Runner-up Crystal River 'superb' in all-star tourney
By CAREY FREEMAN
© St. Petersburg Times,
CRYSTAL RIVER -- It was their first taste of all-star competition, but the Crystal River 7-8-year-olds hope it isn't their last.
Odds are, it won't be.
Crystal River took home second place after a 15-11 loss to host Ocala Highlands Little League in a tournament for the younger age group this past weekend.
Though the event was not officially sanctioned by Little League of America, it was an important step for these emerging players, who are a year or two away from the 9-10 level -- the youngest sanctioned by Little League.
"There was a lot pressure and we were only able to have three or four practices, but they did superb," Crystal River manager Dr. Richard Swanson said. "They were definitely excited, and their level of play was fantastic.
"They rose to the occasion and really played hard," he said. "Their enthusiasm level was tremendous, and they didn't want it to end. The first question they asked me was, "When is the next one.' "
For most, the answer was next season.
In a prelude to this weekend's kickoff of the District 15 All-Star Tournament, the youngsters got a chance to play just like the big boys and girls will, facing the excitement and pressure of an elimination tourney.
The 7-8 Rookie League essentially is an instructional league, but it also provides a necessary bridge between T-ball the Major division (9-12). Players hit against pitching machines, which are operated by coaches, but do everything else -- fielding, catching, throwing -- like the older boys and girls.
Crystal River was one of two Citrus County squads in the tournament -- along with Central Citrus -- which began Wednesday and ended Sunday. Crystal River opened with a competitive game against Central Citrus, prevailing 14-10 behind the hitting of Jay Curry (home run), Brian Carrico and Troy Curry.
Next up was eventual champion Highlands, which Crystal River topped 22-17. Gunnar Hampton and Tyler Swanson led the offensive effort with home runs. Brad Kidd went 4-for-4. Solid defense from Davey Caldwell, Kyle Cooprider and Swanson helped preserve the victory and send Crystal River into Saturday's semifinal against Lady Lake, which it won 7-3.
Crystal River kept its momentum going in the final, jumping out to a 7-2 lead before Highlands' bats got hot. Highlands tied the score in the next inning, then extended its lead to 12-7. Crystal River managed to get within a run, but just couldn't keep up with Highlands over the final innings.
"Both teams were really hammering the ball, and both teams played good defense," Swanson said. "It just boiled down to who made the fewest errors.
"It was surprising, but they weren't really upset," he said of his players. "They realized that we had beaten them one time before, and we would have loved to have a third game. Yeah, they were disappointed, but they knew they weren't losers."
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