Gulf Coast Elite made quick work of the Bullpen Braves Williams on Wednesday afternoon, with a 15-0 win, riding sky-high confidence into the playoffs tomorrow. The team went 3-0 in pool play, outscoring its opponents 37-9 and posting double digits in two of the three games.
“We had a real good couple of weeks of practice going into this,” said head coach Scott Hemond. “They’ve been hitting the ball well; our pitching’s getting stronger. They all seem to be clicking now. They are playing good defense and hitting with runners in scoring position a little bit better. Those are ingredients to having some success or at least giving yourself a chance.”
It would be hard to lose a ballgame when your team batting average in near .500 (.435, 27-for-62) and your defense has been near perfect, committing just one error through three games. Three hitters with at least 10 plate appearances are hitting .500 or better in the tournament.
“I don’t think we have a real weak spot in our lineup,” Hemond said. “When you’re pitching for the opposing team I don’t think you get much of a break when you face us because every guy up is pretty strong. These guys all have something to bring to the plate.”
Gulf Coast Elite has had the fortune of already playing two games at the stat-of-the-art all-turf fields of Perfect Game Park South at LakePoint. They have scored 13 and 15 runs in those two games.
“The fields here give these kids an extra adrenaline shot when they’re playing,” said Hemond. “They feel like they’re in the big time when they’re out here playing on these fields. All the amenities make it nice.”
The Gulf Coast Elite, based in the scenic Florida panhandle city of Destin, are just a few years young, but have already seen an increase in the number of talented players drawn to the program.
“It’s serious baseball, but we also have a lot of fun,” Hemond said. “It’s more about the learning and less about the winning. I think when you work that hard you don’t wanna lose. We got off to such a good start that it’s fed itself. People want to come and play in competitive tournaments with us.”
The idea of putting together an elite team in the small panhandle area of Florida came about with Mike Buckingham and Jason Romair. The two pooled their money to get a team going and eventually purchased a facility.
“Once we had the facility then we could attract the better players,” said Hemond. “We’ve pretty much kept the same core for the last two years. We tryout every fall and spring so these guys don’t rest on their laurels.”
Not to say this team ever slacks off. Hemond knows that’s not the case and praises the team for their tough work ethic and dedication to each other.
“We live in the panhandle of Florida and the guys are spread out over an hour and a half each way, but they all come in and get their work in,” Hemond said. “We carry a small roster of ten or eleven guys max. Usually when you have a team that’s got 14 or 15 guys you can punish them, but these guys all give you everything all the time. These guys are all close, so when they’re playing they feel like they have a little extra strength because they’re all playing so hard for each other. We really stress having a positive attitude. Young kids can get down on themselves and we don’t let them get down.”
While Hemond credits the players’ hard work and dedication to the program even when not in games, he really credits the determination of each individual come game time.
“What I think makes this team unique is they play hard all seven innings,” said Hemond. “They don’t lay down at all and they come back. Anytime you have a team that never gives up on itself they are always dangerous.”
Most of the Gulf Coast Elite roster is made up of rising high school freshman, tilting the typical strategies of coaching a bit for Hemond.
“They need to learn what their strengths and weaknesses are,” Hemond said. “This fall we are going to focus a lot more on strength and speed and less baseball stuff, just to get them stronger as they get ready for high school baseball.”
In the meantime, however, Hemond and his players have put together a recipe for winning and it hasn’t failed them yet this tournament. They’ve played as one of the more complete teams in the field.
“I think we have a lot of depth at pitching, good base running, and our team defense is good,” said Hemond. “I don’t think we have too many weaknesses, but our strength is probably our depth in pitching. Last night Brandon Schrepf hit 85 mph (miles per hour), tying the record since 2010. He’s got a great breaking ball at 68 mph and he’s throwing the heck out of it right now.”
While pitching certainly has helped Gulf Coast Elite cruise through pool play, the amount of runs the team has produced so far is very impressive, averaging over 12 runs a game. Hemond has put together a complete team that is looking for a real contender to win the 14u Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational championship.