BRADENTON – The Manatee Cal Ripken 9 & Under All-Stars defeated eight other elite teams from across Florida in the State Championship Tournament this past weekend, advancing to the US Southeast Region Cal Ripken Championship held in Franklin, Tennessee July 24-28. The team, affectionately known as the Sea Cows, battled back from an early loss to earn the spot as Florida Runner-Up.
Tyler Coppens congratulated by teammates after his
After breezing through their District Championship last month, the Sea Cows faced stiffer challenges at the state tournament held this past weekend in Altamonte Springs. The action started under the lights on Thursday night when the Sea Cows jumped out to an early lead and captured an 18-1 victory over the host team Altamonte Springs. With 18 runs in the first three innings, the Sea Cows left no doubt about the eventual outcome.
The competition heated up the next day as the Manatee Sea Cows faced local rivals Fishhawk. The Sea Cows and Fishhawk passed the lead back and forth three times, but lights-out pitching by Manatee’s Connor Goodson proved to be too much as they pulled out a 5-3 win in six innings. Rain delays extended play on Friday to over 10 hours. The stoppage was costly, as the exhausted Sea Cows dropped a game to the Okeeheelee Braves 9-1. Despite Huston Wynne looking sharp on the mound, Manatee managed only four hits in the game.
Going into Saturday’s play, another loss would spell defeat in the double elimination format. Manatee faced the slim prospect of having to win out against the state’s top teams. A second loss looked likely as the day’s first game against South Orlando got underway. The match was back-and-forth heading into the fourth inning, with four lead changes. Down 6-4, an inside-the-park grand-slam by Tyler “T-Bone” Coppens gave the Sea Cows the lead for good, as they ended up cruising to a 15-6 victory. The momentum continued into the second game of the day, a rematch against Fishhawk.
The teams banged out 24 hits and eighteen runs between them. Down by two runs in the fourth inning, defeat looked likely as T-Bone Coppens stepped up to the plate with bases loaded and two outs. After working the count full as parents and coaches crossed their fingers, the next pitch was sent to the center field fence, plating three runs on a triple. The Sea Cows never looked back and when the dust cleared Manatee had a 10-8 win.
With the top two teams advancing to the US Southeast Region Championship, a win on Sunday against Ocala meant the Sea Cows would be packing their bags for Tennessee. The game started as a low scoring 1-1 affair due to masterful pitching by Huston Wynne.
Huston was a workhorse on the mound, pitching a complete game and only allowing one run on five hits and a walk. Another fourth inning offensive explosion put eight more runs on the board lifting the Sea Cows to a 9-1 victory over Ocala. Carson Goda racked up two RBIs on two hits, singling in the third and hitting the fence with a double in the fourth – just three feet shy of a homerun.
With a bid to the Regional Championship secured, the Sea Cows Manager did something extraordinary in the championship game and revenge match later that day against Okeeheelee.
“We have a talented group of fifteen boys, each of which has earned their spot on the team as true all-stars" said Coach John Goda. "Unfortunately the game dictates that we can only play nine. I wanted to give every kid a chance to show what they are made of against one of the top teams in the state” explained Goda after he decided to allow kids who hadn’t seen much playing time to start the game. The bold move proved pivotal, as the Sea Cows showed just how much talent, depth, and perseverance they have in a 6-5 triumph over the undefeated Okeeheelee Braves.
The spectacular victory meant both teams had a single loss. The double elimination format called for a final deciding game, extending the tournament into play on Monday. With nothing more to prove, the Sea Cows dropped the game 13-0 to Okeeheelee. Both teams now advance to the US Southeast Region tournament next week.
This marks the second straight year that the core group of boys has advanced to the US Southeast Region Tournament. As an 8 & under team last year, Manatee finished in the top ten of over two-hundred and fifty teams in the southern US. To gain a coveted spot on the Sea Cows roster, players were nominated by coaches from a field of over a hundred nine year olds playing recreational baseball in the Manatee Cal Ripken League located at Heritage Harbor in Bradenton FL. The team has been practicing non-stop for almost three grueling rain-soaked months.
Manatee focuses on effort, attitude, teamwork, respect, and leadership. “We are helping to develop these boys into young men, baseball is secondary,” said Goda about his unique approach to the game and coaching. “Their success in life won’t matter if they win or lose a nine year old baseball game; our priority as parents and coaches is to teach effort and attitude.”
Manatee Cal Ripken is quickly becoming known as a powerhouse of youth baseball in Florida, with recreational and elite travel teams from age three to twelve playing year round. For more information on the league please visit their webpage at manatee.baberuthonline.com. Registration for the fall season is underway and runs through August 9.
The Sea Cows are completely self-funded and rely on fundraising to cover travel, equipment, uniforms, entrance fees, and off-field education activities among other costly expenses. If you are interested helping support these kids on their journey, please contact Mark Coppens at (571) 439-9775 or email@example.com for more information. They are actively seeking individual donations and corporate sponsors to help make the program possible. They are a 501 (c) (3) Not for Profit organization.
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