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Tournaments : : Story
Gators racking up runs
Sam Brazenas        
Published: Sunday, July 20, 2014

EMERSON, Ga. - The Central Florida Gators 14u continued their winning streak in a five inning win over the MVP Red Sox on Sunday at the WWBA 14u National Championship. Coming out strong at the plate in the first inning, the Gators managed to put up an eight run lead.

“Our guys did a good job of coming out and getting the lead early and jumping on top of MVP,” explained head coach Joe Mercadante. “We had some good at bats and some key hits early in the game [giving us] a good comfortable lead so the guys played with confidence.”

Tommy Ben, Trenton Brickhouse and Tyler Callihan all had RBI singles in the first inning. Grayson Kicklighter had a clutch, three run double and Mason Denaburg finished the rally with a two-run double. Denaburg was 3-for-3 with a single, double and a triple.

“He’s emerged a little bit as a leader for us and does kind of everything for us,” said Mercadante about Denaburg. “He’s our catcher, but he can pitch as well and we’ve had him at the lead-off spot and we’ve had him in the three hole. So he’s very versatile, plays the game hard and plays the game the right way and always gets us really good at-bats.”

Brickhouse pitched all five innings. He struck out three, walked three and gave up three hits. In the top of the fifth, the Red Sox managed to score two runs off of him.

The Gators are now 3-0 in pool play. They have been impressive at the plate, racking up a combined 23 runs over the course of three games. Denaburg is leading the team in RBI with five, with a batting average of .667. Kicklighter, averaging .400, and Callihan, averaging, .375, are just behind him with three each. Their defense has also done solid work, only allowing seven runs over the three games.

“Up and down the line up we have a lot of guys that can do different things. 1-9 everybody we roll out there has an opportunity to play at the next level. Everybody on this team is playing because it’s a competitive group and I think everybody here has aspirations of playing in college and beyond. So if you look anywhere in our lineup you’ll see some great players,” said Mercadante.

The majority of the players on the team come from Florida, with a few from out of state. However, the majority of the group has been playing together for a while.

“We have a couple guys who we’ve picked up along the way,” explained Mercadante. “Mark Roberts, who owns the organization, has kind of put the group together with Tommy Ben, who is another coach on staff, and they started with a young age and have seen a couple guys they’d like to bring on but we don’t shift guys in and out from tournament to tournament, we have the same core guys as we go throughout the events.”

The Central Florida Gators organization consists of two teams that started at the 10u level. The organization has focused on these teams and has built the program with them over the last four years.

“We’re an organization that has been together for the last four years, and I’ve been coaching the last two seasons,” explained Mercadante. “But it’s been pretty much the same group. The nucleus has been the same starting at the 10u level and they’ve been playing together throughout. That’s why you see a lot of team camaraderie. Everybody cheers and pulls for each other because they’ve been friends for the last four years.

“It’s a very competitive group and we try to play in the best tournaments and best competition which is why we play at almost exclusively perfect game events for the last couple years.”

The Gators competed in the 13u and 14u BCS Finals in 2013. This year they have competed in the MLK Championship, East Cobb Invitational, BCS Finals, WWBA National Championship, and will compete in the World Series at the end of the month. They got third place in the MLK Championship and had four players make the all-tournament team.

“We are getting into it and playing as much Perfect Game stuff as we can,” said Mercadante. “We come to win every event. All of our guys are hungry for that and we come out here and want to play the best teams and we expect to win every ball game and expect to make it to the championship every time we come out here.

“Our goal is to play better baseball every day we come out here. We don’t want to be playing our best game at the beginning of the tournament we want to play our best game at the end of it. For us, the wins are important but it’s also about playing the game as a team and how individually the guys contribute to the team.”

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