FORT MYERS, Fla. – The South Florida Elite Squad may not win the Perfect Game 15u BCS Finals championship. Heck, there’s no guarantee they will even qualify for the 16-team playoff field.
But no one can accuse the Elite Squad of coming into the tournament without a clearly defined mission.
A little over a week ago, the Elite Squad played in the PG WWBA 15u National Championship at the East Cobb Complex in Marietta, Ga. They lost their first games but went 2-0-1 in their last three pool-play games.
Even though they didn’t qualify for the playoffs, the Elite Squad felt they had built a small head of steam. With the 15u BCS Finals coming up next, they started thinking big.
“The talk is, ‘Let’s win this one.’ That was the first time I’ve heard that: ‘Let’s win this tournament,’” SFES head coach Joe Giummule said before his team played their second pool-play game Sunday morning at Terry Park.
“I think that started in East Cobb when we started 0-2 and then we got on a little roll. Then they started saying, ‘Let’s win the one in Fort Myers. Let’s win the one in Fort Myers.’ And I think that’s the expectation is for us to come out here and win this.”
Giummule was speaking before the Elite Squad lost to Frozen Ropes Texas, 6-4, in Sunday morning’s game. They had rolled to a four-inning, 12-0 win over the Atlanta Blue Jays 15u in their tournament-opener Saturday. Four pool-play games remain on the Elite Squad’s schedule, so they could still harbor hopes of finishing pool-play 5-1 and securing a high seed in the playoffs.
“This is the first tournament that we’ve really come into it with some expectations. We’re expecting to do well,” Giummule said. “We haven’t played very well this summer – we’ve looked good one game and then we’ve looked really bad in another – but for the last week-and-a-half I think we’ve really jelled. The boys are all going out to lunch together and dinner together – it looks like they’ve made some life-long friends.”
Fourteen of the 18 players on the South Florida Elite Squad’s roster call Pembroke Pines, Fla., their hometown but, almost incredibly, those 14 players attend 10 different high schools. Despite that, there is a sense of familiarity among the players – all are in the class of 2014.
“They’ve probably all grown up playing against each other and they’ve probably known of each other, but now they know each other,” Giummule said.
The bats wielded by Chandler Cissel, Tyler Norris, Juan Martinez and Michael Brenner led the way in the lopsided win over the Blue Jays on Saturday. Cissel went 3-for-3 with a triple, four RBI and one run scored; Norris was 3-for-3 with a double, two RBI and two runs; Martinez was 2-for-2 with a ribbie and a run, and Brenner was 1-for-1 with an RBI and a run.
That was more than enough for left-hander Freddie Sultan, who pitched a four-inning no-hitter with two strikeouts and two walks.
Those same bats went silent in the loss to Frozen Rope Texas as the Elite Squad could muster only four hits. Cissel was productive again, going 1-for-2 with an RBI and a run.
Karl Sued, Zach Finch, Ben Hoffman and Eli Weldy combined on a three-hitter of their own, but also issued seven walks while striking out nine.
Giummule was encouraged after the win in the opener.
“With 15-year-olds, you never know exactly what you’re going to get on a day-to-day basis, but at this point of the summer I think they’re finally hitting their stride,” he said. “The guys understand what we as coaches are expecting from them, and I think they’ve matured over the last month-and-a-half.”
This is Giummule’s first year working with the 15u team for South Florida Elite Squad. He coached an 18u team in the fall but he wanted to work with younger players in the summer.
“I want the kids that I can still teach the game of baseball,” he said. “The most challenging part is leadership. Some of these kids might have played varsity ball (as freshmen in high school) and they had the seniors to look up to. Now they’re all the same age, and it’s hard to see which one is going to standout and be the leader.”
The South Florida Elite Squad is No. 22 in Perfect Game’s 15u Travel Team National Rankings, a fact Giummule wasn’t aware of. In his mind, rankings aren’t something that need to be a point of focus.
“I don’t pay attention to it; that’s the first I’ve heard of any type of ranking,” he said. “It’s nice, but I don’t look at that stuff. My motto is, ‘Let’s get better every day. We won 12-0 yesterday, well, let’s find a way to get better today, from an individual standpoint and from a team standpoint.’”
The Elite Squad has had plenty of opportunities to get better already this summer, having played dozens of games over the last several weeks. One week may mean hotel rooms in Marietta and the next week more hotel rooms in Fort Myers, and the travel and relentless heat can take its toll on 15-year-olds.
But there are benefits.
“I think (these tournaments) lead to good opportunities, and playing on the road (the teenagers are) starting to mature,” Giummule said. “The first trip they were staying up until 11 o’clock at night, and my motto has been that this isn’t a vacation, this is a business trip.”
And now’s the time for the South Florida Elite Squad to get back to business.