MARIETTA, Ga. -- The 16 teams taking part in this week's 15u Perfect Game World Series began the tournament in earnest on Wednesday, the first of two days that each team will play a double-header. By the time the first set of games were played, there were only three teams that were still unbeaten.
That goes a long way toward telling the story of the strength of the two eight-team pools along with the parity that exists. It also helps illustrate what a squad like the Tifton Mavericks are up against.
The Mavericks organization has been around about 15 years and has always fielded competitive teams at Perfect Game events. Based in Tifton, Ga., this particular 15u team was a last-minute addition to the blockbuster field after a previously committed team dropped out.
When Mavericks head coach Herby Benson got the call, he immediately went into scramble mode.
"This is very important for the kids to be recognized by Perfect Game," Benson said Wednesday morning after his team rallied from a 4-3, third inning deficit to beat the Georgia Roadrunners, 6-4, at the East Cobb Complex to move to 1-1 for the tournament.
"We got called last week on short notice and we didn't even know we were coming here ... and you can see that we have about four families here taking care of the whole team," he said. "We did sacrifice because we want to play the year around, and we're going to keep coming to Perfect Game because that's where the kids are going to get recognized one day."
The Tifton Mavericks were scheduled to play their third pool game late Wednesday afternoon -- a game that ultimately ended in a tie to leave the Mavericks with a 1-1-1 record -- but as the second game of each team's double-header was set to begin, the Mavs found themselves in a six-team log-jam in the 15u PG WS Pool D standings. Marucci Elite was 2-0 and the Houston Banditos Black were 0-2, but the other six teams were all 1-1.
The Mavericks are certainly up against the best this week with powerhouse clubs Marucci Elite, NorCal Baseball, Georgia Roadrunners, Tri-State Arsenal, Gravel Baseball and Houston Banditos Black in their poll alone. The other eight-team pool is just as formidable.
That doesn't mean the Mavericks don't feel they can stand among the elite.
"We can compete with anybody," Benson said. "We've got good pitching; we've got a lot of pitchers throwing 85-87 (mph) and you won't find too many (15u) teams that have six or seven guys throwing 85-87. We've got pitching ... and we can compete with anybody."
Taylor Walls (2014, Crisp Co. HS, Cordele, Ga.), Jake McFarland (2015, Ola HS, McDonough, Ga.) and Briggs Benson (2015, Tift Co. HS, Tifton, Ga.) all had three hits in Wednesday morning's win. Right-hander Deviner McCray (2014, Tift Co. HS, Tifton, Ga.) pitched five innings of four-hit ball and allowed two earned runs while striking out eight and Walls came on to pitch a perfect sixth inning, striking out two.
In Tuesday's 3-2 loss to So Cal National Travel Team, righty Hunter Cranford (Mary Persons HS, Tifton, Ga.) pitched three perfect innings of relief, striking out four.
"We lost (Tuesday) and it was a tough game. We had a chance to win but we couldn't come through with runners on base," Benson said. "Today we played bad defense but we hit the ball when we had to and we hit when it counted."
McFarland and Walls showed themselves terrifically in the first two games. McFarland was 4-for-6 (.667) with a triple, home run, two RBI and three runs scored and Walls was 3-for-5 (.600) with a double, a run knocked in and two runs.
Benson, McCray and Cranford all played with the Mavericks at last month's PG 15u BCS Finals, a tournament at which the Mavs finished 4-2 in pool play but missed the playoffs. Walls has played primarily with Round Trip Baseball this summer and McFarland played at both the PG 15u BCS Finals and the PG WWBA 2015 Grads or 15u National Championship with the Home Plate Chili Dogs 15u.
This is the first year Benson has guided the team but the few exception cited above, many of these players have been together for several years.. The team has played in all the top PG tournaments this summer and while they haven't won a championship, they've been very competitive.
"This is my first year of coaching and I told them the only way I'm going to coach, we have to go to Perfect Game (and) we have to go to East Cobb, because if you want to be the best you have to play the best," Benson said.
The 15u and 16u PG World Series continue with pool-play double-headers on Thursday (the 12-team 14u World Series consists of five days of single games) and return to single games Friday and Saturday. The semifinals and championship games in all three tournaments will be played Sunday.
"These guys will be OK," Benson said. "They want to win, and that's the bottom line. They played hard yesterday and they played hard today, and the only thing I ask of them is that they play hard. And you're not going to beat us if you're not playing hard."