When Donnie Ganong and Jud Scott were maintaining the fields at Heritage Harbor together this past winter, only one was thinking about coaching a team to the 10U Cal Ripken World Series. Scott, who had coached with Ganong in the past for their 15-year-old sons' teams, knew the Manatee 10U All-Stars needed a new head coach after reaching the Southeast Regional in the 9U division the previous summer. Ganong, he figured, would be a perfect fit.
When Manatee 10U's season ended Friday in Jonesboro, Ark., and the newest World Series champions hoisted the trophy at Fowler Field, they wore helmets with the initials "JS" stickered on the backs of their helmets, and Ganong was celebrating with them. In February, a month after Manatee's World Series-bound season began, Scott died after a brief battle with cancer. He was 56.
"We decided early on to dedicate the season to him," Ganong said of his friend and assistant coach, who was diagnosed in December. "His name came up a lot."
Including in Jonesboro, where Manatee quickly became the biggest story at the Ripken World Series. The Manatee All-
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Stars opened the tournament with back-to-back 10-0 wins. They were going out to dinner and getting recognized by anyone paying attention to the event.
After a one-run win against the Pacific Northwest champion from Kennewick, Wash., Manatee locked up a first-round bye in bracket play. The Southeast champion took down the Kennewick All-Stars again in the first game before blowing out the hosting Jonesboro All-Stars, 15-2, in the championship game.
Ryan Combs delivered a gem in the finale, allowing only three hits and a pair of unearned runs across four innings. He was also at the front of Manatee's offensive explosion, scoring twice from the leadoff spot and driving in a run.
"It was a really special group," Ganong said.
In total, nine players had hits and 10 drove in runs for the Manatee All-Stars. Stone Russell went 2-for-2 with three runs and an RBI. Drew Marra went 1-for-2 with a pair of runs and RBI. Judson Hildreth scored two runs and drove in another. Jaden Stockton went 2-for-3 a run and two RBI.
Most of the team has been playing together for five years and last season it netted Manatee a top-three finish at the region championship. When Ganong came to the team with Ryan Gargett, who went 11-for-20 with two home runs and RBI during the World Series, the All-Stars set a World Series championship. With the memory of Scott on their mind, they made a special season even more so.
Another moment that stuck on Ganong's mind was a game against an Immokalee team from the middle of the summer. The team was at Heritage Harbor for a tournament and it was the first time most of the kids had been outside of Immokalee. They shared one bat and only had a few balls. Manatee pledged to donate their used equipment to the league and in the fall the All-Stars will travel down to Immokalee with new equipment in hand for a camp with the league.
"It goes much further than just this season alone," Ganong said. "It's a lifelong experience."
Little League sign-ups
The Little League World Series is just now getting underway in Williamsport, Pa., and already local leagues are starting to look toward next year.
Prospective players can begin signing up for Buffalo Creek Little League's fall season Saturday. From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Buffalo Creek Park concession stand, parents can sign their children up for this upcoming season. Registration will also be open Aug. 29 at the same time and location.
David Wilson, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7057. Follow him on Twitter @DBWilson2.