Don’t let the term, “Little League,” fool you. Big things are happening at Mike E. Sansone Community Park in Plant City.
For a program that has existed for nearly 60 years, Plant City Little League has garnered its most success and notoriety in recent years. This year, two teams in particular harbor high expectations for what could be a memorable summer.
The Plant City 9- and 10-year-old All-Stars went as far as Little League allows a year ago, going undefeated and taking the Southeast Regional in Ceredo-Kenova, W. Va. It was the first time in the history of Plant City Little League that a team — baseball or softball — took a section championship.
Ten players from that team and one new addition form the 10-11 All-Stars this year, and according to returning head coach T.J. Messick, they are primed and ready to make another historic run.
“Obviously, we would like to make it all the way through again undefeated, and it would be a different trip for us this time since the region tournament is in North Carolina,” Messick said.
One step in that process is already complete: Messick’s team claimed the District 4 Championship June 30, at Mike E. Sansone Park. They did so in convincing fashion, outscoring their three tournament opponents 49-1. After beating Lakeland 27-0 to open the tournament, the Plant City 10-11 A-Team took back-to-back victories over their city All-Star counterparts, first sending the Plant City B Team to the loser’s bracket with a 13-0 shutout then taking a 9-1 win over them in the district championship.
“The other Plant City team is a very talented team and would be district champions if it weren’t for us,” Messick said of the B Team that scored 38 runs in just five games.
Now the A Team will turn its focus to the section tournament, beginning next week against the District 26 champions.
“Getting through sectionals will be tough, but once you get through that, we’ve found that good things tend to happen on your way through state,” Messick said. “It’s funny, looking back on how hot we were at the end of regionals last year, and we’ve seemed to pick up right where we left off.”
In Little League, only the 11- and 12-year-old division can qualify for the nationally known and watched Little League World Series, played annually in Williamsport, Pa. Messick’s team may be a year away from that goal, but another Plant City All-Star team could make that dream a reality this year.
The 11-12 All-Stars return nine of the players from last year’s 10-11 team that won district, sectionals and state before getting eliminated in pool play in the Southeast Regional in Greenville, N.C.
Head coach Tate Whatley said he realizes his team has a “bull’s-eye on their backs” but said he has been pleased with what he’s seen of his team so far this year.
“The maturity level of this team has grown tremendously,” Whatley said. “This is a very tight-knit group, and they all have a great work ethic.”
If Whatley’s team can repeat as District 4 champs, it will be the fourth consecutive year a Plant City 11-12 All-Star team has won a district title.
The journey will begin for the 11-12 All-Stars at 6:30 p.m. July 6, against Lake Wales at Sansone Park.
“We realize that this is a new year and that it will take every player’s best to get past the district tournament,” Whatley said. “We are in a very tough district, so our focus right now is that first game, and then, we’ll see what happens.”
AT A GLANCE
Head Coach: T.J. Messick
Status: Won the District 4 championship June 30. Will play in sectionals next week against the District 26 champions.
Last Year: As the 9-10 All-Stars, this team went as far as possible, winning the district, section and state championships, before completing its undefeated season by winning the Southeast Region in West Virginia.
Head Coach: Tate Whatley
Status: Will begin the District 4 tournament July 6, at Mike E. Sansone Park.
Last Year: As the 10-11 All-Stars, this team won the district, section and state before losing in pool play at regionals.
Other Notables: The Plant City 9-10 Baseball All-Stars and the 9-10 Softball All-Stars also took district titles over the weekend. The 11-12 Plant City Softball All-Stars also won the District 4 title, beating Lake Wales.
Contact Matt Mauney at [email protected].