FORT MYERS, Fla. -- For one game early Sunday afternoon, Rave Baseball produced the kind of offensive output that matched the superb pitching and defensive play it had received throughout its first three games at the Perfect Game WWBA 16u Labor Day Classic.
The hits came, if not quite in bunches, at least frequently enough to lead Rave to a convincing 11-1, six inning win over Powermill Baseball 16u Blue in the quarterfinal round of the 16u Labor Day Classic playoffs at the JetBlue Player Development Complex.
Its 11 runs on eight hits (and seven walks) may not sound earth-shaking, but considering Rave scored only eight runs on 12 hits in its first three games here -- two of them wins -- and carried a .230 team batting average, it was certainly reason for optimism as the team advanced into Sunday afternoon's semifinals. A solo home run from Raul Cabrera (2015, Orlando, Fla.) was especially heartening.
"I saw this coming because this team, the pitching is unbelievable ... but we don't see the hitting coming until this game," head coach Etienne Maldonado Sr. said after the one-sided quarterfinal-round victory. "This game, you can see everybody come on little by little, and we're ready to go play in the 'Green Monster' over there."
Monday's championship game will be played at JetBlue Park on the Player Development Complex, the sparkling new spring training home of the Boston Red Sox which features its own version of Fenway Park's "Green Monster" in left field.
Unfortunately for the fourth-seeded Rave, they won't get that opportunity. The Kissimmee, Fla.-based team was beaten, 8-2, by the top-seeded Iron Pigs in the semifinal round.
Rave lost its tournament opener Saturday morning to the Iron Pigs, a team that went unbeaten in pool-play and entered the playoffs as the No. 1 seed. That's the same Pigs outfit that knocked Rave out of the tournament.
The two losses to a team now favored to win the title Monday did little to diminish what Rave was able to accomplish in its two days at the Classic. It showed some of the best arms in the 16u event, especially in the three wins sandwiched between the losses to the Iron Pigs.
Right-handers Etienne Maldonado Jr, (2015, Kissimmee, Fla.) and Bailey Sanford (2015, Altamonte Springs, Fla.) teamed up to throw a 10 strikeout, six-hitter in a 3-1 win over the Central Florida Patriots, and the only run allowed was unearned. Next up came right-hander Kyle Collins who fashioned a seven inning, seven-hit, eight strikeout and no walk shutout in a 3-0 win over Phantom in Sunday's final pool-play game.
Kevin Rivera (2014, Kissimmee, Fla.) pitched the 11-1, five inning win over Powermill Baseball in the quarterfinals, and allowed only two hits while striking out four and walking none. Heading into the semifinal game, the Rave staff boasted a 0.28 ERA having allowed only one earned run in 25 innings.
Maldonado use to run a team called the Kissimmee Chargers, but he shut them down last fall when he went back to school. He took about seven players from that team and combined them with six or seven others for this tournament, the first that they have played together as a unit.
"The first couple of games, the pitching, I knew we have it," he said. "Now they know each other, they're getting into the game, making some plays, hitting the ball; now they're getting more comfortable" with each other.
"They're starting to click now," added Carlos Rivera, the team's first base coach.
Maldonado did bring a team here to the 16u WWBA East Memorial Day Classic under the CRFS Baseball Red 16u banner and took it into the playoffs.
He said he hopes to bring more teams to Perfect Game events in the future, possibly continuing under the Rave banner, although he is working on additional sponsorship. Perhaps a sign of things to come is the business name "Maitland Auto Body" that presently stretches across the back of the Rave's uniforms from shoulder blade to shoulder blade.
But this is the type of event Rave coaches and players want to continue to be involved with, and they certainly made a case for being extended more invitations in the future.
"This has been a great experience for the kids," Coach Rivera said.
"This has been a beautiful weekend," Maldonado added. "It's a long weekend and the kids have fun playing baseball."