CARTERSVILLE, GA. – The Florida State Super25 Regionals for Perfect Game concluded this past weekend, as ballplayers spanning from the 11u to 14u age groups competed for a chance to represent Florida on the National Stage.
Even though the teams playing were on the younger end of the age spectrum, Florida is still full of talent and the competition was fierce. The next generation of great Florida amateurs competing against each other led to close games throughout, with talent and teamwork shining in the end.
This particular regional had a unique set up, as the teams in the 11u and 12u age groups competed against each other in pool play while the 13u and 14u teams did the same. However, the best teams from each age group still competed for their own championship, as four teams were crowned this weekend.
The South Florida Hitmen won the 11u title with an interesting path. Because of how the regional worked with the intertwining of age groups, the Hitmen’s first victory of the tournament came in the championship game. While it was just their first victory, the younger Hitmen played the older 12u teams tough all weekend, tying against two 12u teams as well as losing a close 3-1 battle against the Weston Rattlers 12u.
The SWFL Starz won the 12u championship with an unblemished 4-0 record over the weekend. The Starz program has been together for four years, and their coach Jose Ortiz’s main goals when developing youth players is to work on their skills so that they can compete on the high school level and beyond.
The Starz relied on preventing the opposition from scoring. Ortiz stated how, “we have some great pitching and great defense, every game that we won was close. It was truly a team effort, the good thing is we have good parents and good kids that are committed and come out to practice and work hard.”
Alexander Rios led the offensive charge by going 10 for 11 on the weekend. Jacob Thorne hit a huge home run in the title game to tie it, while Derek Ortiz led the Starz on the mound, at one point throwing 46 of 67 pitches for strikes.
Ortiz felt the Super25 model was ideal for developing talented young players because of the competition it provides. He said, “We decided that winning 20-0, 15-0 wasn’t helping these kids, so I’d rather lose a game 5-4, 2-1, 19-7, as long as we are playing good teams because that’s the best way for these kids to get better.”
The 13u championship was an upset, as the PPO Bengals gave the Iron Pigs their first lost of the weekend in the biggest game. The Bengals weren’t lacking in talent, but the game was an upset because the Iron Pigs had not just gone undefeated up until the championship game, but had beaten teams in the 14u age group as well. Still, the title game was a battle, and the Bengals will be better prepared to represent their region having played the Iron Pigs, who will have the opportunity to go to the national championship by playing in the Super Regionals.
Cannons Baseball Academy won a tight 6-5 game over the SWFL Canes Elite for the 14u championship. Cannons went undefeated over the course of the weekend, and the Canes Elite lost their only game in the title game, so it was clear that both teams were the class of their age group and region.
Cannons coach Nick James, who is the coach at Westminster Academy in Florida, preaches a team-first attitude to his younger players, believing that as long as they have the right attitude, they will win ballgames. He explained how they, “talk about all the time, at that age group its their first glimpse of showcase-style baseball, that they need to focus on the aspects of the game that they can control, and for us that is our effort, our energy, and our enthusiasm. When they take care of those things and control what they can control, the results tend to take care of themselves.”
The Cannons’ championship run was a true team effort, as they received great performances across their roster. Grant Barron led the way on the mound, pitching 7 great innings during the regional. Their shortstop Christian Sosa played great defense all weekend while leading off and collecting 7 hits with 6 stolen bases. The other half of the Cannons’ middle-infield duo, Alec Villanueva, had 3 hits in the title game with 4 RBI, acting as a clutch force for the team.
The team’s performance in close games can be attributed to their preparation. James explained: “We talk the guys all the time about learning how to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, and 1-run games and tight ballgames and being down a couple runs is an uncomfortable environment, but that is something they’ve learned how to deal with early on, and fortunately enough they were able to handle it well this week.”
One of the strengths of the PG Super25 series is how it brings talent together, and by challenging players it gives them the opportunity to get better. James believes this strongly, as he said, “anytime you get into a Perfect Game event, you know its going to be top quality, you know its going to be well run, and you know some of the best teams are going to be there. Obviously you’re going to play the best teams from other regions, and for these guys who want to play at the next level and beyond, it’s all you can ask for.”