PALMETTO -- For the first time in its history, Palmetto Little League will have a district champion banner to hang.
The league had a reputation solely for its softball prowess until Tuesday, when Palmetto beat Manatee West 11-0 in five innings to finish an undefeated run through the Florida District 26 Little League All-Star Tournament and win the Intermediate division at its home field, Blackstone Park.
For manager Matt Mathews, a Palmetto High and Palmetto Little League alumnus, the win had extra meaning.
"I played, my brothers played, my cousins played, my son plays," Mathews said. "We're really proud of Palmetto."
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And to win the first district title, Mathews' son anchored Palmetto at the plate and on the mound. In the second inning, with Palmetto leading 3-0, Lee Mathews bashed a two-out grand slam to bust the game open and send Palmetto to its mercy-rule victory.
But on the mound he was even better.
During Palmetto's first game against Manatee on Thursday, Mathews struck out 14 of the 16 batters he faced. Five days later in a championship-game rematch, the righty struck out 12 and took a perfect game into the fifth inning before settling for a no-hitter.
"It's easy to play good behind (on defense) when you've got a pitcher who throws a no-hitter in five innings," Matt Mathews said. "All the boys hit. We're proud of all of them."
Next for Palmetto is a trip to Lake Wales for the Section IV tournament July 10-12. Palmetto will face the District 25 champion on July 10 at 8:30 p.m. for its first game in the sectional tournament.
"It's really exciting," Mathews said. "All these boys are super excited to be able to be the first kids to do that, and I'm sure that's something ... they'll remember for a long time."
Buffalo Creek's first shot at Manatee American was doomed within minutes. In a winner's bracket game Monday, Buffalo Creek committed three errors in the first inning and was unable to recover, falling into a win-or-go-home game against Lakewood Ranch in the loser's bracket Tuesday.
The opening frame of the elimination game at Blackstone couldn't have been more different. Buffalo Creek got a 1-2-3 inning on defense and then cranked out 11 runs at the plate. By the end of the fourth inning, the mercy rule brought an end to the game as Buffalo Creek led 21-8. At 7 p.m. Thursday, Buffalo Creek will get another shot at Manatee in the 9/10 championship game.
"The first inning the other day for us against them was just ugly," Buffalo Creek manager Tommy Jomisko said. "We kept fighting back."
In the double-elimination 9/10 tournament, Buffalo Creek will have to beat undefeated Manatee American twice before Manatee wins once to claim the division championship. A rubber game would be Thursday if necessary.
The offensive explosion for Buffalo Creek also meant its pitching could breeze through a game relatively devoid of stress. Starter Chris Conboy held Ranch to one run in two innings before Jomisko pulled him. Conboy didn't hit the pitch limit, so he will be available for Thursday's game.
Lakewood Ranch mounted a rally in the third inning, scoring seven runs before Rylan Jomisko shut the door for Buffalo Creek. The reliever needed only seven pitches to get through the fourth inning despite striking out two batters.
"It was a big team offense night," Tommy Jomisko said. "Top to bottom, we just kept putting the bat on the ball. Again, hitting it where they weren't, but we hit the ball hard."