© St. Petersburg Times, published August 4, 2002
GULFPORT -- Love it or hate it, Braden River will represent Florida tonight in the Southern Regional tournament.
A last-ditch protest by Palm Harbor American and Apopka over the eligibility of Braden River pitcher Jonny Lingo was turned down Saturday afternoon by tournament officials. Palm Harbor lost to Braden River 2-1 in the state championship game and Apopka lost in the state semifinals.
Lingo's eligibility has been in question since January when he registered for Little League under the address of a piece of undeveloped property his parents bought in 2001. The Lingos plan to build a home on the property.
"You can make a horse look like a jackass or a thoroughbred," Braden River coach Bob Cross said. "(Little League) makes a ruling and you agree to abide by them."
Little League rules allow players who move to register for the second half of the season with their local district, provided they show three documents proving residency.
The South Region Charter Committee granted Lingo a waiver for the 2002 season on June 30, when it was determined the Lingos could not move into their new home because of unforeseen circumstances.
The Lingos are currently renting a home within District 16.
Talk of the protest didn't seem to dampen the spirits of the players as they checked into the dormitory Saturday. On a day meant for relaxation and fun, the most pressing issue on these kids' minds was whether or not they could set up a PlayStation in the dorm lounge.
"It's like 14 best buddies that will do anything for each other," Cross said. "The chemistry on this team is the best I've ever seen."
Braden River will have some big shoes to fill tonight when it takes on Tennessee at 7. Apopka is the defending Southern Regional champion and the Florida representative is traditionally one of the stronger teams in the tournament. Since 1948, Florida has won 15 Southern Regional championships.
North Carolina is the only team to arrive in Gulfport with an undefeated record. The team from Clemmons, N.C., is 9-0 in postseason play. Pitchers Alex Robertson and David Morgan accounted for all nine wins.
South Carolina's Konstantine Diamaduros enters the tournament with the highest batting average (.589). The South Carolina team hails from Spartanburg and is part of the Hillbrook Little League.
A state border is all that separates the teams from Phenix City, Ala., and Columbus, Ga. Even though they didn't meet this season, their proximity provides an interesting backdrop for their game. If nothing else, the atmosphere at Arnold S. White Stadium should be electric Wednesday night when these two teams meet to end round-robin play.
Virginia is represented by a team from Bridgewater. Kyle Craun, Tyler Milstead and Kevin Bocock are batting over .500 for Bridgewater.
Charleston/Ranson will try to become the first team from West Virginia to win the title.
Morristown American won the Southern Regional tournament for Tennessee in 1985 and again two years later in 1987. The 2002 squad will try to end the 14-year drought. Morristown has scored 114 runs in postseason play.