St. Thomas sweeps V.I. Little League titles


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St. Thomas made the trip down to St. Croix and swept the U.S. Virgin Islands Territorial Little League Championships - both the 9-10 and 11-12 age groups - this past weekend at Renholdt Jackson Sports Complex.

On Friday, the St. Thomas 9-10 squad opened the best-of-three series with a 21-0 rout and then followed it with 15-3 victory on Saturday. The St. Thomas 11-12 team rolled to a 12-1 victory Friday and finished off the series with a 10-4 win on Saturday.

"The winning teams are now the district champs and will move on to Caribbean regional competition," said Steve Parris, the District Administrator for USVI Little League Baseball.

St. Thomas will host the Caribbean Little League 11-12 Championships on July 8-17. Countries from Aruba, the Bahamas, Bonaire, CuraƧao, Antigua, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, St. Martin, the Cayman Islands and three V.I. teams will compete.

It's the first time the territory has hosted such an event and the winner will represent the Caribbean Region in the Little League World Series, which is held annually in Williamsport, Pa., and is nationally televised on ESPN.

"This is very special because this is the first time we've hosted the 11-12 Caribbean Championships," St. Thomas 11-12 coach Audi Henneman said. "If we win, we'll move on to Williamsport for the first time ever."

The St. Thomas 9-10 squad will advance to the Caribbean Championships in Columbia on Labor Day weekend, which is the first week in September.

Kaleeq Brannigan set the tempo early from the mound and from inside the batter's box for the St. Thomas 11-12 squad on Friday. He pitched a no-hitter and added two hits on offense.

The first four batters in the game could not be stopped as leadoff hitter Jashimo Henley and Eluery Rosario combined to go 6-for-8 for St. Thomas. Jahmiah Simmons, the team's clean-up hitter, had two hits and belted a 2-run home run.

"We made sure to be prepared and I wanted to have our best hitters up first," Henneman said. "They got up to bat early and did most of the damage."

On Saturday, Henneman had a different pitcher on the mound for each inning, which is almost unheard of in Little League Baseball.

"We are so deep in pitching and I wanted to give everyone a chance," he said. "It was a short series and it was important to get everyone some work before the big tournament next month. This was their chance to shine."

The St. Thomas starting pitcher was shaky and gave up three runs on 37 pitches, but his team answered with three runs in the bottom half of the frame. Rosario came in for relief in the second and surrendered just one run.

"After that, we held them scoreless and our bats started to wake up," Henneman said. "Everyone did their job."

Brannigan had four hits in four plate appearances for St. Thomas, while Rosario, Simmons and Henley finished with multiple hits.

In the 9-10 series, St. Thomas had strong pitching, which decided the outcome.

"Our pitching just overpowered them," St. Thomas 9-10 coach Michael Martin said. "Also, our 3-4-5 hitters really came through with some clutch hitting. Many times with two outs against us."

Jelvaiso Sacaria was the team's leading hitter and finished with seven hits in two games. He also pitched the team to a victory in Saturday's game. On Friday, Mykal Martin, the coach's son, threw a no-hitter.

"Just too much power on the mound," Martin said. "I have to give credit to their pitchers because on Saturday, the kid held his own until the third inning and then we just opened it up."

Claudious Abraham was also a solid offensive performer for St. Thomas and finished both games with multiple hits.

- Contact sports writer Aaron Gray at 774-8772 ext. 352 or email agray@dailynews.vi.

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