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Commentary | Big events in town this week

Welcome to Manatee County or should we call it, Sports County? Just take a look at what’s cropping up this week in our community, aside from high school football playoffs and the normal sporting events that take place from week-to-week:

The Nike International Friendlies come to town, even if it’s referred to on the Fox Soccer Channel as Sarasota -- the three match soccer event is happening at Lakewood Ranch’s Premier Sports Campus.

The U-17 Men’s National Team battles France in Wednesday’s opener at 5 p.m. They’ll square off against Turkey on Friday at 5 p.m. and wrap up the event on Sunday at 5 p.m. against Brazil -- a country mainly known for samba music, “the beautiful game” of soccer, a mixture of both at times, and fabulous models.

Each match day begins at 2 p.m., with the United States team playing the headline game at 5 that is aired live on FSC.

While that’s taking place, tennis players from around the world began descending on IMG Academies in Bradenton on Monday for the prestigious Eddie Herr International.

The annual gathering has seen marquee tennis names like Maria Sharapova and Andy Roddick play in the past. Monday’s inclement weather canceled most action for the day. Parking for the event takes place across IMG Academies at Bayshore High School, and costs $5 per vehicle, which is donated to the school.

The tournament’s main draw for the various age divisions concludes Sunday.

Golden Manatees back

The Manatee County Hockey Club’s Golden Manatees bounced back from a mini-funk to win both games last week, including Wednesday’s shootout with rival Sarasota at the Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex.

Two days before the 8-7 victory against Sarasota, the Golden Manatees downed Dunedin/Tarpon Springs/Countryside 9-3 at the Clearwater Ice Arena.

Luke Bafia (four goals), Raven Woodring (three goals), Daniel Rainwater (goal) and Zachary McCoy (goal) provided the scoring for Manatee.

Against Sarasota, though, the Golden Manatees were forced to battle back from a 6-4 deficit at the start of the third period. They did by outscoring Sarasota 4-1 in the frame, which included the game-tying goal from Luke Bafia off a power-play and the game-winner from Woodring with 1:16 remaining.

Both victories vaulted Manatee up to second place in the Lightning Conference’s Central Division standings with 12 points, four shy of division-leading Freedom.

Big turnout at Turkey Trot

The 14th annual Turkey Trot, conducted by the Bradenton Runners Club, witnessed a superb turnout for the Thanksgiving Day morning race that started at the DeSoto Monument. About 700 runners participated. Former Manatee High standout and current University of Florida senior, Josh Sanchez, posted a time of 25:51 to top the male participants and claim the overall title. It’s his second consecutive Turkey Trot triumph.

Christopher Rodriguez placed second at 27:20. Bayshore sophomore Canaan Meester-Kitterman was a minute behind Rodriguez to snag third place.

On the female side, Lakewood Ranch High junior Kristen Zarella finished 18th overall with a time of 32:20 en route to the female title.

Her teammate, senior Devin McDermott, finished second in the division at 35:01.

Former Manatee High star Diana Nelson placed third in the group, six seconds behind McDermott.

Cheerleaders to nationals

While youth football teams were bounced from postseason play, the East Manatee Bulldogs Junior Midget Cheerleading Squad grabbed second place in the novice small squad division at the Southeast Pop Warner Regional Cheer Championships at the Silver Spur Arena in

Kissimmee on Sunday. The performance against 14 other squads in the region, which is made up of Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, earned the Bulldogs team at the Pop Warner National Cheer Championship that’s slated for Walt Disney’s Wide World of Sports next week.

Meteors rising

Lakewood Ranch’s Meteors, a 9-and-younger travel baseball team, recently won the Gulf Coast Championship held in Sarasota with a 4-0 record in the event.

They beat the Tampa Spartans 8-0 in four innings to cap the impressive tourney.

Currently, they are 27-8 on the season.

“These are great kids. They have great skills, but also have come together as a team. It’s fun to watch kids play when they give 110 percent,” manager Casey Yniguez said in a news release.

Currently, the Meteors are looking for one or two additional players that are either 9 years old or will soon be 9.

The team is based out of Lakewood Ranch Little League, formerly called Manatee East LL, and Yniguez can be reached at 812-5063 for more information.

Jason Dill, sports reporter, can be reached at 745-7017 or via email at