Manatee West edges Braden River

Josh Losek said it was the biggest win and best pitching job he’s done.

The Manatee West 11-year-old had watched a sixth-inning lead get trimmed to one – all with no outs - before gritting his teeth and digging into the pitcher’s rubber.

Losek responded with a groundout and two pop outs to propel Manatee West past Braden River 15-14 in the District 26 Little League All-Star 11-12-year-old loser’s bracket final at G.T. Bray park Thursday night.

Both the Majors and Juniors Division games ended after press time.

The Majors Division elimination game was moved to Bray after heavy rain made the tournament’s fields at Manatee East Little League unplayable.

That didn’t stop the Majors Division contest from ending in dramatic fashion.

West exploded for seven runs in the top of the sixth that stretched a one-run cushion to 15-7.

But starter Ryan Stephens had exited the game in the preceding inning and reliever Ricky Reyes Jr. (3-for-5, two doubles) started to miss the strike zone in the sixth.

That meant Losek was summoned and Braden River’s offense kept attacking.

All the way to the point that they loaded the bases for Noah Paulson, who promptly cleared them with a grand slam over the right-center field fence.

Manatee West 15, Braden River 14.

“Scared,” said Losek about what he was feeling after Paulson’s granny.

You couldn’t tell he was afraid.

Not by what happened next.

Losek got Brock Younce to ground out to first and Eric Kimsey followed with a popup to first for the second out.

The No. 9 hitter Victor Vargas stood at the plate with deep ball threat Cameron Pearcy (3-for-4, double) waiting on-deck.

But Vargas popped up Losek’s offering and the right-hander caught it near the first-base foul line to end the game.

“I stayed confident and believed in my team,” Losek said. “I knew if I pitched strikes and they hit it, then my team would back me up.”

Nick Runde had three hits for Braden River, including a fourth-inning solo homer.

Adam Martin joined Runde as the teammates hit back-to-back jacks off consecutive pitches from Stephens.

The West 12-year-old had his licks at the dish, too.

Stephens drove in West’s first four runs with a two-run single and two-run home run – both coming after Kevin Acevedo (four walks, three runs) was intentionally walked.

Nashon Smith (3-for-4), Lukas Bush (2-for-3, two doubles), Martin Valdivia (2-for-4, two doubles) and Kanoby McCarty (2-for-4) chipped in big games for West, which won its second consecutive elimination game by one run.

“I couldn’t ask for a more scrappy bunch of kids,” West manager Brian Stephens said.

West’s win means they’ll square off against Manatee East on Friday, where the district title could be decided.

A West victory means the two will play a winner-take-all game Saturday morning. An East win means a district championship, as they are the last remaining unbeaten left.

Meanwhile, the Juniors Division will have the second game in its best-of-three championship series.

The opening game Thursday night ended with a Manatee West 7-3 victory over North River National.

Devin Pellien went 3-for-4 with four RBIs to lead the West attack.

NRN’s Tyler Bench and Austin Alvis had two hits apiece.

Manager Art Scott said the turning point was when he brought in Josh Rioux in the second inning after his starter “wasn’t on.”

“That enables us to come out (Friday) and play relaxed ball,” Scott said. “Hopefully we can get it done. There the ones under the gun now.”

NRN has to win Friday to force a decisive game Saturday, while a West win tonight means a district championship for the second straight year.