Wow! What a season the East Bay All Stars have had this year! As the first team in the 44-year history of East Bay Youth Athletics (formerly East Bay Little League) to earn a state championship title, the under-11-year-olds went on to represent Florida in the 2015 Babe Ruth Southeast Regional Tournament — and won that, too! The regional tournament games were held in Stafford, Va., last weekend and East Bay defeated Laurinburg, North Carolina, 13-1 in four innings. “These boys have done something really special,” said coach George Hunter. “And I want everyone to know it.”
Last Saturday, in the American Bracket quarterfinals, East Bay defeated Argyle, Fla., 5-3.
Then East Bay, on Sunday, defeated the host team, Stafford, 10-4 in the semifinals. That win sent East Bay into the championship game later Sunday, and East Bay won it all by crushing Laurinburg, the National Bracket winners, 13-1.
Hunter described the dizzying journey his team has taken over the past year, which has included competing in the 2015 Amateur Athletic Union, or AAU, Grand National Baseball Championships at the Disney/ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Kissimmee, a weeklong national invitational tournament with teams from all across the country. The Rockets (the travel team that contains most of the players from East Bay All Stars) battled through eight games and two rounds, defeating some excellent teams out of Maryland, Georgia and Florida to advance to the AAU National Championship Game.
On Sunday, July 12, the East Bay All Stars competed in the 2015 Florida Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth State Championships held at Candyland Park in Longwood, Fla., defeating some tough teams from Okeechobee, Manatee, and Miami/Latin America to win the Florida State Championship Title.
“Our community can take great pride in this tremendous achievement by our local youth,” said Hunter.
“This has happened so fast, that we’ve hardly had time to prepare,” said the coach, whose son Gavin plays on the team.
East Bay Little League, (now known as East Bay Youth Athletics) was founded in 1971 and has been the home for youth baseball and softball to thousands of young boys and girls for more than four decades. Serving an average of 700-800 participants per season, EBYA has grown to become one of the largest youth baseball organizations in Hillsborough County.
With three sons who have all played Little League, Hunter has been coaching with the organization for nine years. “We play baseball year-round here in Florida, including recreational ball and travel ball,” explained Hunter. “This team is unique because we have a core group of kids that have been playing together since they were eight years old. They’ve got a bond that makes them a highly efficient machine. They play together like brothers.”
Indeed, the coach said he shares a special bond with his team of players as well. “I’ve been coaching most of these boys for three years now. They’re all like my sons.”
Asked the key to their success, he credits supportive parents, tremendous community benefactors and a close-knit coaching staff.
“We all have careers, but this team is so important to us that we’ve made great sacrifices to keep things going,” Hunter said, giving praise to long-time fellow coaches Armando Lopez, Kevin Jacobs and Mark Ross.
“We’re a tight-knit group with a lot of trust in each other. That trust carries out into the field.”
The community rallied to help the 12 families of the players defray some of the travel costs for the trip to Virginia for the regional playoffs. “A lot of these parents took time off work to travel with the team, many of them without pay,” said Hunter.
For more information about East Bay Youth Athletics, visit their website at eastbayyouthathletics.org.