Column: South Putnam shows DeLand it can play ball
The date: Friday, July 9, 2010.
The place: Deltona Little League complex.
The event: South Putnam vs. DeLand Junior League District 19 All-Star baseball.
South Putnam Little League’s Junior League All-Star team caught lightning in a bottle. And rode that lightning to a historic championship in the Summer of 2010.
It was apparent from the start that coach John Stuart had something with this team.
“We wanted to be the trendsetters,” Stuart said. “When you watch this team play, you’re looking at a team determined to win.”
Not known for going very far, including a Little League All-Star team that had lost an opening-round game 35-0 the year before to Eustis at home, the 2010 version of the Junior League All-Star team was determined to change things around.
In two games to start the tournament, South Putnam outscored its opponents, 29-9. But on this Friday night, the team that stood in the way from reaching the district championship for the first time in the league’s history on any level was perpetual pain in the side DeLand.
Still, South Putnam needed a strong start to put any doubts to rest. Charles Stuart and Dillon Dunnigan reached base early on and got into scoring position for Jose Sanchez. Sanchez poked a single to left field to bring home both runners and get South Putnam off on a strong start.
That brought up Omar Arvizu, who had been on fire in the first two games of the tournament, hitting three home runs. He got a pitch to his liking and deposited it over the fence for a two-run homer, making it 4-0 at the end of the inning. More impressively, the home run was Arvizu’s third in the first inning in three games.
You could say he was a trendsetter at the start of games.
From there, the other aspect of this team’s success came into play – its knack for stealing. In this one, South Putnam stole 13 bases, giving it 46 steals in three games.
South Putnam kept adding on to its lead and that was good news for starting pitcher Sanchez and the two relievers that came after him – Ricky Sanchez and Justin Serrano. The trio did enough to keep DeLand hitters off balance the entire night, holding DeLand to six hits and ringing up six strikeouts.
In the end, South Putnam had finished out DeLand in a proper manner – a 14-5 wipeout to reach the district title game. At the plate, South Putnam would bang out 14 hits with Jackson Tilton leading the way with a 3-for-4 night, including a run scored. Both Sanchezes, Arvizu and Dunnigan added two hits each.
More important, South Putnam had made it through the gauntlet put in front of it – three wins in three straight days. It earned South Putnam a weekend off and would play for the district title three days later. There, South Putnam won in the bottom of the seventh inning against Edgewater-New Smyrna Beach to earn its first district championship at any level.
Less than two weeks later on July 24, South Putnam was back at Deltona in a round-robin, three-team, one-day Section 3 tournament against Rockledge and Arlington of Jacksonville. Let’s say it didn’t go well – South Putnam lost badly in both its games by a combined 32-14 and committed an uncharacteristic 18 errors combined in those games.
Still, Stuart reflected on how much his South Putnam Junior Leaguers were on a roll.
“The kids earned it,” Stuart said nine years ago. “All we’ve asked the kids to do is not to do anything physical (away from baseball).to tire them. Their determination and focus is right there.”
And for a week nine years ago, that determination and focus was spot on for these South Putnam Junior Little League All-Stars.
Mark Blumenthal is a writer for the Palatka Daily News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @diabolicalmarky.