Champs or chumps. That was the motto manager Keith Gendron gave his Palma Ceia team. While it may have been a hard line to take with 9- and 10-year-olds, it worked as Gendron's team grabbed the Tapi Rodriguez Tournament of Champions title in the minor division.
The team almost did not make the championship after losing its second game. Working through the loser's bracket, Palma Ceia avenged that loss to Bayshore, beating the team twice to make the finals, where it topped Northside.
"Our league was really good and that really helped us have good competition," Gendron said. "Every time out there was the possibility of losing and we only tied for first. We had to win a tough tournament just to get to the Tapi championship."
It also didn't hurt having production from Cameron Temple, Willie Bowles and Ryan Gendron. The trio combined for 35 hits, tons of RBIs and some stellar pitching. When his team needed it most, Curtis Kalamaras supplied three good innings on the mound, saving a depleted rotation. Brian Smith also pitched tremendously, according to Gendron, to give the team enough depth to get through six games. With at least one hit from everyone on the team, Palma Ceia boasted a well-rounded offense.
THEY COULD HAVE BEEN GIANTS: Actually, the major baseball champions from Bayshore used to be known as the Giants, but changed their name to Dodgers this year. According to manager Rick Rowe, the moniker still fit as his team intimidated competitors on the way to the championship.
"Because we have so many big kids, we developed a reputation as a hitting ballclub," Rowe said.
Of course, six players with averages better than .400 during the season may have contributed to that outlook. The team also played on a field that once was used for minors at Interbay Little League, making it seem that much more imposing.
But in the best-of-three championship between undefeated Northside and Bayshore, it was Northside with a 13-3 throttling in the first game. Bayshore came back thanks to 12 strikeouts from Stan Rowe, who weathered a 2-hour rain delay. Ji-Hyung Park went 3-for-4 with a home run and Eric Millburg added two doubles.
In the decisive game, Rowe's brother, Maxwell, no-hit Northside for four innings, and Bayshore returned the favor from the first game, ending it 10-0 in the fourth thanks to the mercy rule. Spencer Mathews had a 3-run home run.
FINALLY, SUCCESS: The Northside major softball team came close last year, so it had an idea what it took to make a championship team. Behind a group of eight returnees, Northside did not settle for second again, taking the title.
"We were behind the 8-ball because of our park's construction," Northside manager Frank Arcuri said. "By the end of the year, we had more practice time and hit our stride at the right time. We beat a good Palma Ceia team in our first and last game and it would not surprise me if they win it next year."
This year was Northside's time to shine, though, thanks to the pitching of twins Kristen and Meghan McGrath. Northside edged Palma Ceia 3-2 in the opener, then Palma Ceia won three games in the losers' bracket before falling 4-1 in the championship.
The team did not lose a game all year and depended heavily upon Carli Mikkleson and Erika Arcuri. Northside also received an extra boost when backstop Jessica Kessel returned from camp in time to catch the championship game.