FORT MYERS, Fla. – The Scorpions Panhandle 2015 is one of the most talented teams in the country, let alone the state of Florida, and they are ready to prove their prowess within their state this week during the 17u Perfect Game Florida State Championships.
Having already competing in a number of national tournaments this summer, Scorpions coach David Elsbernd and his team haven’t changed their mindset in this statewide tournament. “We’re looking to win this thing,” Elsbernd said. “That’s why we’re here, to compete.”
Elsbernd, a former Baylor Bear and 17th round selection by the Chicago White Sox, leads the Scorpions squad. He has coached youth baseball in Tallahassee for the past 17 years, and this season he is blessed with a talented group of kids.
As a coach, Elsbernd absolutely wants to win, but a major focus of his is the futures of the kids he coaches. “Our goal for all of our kids is get them a lot of looks and hope we can get them to play at the next level, because we know they certainly can.”
The Scorpions kicked off the first day of the Perfect Game Florida State tournament with a doubleheader on Saturday. They went 1-1 on the day, not the perfect start they expected, but still marked by some impressive performances.
Left-hander Jamison Roney led the Scorpions in the first game of the tournament with an exceptional performance on the mound against the Palm Beach Shockers White. Roney pitched six innings, giving up just two hits and one walk while striking out eight.
“I felt pretty good today,” said Roney. “I started out working ahead with my fastball. Early on, I couldn’t get my off-speed pitches over for a strike, but as the game went on I was able to command my changeup, slider and curveball as well.”
Roney is one of two players from outside the state of Florida on the team and the only player from Alabama (Geneva). Even as an Alabama-native, the Scorpions wouldn’t be able to win the Florida State Championship without him.
“Jamison has been solid for us all year,” said Elsbernd. “He’s been my No. 1 guy all year long. He’s just a battler, throwing 84-86 and three pitches that he spots. I would feel comfortable putting him in any situation.”
Roney is also a threat at the plate as a two-way player. He drove in the only run of the second game of the afternoon for the Scorpions with a single in the seventh. Roney explained, “I was in a tough left-on-lefty matchup, so I figured he was going to work me away, and I jumped on a fastball.”
Another stellar two-way player on the Scorpions is Cole Sands. Cole, the younger brother of 2014 fourth-round pick Carson Sands, is a stud at the plate and on the mound. He didn’t pitch during the first day of the tournament, but he hit a rope of a double in the Scorpions’ second game of the day and scored their only run.
While Sands is a threat at the plate with his athleticism and grittiness—evidenced by his lack of batting gloves and high leg-kick—his future is most likely on the mound. Coming into the summer, Sands was ranked as the No. 68 player in Perfect Game’s Class of 2015 rankings, and he could rise even higher when the next set of rankings are released.
Sands, committed to Florida State, sat between 89-92 at the PG National Showcase, and Perfect Game has recorded him throwing as hard as 93. He’s big and athletic, and should continue to raise his stock the more scouts see him.
The Scorpions have more than just Sands and Roney to throw at opponents, as they have an incredibly deep pitching staff. Elsbernd sees his staff as a strength, and has faith in his pitchers even after they struggle.
Austin Franklin is one of the Scorpions’ best starters, and he pitched the second game of the afternoon. He was very impressive in many respects, sitting at 88-89 with his fastball and dropping in some impressive hooks, but he struggled with his control and left the game in second. Even with his struggles, Elsbernd has faith in his talented right-hander to come back and be a key part of their championship run, explaining, “I have a lot of confidence in him and could bring him back in a day or two.”
While the Scorpions were unable to regain the lead in their loss to the South Florida Huskies, they received a phenomenal relief performance from right-hander Josh McNeal. McNeal kept the Scorpions in the game with a simple attitude: “Pound the strike zone, that’s all you have to do.” That attitude worked as he held down the Huskies for 4.2 innings while throwing an economical 57 pitches.
The Scorpions have the pitching to win the Florida State Championship, but Elsbernd believes that their lineup will need to play up to their abilities if they want to accomplish their goals. “Top to bottom, we just have to swing the bat better. The past two tournaments, our defense and pitching have kept us in ballgames. We have to pick it up. I’m going to have a talk with the guys right now, and we’ll see what happens the rest of the tournament.”
While the Scorpions are a talented group of players, they also do a great job of playing together as a team. Their camaraderie was evident in between games of their doubleheader, as four of the players set up helmets as goals and had a light-hearted yet very competitive soccer game using a baseball. It was also evident at the end of their second game, when the dugout was still cheering their teammates on despite being behind 4-0, and every player came out of the dugout to congratulate the one runner who scored despite being one out away from losing.
The Scorpions have some of the best talent in the country, and should be considered one of the favorites to win the Florida State Championship if they play up to their abilities. Roney certainly plans on playing deep into the tournament, as he stated he definitely plans on pitching again this week. “If we get there, which we better, I’ll be good to go by the championship.”