FORT MYERS -- It doesn't always work this way. The best team not only on paper but also on the field doesn't always walk away with Perfect Game national championship gold. Yet that's exactly what happened on Wednesday, the final day of play at the rain-soaked 2013 15u PG BCS Finals.
The top-seeded Texas Drillers were the most dominant team throughout the 15u PG BCS Finals' six-day run and capped it off with their least dominating performance in Wednesday's championship game, a 3-2 escape of the No. 10 Indiana Prospects Blue at the City of Palms Park main stadium.
The Drillers (10-0) outscored their 10 tournament opponents by a combined 69-7 and nothing was really close until the title tilt. They didn't pull that one out until Jacob Kennedy (2015, San Antonio) came through with a one-out, RBI double to left field in the bottom of the sixth inning that broke a 2-2 tie with the Prospects Blue and turned out to be the winning blow.
This is the Texas Drillers' first Perfect Game national championship title and it didn't come without some adversity. The final bout came when the start of the championship game was delayed 3 1/2 hours by on final southwest Florida downpour.
"It's been a seesaw; with all the rain that we've had and with the schedule changes, it's been very tough," Drillers head coach Tim Belk said after the championship game. "Some games have been early morning, some games have been late at night, and getting the boys to bed and prepared for the games, it's been a tough, tough week; I guarantee you they're going to rest well."
Of course the Spring, Texas-based Drillers didn't experience any hardship that the other 64 teams at the tournament avoided but they do have the hardware to prove they handled it as well as anyone. The Drillers brought only 12 kids to this tournament and all 12 got plenty of opportunities to play.
"You never know what to expect," Belk said. "At this age -- 15 years old -- it's hard to find kids that want to be labeled just as a pitcher. Most of your athletic kids are great pitchers as it is, so you have to have them play different positions, and to pitch in a game and then go back out to a position with arm pain or soreness is just unbelievable."
There are many valuable components to this Texas Drillers team, but none were more valuable this week than Christopher Boothe, a 2016 prospect who calls Livingston, Texas, home. Boothe was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player after he batted 13-for-23 (.565) with three extra base hits, five RBI, five runs scored, six walks and a 1.368 OPS.
He might have been even better on the mound. Boothe worked 5 1/3 innings in the championship game and didn't give up an earned run while allowing just one hit, walking two and striking out five. In three appearances at the tournament he allowed no earned runs in 15 1/3 innings, giving up just five hits while striking out 18 and walking four.
"It's been kind of painful because of all the rain and we've been through a lot of tough (games), but just to fight through it is something that we've always live for," Boothe said of the experience. "We had intentions to (be playing on the last day) but anything can happen. That's what we wanted and that's what we were (prepared) for was to go to the last day and win it. This is just what I dreamed of doing, and playing on these fields is just what the life is like whenever you're living your dreams."
After falling behind in the championship game by a 2-0 count, the Prospects Blue rallied to tie the game with a pair of runs in the top of the sixth when Jack Dunn (2016, Bradenton, Fla.) rapped an RBI single and one out later Jeffrey Bleday (2016, Titusville, Pa.) followed with a run-scoring double. Dunn hit .483 (14-for-29) with 10 RBI and nine runs in the tournament.
Boothe wasn't the Drillers' only viable MVP candidate. Quincy McAtee (2016, Houston) hit .481 (13-for-27) with five doubles, six RBI, 14 runs and 1.267 OPS; on the mound he finished 3-0 in three appearances after allowing no earned runs on seven hits in 14 1/3 innings with 11 strikeouts and three walks.
Left-hander Matthew Ashbaugh (2016, Houston) was also pretty good on the bump finishing 2-0 after allowing two earned runs in 13 1/3 innings (1.12 ERA) on eight hits with 15 strikeouts and seven walks. The Drillers' staff of seven pitchers compiled a 0.34 ERA.
Despite those numbers, it was the Prospect Blue's right-hander Joey Drury (2016, Greenwood, Ind.) who was named the Most Valuable Pitcher, and justifiably so. He went 3-0 with a save in four appearances, working 15 innings and allowing just one earned run (0.47 ERA).
This Texas Drillers team has played on the Perfect Game national stage before. This same group of young prospects lost in the quarterfinal round of last year's 14u PG WWBA National Championship to the eventual champion San Diego Show in national championship play up in Marietta, Ga.
"This team has been together for a lot years," Belk said. "Most of these boys have been together since they were 8 years old and there are a lot of things we've done consistently that has carried over at a higher level. We expected to perform well this year, and obviously your goal is to play for a championship, but a lot of these kids have finally kicked it in to the next level and it's great to see it."
Belk, a Cincinnati native, played seven games in the big-leagues for his hometown Reds in 1996 and marvels while he watches this young group of prospects -- including his son, Brandt Belk -- enjoy the opportunities they've been given.
"When I grew up we didn't have anything like this," he said. "These boys are getting in more game in one summer than I had in my entire lifetime as a youth. The level of baseball in this country has just dramatically increased and for scouts it's even a tougher job.
"Back then it seems like it would be easier to pick up on kids, but with all the (former) pros that have saturated the market with their teaching, these kids essentially are very, very close and ready to step in out of high school and play professional ball. It's wonderful."
The 15u PG BCS Finals semifinal field consisted of the top-seeded Texas Drillers; No. 5 Chain Black out of Warner Robins, Ga.; the No. 10 Indiana Prospects Blue, based in Indianapolis; and the No. 11 Georgia Roadrunners out of Alpharetta, Ga.x
The Drillers routed the Roadrunners, 9-1, in one semifinal early Wednesday afternoon with Brandt Belk going 2-for-3 with three RBI and Josh Jung (2016, San Antonio) and Christian Long (2016, Missouri City, Texas) each driving in two runs. McAfee pitched five innings of four-hit ball without allowing a run.
The Indiana Prospects Blue knocked off Chain Black, 12-3, in the other semifinal. Bleday doubled, drove in two runs and scored three more and Conner Hasecuster (2016, Shelbyville, Ind.) had a pair of hits and four RBI.
The Texas Drillers were looking at a 20-hour drive home as they left City of Palms Park Wednesday evening, and in a fitting farewell, the sky opened up with more hard rain shower. The Perfect Game 14u BCS Finals national championship trophy was safely in tow.
"I know to these kids it means the world, and anytime that you work so hard for something and you attain your goal it's the most wonderful feeling," Belk said. "As a coach you see things that you've worked on so much applied in a championship setting and it works -- they executed and it's just awesome. ... I couldn't be more happy for these kids; this is a wonderful day."
2013 15u PG BCS Finals runner-up: Indiana Prospects Blue
2013 15u PG BCS Finals MVP: Christopher Boothe, Texas Drillers
2013 15u PG BCS Finals MV-Pitcher: Joey Drury, Indiana Prospects Blue