For those who followed Citrus Park's major baseball team's run to the Little League World Series last year, some of the names on this year's junior baseball team will be familiar.
A large contingent made the move up in age-group this year, and as in previous years, they will make a run at a state title this weekend in Bonita Springs after winning the Section 7 title last weekend.
"It's very special," Manager Ken Reid said.
While the quartet of Levi Gilcrease, Brett Wilkosz, Mike McGuire and Brennan Garcia that began winning state titles at Citrus Park as an under-10 team are still on the team, this year about half of the team is new, with players such as Dominic Ficarrotta, Manny Coto and Ivan Perez all making key contributions in the run so far.
Coto, in fact, never played on an all-star team before this season.
"It's great," Coto said. "I'm playing with a bunch of people who know what they're doing; they can teach me what it's like to play at this level."
Wilkosz said that while he and others were on the team that went to Williamsport last year, getting back to the state tournament is still exciting and rewarding for him and the other players.
"Every time you win, even districts and sections is as big as going to the Little League World Series, because every win is as important," Wilkosz said.
Wilkosz adds that the newcomers have done well stepping into the team.
"The kids that we lost were great players, but the players we've gained are even better," Wilkosz said of the team's new make-up. "It's always fun to change things up and see what we can do."
Wyatt Reid's three-hitter in Citrus Park's opener proved the key to its return to state, as his teammates eked out a 2-1 victory against Largo before sweeping past Seminole and West Hernando via the mercy-rule to close out the tournament. Ken Reid said the team is eager to return to the regional tournament again.
"That's why they keep coming back, because this is the funnest part of the game, this is what those boys play for, the end of the season," Reid said. "The end of the season, the All-Star season ... it's fun for all of us, it brings the families together, and it's baseball."
TBAY Aquatic takes 2nd at state
Tampa Bay Aquatics recorded its best finish at the Florida Junior Olympics long course championships since 2003, and saw its boys under-14 4x100-meter free relay team set a JO record in Fort Myers last week.
The quartet of Rasmus Skjaerpe, Kyle Kimura, Chris Swanson and John Nolte posted a time of three minutes, 47.05 seconds to take gold, breaking a 12-year-old record.
"That was really exciting to see," TBAY coach Jason Bowes said. "We actually had a couple of 13-year-olds Kimura, Skjaerpe on that relay. It's pretty impressive to break a record with two boys who had actually just turned 13."
TBAY's Michelle Turek also tied the JO record of former TBAY and current Georgia Bulldog swimmer Chelsea Nauta in the girls under-12 100 freestyle with a time of 1:00.04. Turek also won the 50 freestyle, and finished second in the 200 and 400 freestyle.
Kara Wilkins also took a pair of victories in the girls under-10 200 individual medley and 200 free, as did Dee Sopapong in the girls under-12 50 and 100 breaststroke.
Swanson took individual gold in the 400 free to add to his relay's success, and he also took silver in the 50 free, 200 free and 100 breast. Rebecca Werdine earned gold in the girls under-14 50 free, while Emily Clifford won the under-14 200 breast.
Clearwater Aquatic's finished fourth overall, as Matt Hirschberger won the boys under-10 50, 100, 200 and 400 free and 50 and 100 back. Hirschberger's six individual titles were matched by CAT teammate Taylor Katz, who won the 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1500 free and the 200 I.M., and St. Petersburg Aquatics' Caleb Dressel, who won the boys under-12 50, 100 and 200 free, the 50 back and the 50 and 100 fly.
SPA's Ariel Finke also had a standout meet, taking victory in the girls under-12 200, 400 and 800 free and the 200 I.M. on her way to 112 points to lead her age group.