FORT MYERS, Fla. – It was an evening that started with a zip and ended with a bang.
Saturday night was “Contest Night” for many of the select players who are performing this week at the Perfect Game 16u BCS Finals, a 52-team tournament that started Saturday and concludes Thursday with playoff semifinal and championships games at City of Palms Park.
On Saturday night at City of Palms, the first event on the docket was the 16u Fastest Man Contest, followed immediately by the 16u Rawlings Home Run Challenge.
Maddison Skillings, a mercury-quick 5-10, 150-pound outfielder from Marietta, Ga., who is playing for the West Cobb Cardinals, zipped to the championship in the Fast Man Contest after covering the 60-yard distance in a blistering 6.40 seconds.
Blaze Vazquez, a 6-foot, 170-pound outfielder from Naples, Fla., here this week with Team Impact, slugged two home runs and was named the winner of the Rawlings Home Run Challenge. Mark Labrador, a 6-0, 185-pounder from Orlando who is playing with the Red Raiders, also hit two home runs and was recognized as a finalist.
Skillings was one of 31 contestants in the Fast Man Contest, and he blew the field away. His time of 6.40 was heads above that of the other four finalists: Andrew Popylisen (5289 Baseball), 6.56; Jimmy Dominic (Houston Sox), 6.57; Frankie Richardson (South Florida Prospects), 6.63; and Donato DiNorcia (Team Impact), 6.65.
Skillings feels pretty sure his time was a personal-best.
“It was a lot of fun, and I’ve done some other running events before,” he said. “I think this was my fastest but at the other events they didn’t tell me my time. It was good knowing my time this time.”
Skillings said he got a good jump on his second effort and “I just took off.”
Only five of the 19 participants in the Rawlings Home Run Challenge were able to get even one ball to leave City of Palms Saturday night, and Vazquez and Labrador were the only two to double up.
Vazquez seemed surprised he was one of only two hitters to hit multiple bombs.
“I was in (a home run contest) a couple of weeks ago and I was hitting pop-ups everywhere,” he said. “I came up to the plate (Saturday night) and I was nervous, but I just hit the ball.”
Vazquez admitted to making some slight adjustments to his swing.
“I was trying to swing a little bit harder,” he said. “I still had my usual game swing, but I just got into it more. It was a big field and it was hard to hit (it) over (the wall) but if you just get a hold of the ball, it goes.”
Labrador, a right-handed swinger like Vazquez, enjoyed the spotlight.
“It was so much fun just talking with the kids and just going out there and hitting,” he said. “I felt like I was the smallest kid there and I was just pretty pleased to hit one home run, let alone two.”
Labrador also admitted to making adjustments during the course of the competition.
“I changed (my swing) multiple times,” he said with a laugh. “I went with a high-leg kick at first, then I tried to slow it down and just swing as hard I can.”
The BCS Finals are continuing their practice of having participating teams compete in two rounds of pool-play in order to qualify for the playoffs. The procedure lengthens the tournaments to six days each, but it also guarantees each team six games in the first four days.
Here’s how it works:
Teams will play three pool games in the first two days of the tournament. After the results of those games are known, the teams will be re-seeded into new four-team pools. Each of the new pools will have teams that finished first, second, third and fourth in their original pools. Teams will then play three more pool games over the next two days.
The playoffs will include 16 teams that will be seeded according to their overall six-game pool record and tie-breakers.
What that means, of course, is the two teams playing in each of the five Finals’ championship games will be playing their 10th game of the tournament.
“I think it’s a really good format,” Dulins Dodgers 16u coach Tim Dulin said. “You’ve got to strategize this as a coaching staff, because we spend a lot of time just figuring out how we’re going to turn pitcher over – they’re getting to an age now when you can’t do it like when they were 12 and pitch them every other day.
“You’ve got to pace yourself a little bit and try to get your pitchers work early, turn them over and then you’re kind of rolling the dice to see how it shakes out for the championship round.”
BCS run production
Four of the five BCS Finals – 14u is the lone exception – are requiring participating teams to use the BBCOR bat this month and one quick comparison to a year ago showed fewer runs being scored in BCS games.
BBCOR bats are manufactured to act more like a traditional wood bat than a juiced up aluminum bat – the ball doesn’t explode off the bat and home run production drops. The NCAA mandated their use this season, and the per-game run production dropped to 5.6 in 2011 compared to 6.9 in 2010.
Twenty-four games were played on the first day (July 20) of the 2010 16u BCS Finals, and those games produced a combined 268 runs, an average of 11.2 per game. On Saturday, the first day of the 2011 16u BCS Finals, 264 runs were scored in 26 games, an average of 10.1 runs per game.
That represents a drop of 1.1 runs per-seven inning game. The drop in scoring at the collegiate level was 1.3 runs per-nine inning game.
That drop during the first day of play at the 16u BCS Finals can be attributed to many factors, of course, and not just the use of the BBCOR bat. There are so many variables to consider, and 26 games is very small sampling.
One thing did happen Saturday afternoon that was noteworthy, however.
Left-hander Jesus Palacios and righty Jack McAvoy of Team Impact combined to throw a three-hit, eight-strikeout seven inning shutout against Homeplate Chili Dogs 16u. Dogs’ right-handers Levi Koebel and Aaron Williamson were equally effective, and allowed only one run on three hits in six innings of work.
There were no 1-0 games during the first day of play at the 2010 16u BCS Finals.