The Greater Naples Little League 9-10 baseball team is going after a state championship.
Greater Naples will play in an eight-team playoff at Mims Little League diamond in Mims, west of Orlando, this weekend.
They open up against Baker County at 7 p.m. on Friday as part of two four-team pools. The winners and runners-up in each move onto the semifinals. The title game is at 11 a.m. on Monday.
Also going for a championship is the Naples Braves in 13-14 junior softball. They received a bye in sectional play to advance. Their first game will be at noon on Saturday at Fort Myers American Little League diamond in Fort Myers. The six teams play in two three-team pools, with winners and runners-up advancing. The championship contest is at 10 a.m. on Monday.
The Greater Naples 9-10 team swept three games in Section 6 championship play last weekend in Sarasota.
This is only the second time in its 54 years that Greater Naples 9-10 Little League teams have gone to state, winning the championship in 2008.
Greater Naples rallied in the last inning to win its opening game over Cape Coral, 3-1. Jay Beshears walked then Cooper Smith doubled him home. Then Nicolas Kyrthreotis slammed a walk-off home run to gain the win. Pitcher Justin Jackson struck out 11 batters in four innings. Relievers Kythreotis and James Tureskis finished up the game, adding five more strikeouts.
Jackson, 10, said, “I threw mostly curve balls. I was really nervous in the last inning, but I was so happy for him (Kyrthreotis) when he got the hit.”
Greater Naples bats took over in the second game, downing Bonita Springs, 19-2. Cooper Smith, Kyle Mullan, Easton LaPlaca and Paddy Sullivan shared the pitching duties.
In the championship game it looked like Greater Naples was going to breeze, but a rain delay changed the momentum.
Greater Naples scored two in the first inning. Anthony Kythreotis and Jackson each singled then Cooper’s hit sent them home. Drake Lilly got an RBI in the third. As it turned out, Jay Beshears had the decisive hit, driving home two runs in the fourth inning to give Greater Naples a 5-0 lead.
Then came an hour rain delay. Sarasota scored four times in the final inning, but fell a run short.
“The rain delay and nerves played a part in the rally, but we held it together,” said Beshears.
Pitcher Kythreotis gave up just three hits in 5 1/3 innings, with reliever Tureskis getting the final two outs.
On the decisive hit, Beshears said, “He (pitcher) had thrown me a curve ball the pitch before. I was looking for a fastball and hit it in the gap in right-centerfield.”
Other Section 6 winners in baseball were South Fort Myers, 10-11 and Fort Myers American, Intermediate. In softball: 9-10 Cape Coral, 10-11 Lehigh Acres and the combined team of Fort Myers Beach/Bonita Springs/San Carlos in Senior action.
In Section 6 baseball at Sam Fleishman Park in Fort Myers this weekend. North Naples, Sarasota American, South Fort Myers and LaBelle see action in Little League play. In Junior League action are South Fort Myers, San Carlos and Naples/Greater Naples.