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Underdog Northwest gets it done with grit
By BRANDON WRIGHT
Published July 28, 2005
Some teams waltz into the state tournament with blinding credentials and enormous expectations. Players whisper to each other when these teams walk by and crane their necks to match names with reputations.
The Northwest senior all-stars are not one of those teams.
"We're not stacked like some teams," centerfielder/pitcher Jeff Ballou said. "But this team plays with so much heart."
That's all well and good, but how far can heart take a team? So far the answer is to the state tournament, where Northwest opens play tonight at 8 in Fort Lauderdale.
"We're the underdogs," manager Tom Staton said. "And that's just the way we like it."
Few gave Northwest a chance, especially after being beaten soundly 11-3 in the first game of districts against powerful Pinellas Park National.
Northwest fought through the loser's bracket and had to defeat Pinellas Park National twice to advance to sectionals.
"We were out of pitching, so Jeff had to get it done on the mound," Staton said.
He did so emphatically.
Ballou tossed a 3-0 shutout against Pinellas Park National in Game 1 of the finals, then Northwest crushed PPN by the 10-run mercy rule in the finale, capped by Shawn Hinton's walkoff three-run homer.
Northwest then went 3-0 at sectionals in Crystal River.
"Even at sectionals, people thought we were just lucky to get there," David Staton said. "We might not be the best team in the world, but we never quit."
If there is a reason for the team's attitude, it's Tom Staton, father of players and twins David and Keith.
Tom Staton starts screaming in the first inning, doesn't stop until the end of the game and will readily admit he is the loudest manager in the league.
"He's definitely the loudest," David Staton said. "But he's also the best. He's always there to stay on us and pick us up when we get off track."
Staton relies on four pitchers, but he doesn't have a No. 1 starter - he's got four. Kyle Clemens (23 strikeouts in three games) throws the hardest, Keith Staton has the best location and Ballou possesses a combination of the two. David Staton, who also catches, is comfortable as a starter or reliever.
Hinton (two home runs), Tony Crevello (one home run), Michael Garrand (two triples) and Keith Staton (two home runs) make up what Tom Staton calls "a strong, defensive infield."
"We are very strong up the middle where it counts," he said.