Assistant Coach Kevin Barney remembers checking on his son Landon, quietly peeking through a cracked bedroom door as not to wake him, and seeing a District 2 Little League Majors championship title banner wrapped around his son – burrito style – after he pitched the Yankees to a 2-1 win.
That flag, and the victorious memory kept Landon warm for days after the district finals. “He’s always been a pitcher,” Barney said of his son’s illustrious childhood baseball career.
“It’s a good group to be around, it’s pretty fun. We’re kind of a remote, smaller group of kids,” Barney said of the team, whose home turf is Flutie Field on the southern border of Melbourne Beach. “The good thing is they are all friends.’’
Manager Tom Gonnella’s South Beaches Little League majors division Yankees won the District 2 County Championship and made Melbourne Beach history recently after an exciting and heart-warming title run.
The team, also coached by Vince Loglisci and Barney, went 13-3 in the regular season and 4-1 to win the district. The championship game was a 2-1 victory over the Viera Rockies at John Rodes Park in West Melbourne.
Landon Barney, 12, was even surprised when his Yankees won, as they were considered underdogs in the tournament. “I was in shock,’’ he said. “We’re all good friends. I was a little nervous, but I felt confident about it.’’
Thomas Gonnella Jr., also 12, hit a solo home run to tie the score in the fifth inning. “I just hit the ball and ran,’’ the younger Gonnella said. “A lot of people, I think, thought we were just cupcakes, we were underdogs, and then we showed everybody we’re a better team.’’
The Yankees brought the victory home in the bottom of the sixth inning on a base hit by Ty Aldeghi that scored Robbie Lavoro from first base.
History for the South Beaches was made, and the gauntlet laid down for next season. “It’s good for our league,’’ Aldeghi, 12, said. “We practice a lot and it paid off.’’
“I have four sons and I’ve been coaching my oldest son (12-year-old Thomas) since T-ball,’’ Gonnella said. “There are boys on (the team) doing their thing right now. We’ve lost boys to travel ball, but we are still doing our thing.’’
The district showing included wins against a top Eau Gallie team and three Viera clubs. “We were seeded the eighth seed and we had to go through the No. 1 seed, the No. 2 seed, the No. 4 seed and the ninth seed, so it was a huge task,’’ Manager Gonnella said.
Pitching, fielding and timely hitting were the keys to the Yankees’ success.
“Like I tell my team, it’s always a team effort,’’ Gonnella said. “To me it’s not just building up the kids that have the skills for high school, but also getting confidence in those kids to succeed who may not have the top skills. You are always trying to improve that. It’s just a team sport from top to bottom.’’
The team, in the majors division made up of players ages 10-12 from Indialantic, Indian Harbour Beach and Melbourne Beach, was a combined 34-4 with fall games included.
Loglisci reflected on the dark-horse title, saying, “What kind of makes this special is we were kind of underdogs. Eau Gallie has good teams and Viera has good teams but they have a large population to choose from. We won the final game in our last at-bat.”