The District 26 Little League All-Star Tournament began last week for a variety of age divisions.
One of those, though, didn't need any games to determine the district champion. That division, the hallowed 11-12 year olds, belonged to Lakewood Ranch Little League as the lone entrant.
Because a new division, referred to as the intermediate division, had three teams competing. None of them can advance to Williamsport, Pa., home of the Little League World Series and the glamour of playing on ESPN.
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However, those players can still compete for a world championship, but it'll be conducted in California at a later date.
The intermediate division bears pros and cons like any new idea.
Little League officials needed something to help the organization keep up with the youth players gravitating more and more to travel ball. So the intermediate division, using 70 feet in between each base, 50 feet from the pitcher's mound to home plate, leadoffs, metal spikes (if so chosen by the players) and other differences, gives Little League rule changes that mirror travel ball guidelines and a shot in the arm.
The theory behind the introduction isn't solely based on keeping travel ball players that split time with Little League more of a reason to stay in the fold. Rather, it's to stretch the field a bit to get kids used to the bigger dimensions they'll find at a regulation baseball field once they move to the juniors (13
years and older) division.
But what was seen last week during district play doesn't warrant the institution of the base paths and mound stretched further back. Well, unless the games are played with the fences moved back as well.
The district tournament was conducted on fields with regular Little League fences, designed for play with 60-feet bases.
Balls that were hit to the wall last week were routinely held to singles, or the runners would more times than not get thrown out trying to reach second base.
That probably wouldn't happen if the 11-12 year olds in the intermediate division didn't need to run the extra 20 feet to record a double.
Also, base hits to right field aren't guaranteed -- there were a few 9-3 putouts on clean hits.
And then there's the dilemma of pitchers and catchers needing to throw from farther distances in addition to holding runners on and doing it all without the development that happens at the age of 13 compared to the age of 12.
Granted, the division does allow 13 year olds but the district made a decision not to include 13 year olds for the All-Star tournament this season.
But having to throw from farther distances with underdeveloped arms means more walks, more stolen bases and longer games.
Oh and the games are seven innings long just like the juniors division. It's a mirror image, except the intermediate division is played on the smaller field.
It's great in theory, but some tinkering is needed for it to serve its purpose as getting the kids prepared for the big field. Chief among the changes should be pushing the fences back in proportion with what's been changed with the bases and mound.
Outlaws split in pool play
The 941 Outlaws, a showcase travel baseball team comprised of high school players looking to make an impression with college recruiters and pro scouts, competed in the All Prospect Southern Showcase last week in Asheville, N.C.
The club went 2-2 in pool play, but missed the championship elimination round due to tiebreaker rules. Derek Paparella (7-for-14, two home runs, three doubles and seven RBIs) and Victor Marrero (six singles) paced the offense. Adonis Bonilla, Justin Greenaway, Luke Darnell and Daniel Schroeder were credited with key offensive contributions, too.
Bryce Borngraeger and Devin Pellien picked up victories on the mound for the Outlaws, while Jared Taylor was listed as part of the strong pitching.
Next up for the club is a trip to Louisiana for the Southern College Showcase in Baton Rouge.
Manatee Cal Ripken shines
The Manatee Cal Ripken 12-and-younger team based out of Heritage Harbour recently claimed a district title with three straight victories.
They did so behind the bat of Wesley Coleman and Collin Goda.
Coleman smacked a two-run home run and a grand slam during an 11-run inning in Manatee's 17-6 tournament opening blowout of Sarasota.
Manatee advanced to a rematch with Sarasota in the championship after dispatching Fossil Park 14-3.
That title game was a 13-0 triumph for Manatee, which was sparked by Goda's second-inning grand slam.
The team now heads to the state tournament in Sanford, scheduled to start July 11.
Jason Dill, sports reporter, can be reached at 745-7017 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Jason_Dill.