than enough offense to lock up the No. 1 seed for Friday’s start of the double-elimination tournament. Hunter Oler (double) and Codey Metters (home run) contributed extra-base hits for Braden River (3-1) in Wednesday’s battle of unbeatens.
BUFFALO CREEK 10, MANATEE AMERICAN 8 -- Harrison Mundy smacked three home runs in three at-bats, and Jacob Josey added a double as Buffalo Creek earned its first win. The victory also secured the fourth and final berth into the double-elimination bracket. Manatee American’s leading hitters were Ricky Reyes Jr. (double), Marcel Sanchez (3-for-4), Skylar Negrete (2-for-4), Mikey Koczersut (double) and Michael Hennesey (2-for-4).
MANATEE WEST 9, BRADEN RIVER 4 -- Davis Roddenberry’s two hits paced West’s high-powered offense in a rout of Braden River. Manatee West improved to 2-1 in the three-team juniors division, which resumes Friday.