Ranch, Braden River take inside track at Little League All-Stars

The eastern part of Manatee County ruled during the first day of major-division play at the Florida District 26 Little League Baseball tournament and have the early edge to reach the Section IV tournament.

A pair of victories Monday, though, is where the similarities ended. Braden River rode a dominant pitching performance from its ace to breeze past Buffalo Creek, while Lakewood Ranch pulled away late to win a slugfest against Manatee American.

Now, the two teams will meet at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at G.T. Bray Park Recreation Center with a spot in the district final on the line. Both sides are dangerous, albeit for different reasons.

Braden River showcased its ability early with starting pitcher Matt Vest shutting down Buffalo Creek for nearly a complete game. The 12-year-old struck out 11 batters in 5  2/3 innings to help Braden River claim a 5-1 win in Bradenton.

“He’s our No. 1,” Braden River manager Joe Piña said. “He’s our shutdown guy. We put him in there; we know what’s coming. It’s cheese at the knees and smoke at the throat.”

With Vest’s one-run performance that only ended shy of a complete game because of a pitch count, Braden River wrapped up its victory in a tidy 1 hour, 28 minutes and slid over to one of the other fields at G.T. Bray Park to scout its opponent.

By then, Ranch had claimed a one-run lead and would soon tack on four more to finish off a 14-9 win against Manatee. The eventual five-run margin didn’t come easily for Lakewood Ranch, though. Ranch raced out to a 4-0 lead before surrendering nine straight. Lakewood Ranch manager Toby Davis turned to his bench and the reserves helped answer with 10 unanswered to turn a back-and-fourth game into a blowout.

“Took a little break there for a couple innings,” Davis said.

Ranch got a home run early in the game from Finn Camphire, then another in the fifth inning from backup catcher Ryan Dauphinee to turn its 10-9 lead into a 13-9 cushion. Lakewood Ranch’s pinch-running specialist, Dylan Turner, also stole home, giving Ranch another dimension on its bench. Lakewood Ranch had two players’ days cut short due to illness and used all 13 players on the roster in its victory.

“We had some great support from our bench players, who have played just as hard and practiced just as long with everybody, and they did a great job substituting in and took some great relief,” Davis said. “Came out and scored 10 on them, and took the win.”

The winner of Wednesday’s game will move within one win of Saturday’s championship game and two wins away from clinching a spot at the Section IV tournament in Land O’ Lakes. Manatee American and Buffalo Creek will also meet Wednesday at 7 p.m. for an elimination game, and the winner will move on to face the loser of the Ranch-Braden River game with the other championship berth on the line.

Wednesday will also determine one finalist in the junior division. Manatee American/National topped Lakewood Ranch, 9-2, in the opening game of the three-team, double-elimination tournament Monday and advances to face Braden River at 7 p.m. The loser will play Manatee in an elimination game Friday, while the winner advances to Saturday for the first game of the championship.

David Wilson: 941-745-7057, @DBWilson2

District 26 schedule

The double-elimination Little League Baseball tournament is underway in Bradenton. Braden River and Lakewood Ranch picked up wins in the majors division Monday and Manatee American/National earned a win in the juniors division.

Majors division

Wednesday, 7 p.m.: Manatee American vs. Buffalo Creek, Braden River vs. Lakewood Ranch

Friday, 7 p.m.: Manatee American-Buffalo Creek winner vs. Braden River-Lakewood Ranch loser

Saturday, 11 a.m.: Championship Game 1

Sunday, 11 a.m.: Championship Game 2 (if needed)

Junior division

Wednesday, 7 p.m.: Braden River vs. Manatee American/National

Friday, 7 p.m.: Lakewood Ranch vs. Braden River-Manatee American/National loser

Saturday, 11 a.m.: Championship Game 1

Sunday, 11 a.m.: Championship Game 2