FORT MYERS, Fla. – They come from Florida, Tennessee, New York and New Jersey; North Carolina, Alabama and Georgia. A couple of them even come from California.
And usually somewhere between three and five times a year, they come together and try to win Perfect Game national championships.
They are the players who fill the roster spots on the So Cal National Travel Team 15u squad that is here this week competing for the championship at the PG 15u BCS Finals, which began its six-day run Saturday and will continue through Thursday.
SC NTT owner/director/head coach Scott Luke founded the organization in 2005 with very firm standards and goals. He strives to bring together some of the top age-group prospects from around the country to play in as many as five tournaments a year.
Perfect Game has the So Cal National Travel Team 15u squad ranked No. 6 nationally, and for good reason. The SC NTT is a threat to win any tournament they enter, including this one. They claimed one-sided victories in their first two pool-play games Saturday and Sunday.
“My expectations coming into this tournament are that my families are going to show up and their kids are going to be in shape and ready to play, and they’re going to play at a high level,” Luke said at Terry Park Sunday morning. “The dynamic on this team and in this program is a little different in that we don’t practice together, we don’t have a home base and all of these kids are prominent players on other travel ball teams.”
Because the roster is filled with some of the top 15-year-old prospects in the country, not all of them are going to be playing every inning.
“When they come here with us they’re going to sit a little bit, and some of them aren’t use to that,” Luke said. “But I think that prepares them for college baseball and beyond because it’s a team game, and I keep telling them they need to be ready when I call on them.”
And they also need to be willing to accept some time off.
“You can’t win a tournament like this with 11 or 12 players, there’s absolutely no way,” Luke continued. “It’s physically too demanding on your pitchers and catchers and the guys that stand in the field for six or seven hours. I just anticipate that they’ll show up with a clear mind, and they know that they’re going to get ample playing time, and when myself or our coaches ask them to go do a job that they do it to the best of their ability.”
A core group of the players on the 15u roster first played together when they were 12-years-old and those players went home and recommended other players who might fit in with the team as they grew older.
Luke also hired three assistant coaches – Darrell Davis, Mike McKenna and Karl Blum – who help scout regionally. Davis scouts Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia; McKenna is responsible for Florida, and Blum handles New York and New Jersey.
“They understand our family standards and they understand our baseball standards for bringing kids into our program,” Luke said.
Luke and his assistant coaches have put together a player pool of about 35 kids at the 15u level, and on any given weekend about 15 of them will comprise the team’s roster.
Many of the core players here this week were on the team that won the 14u BCS Finals championship last year, a team that went 10-0 in the tournament had to come from behind to beat the East Cobb Astros in the semifinals and the Dulins Dodgers in the championship game.
“I don’t know if we were the best team, but we were the best team at the end of two games against East Cobb and Dulins, so we’ll take it,” Luke said with a laugh.
Some of the players who had big offensive games in SC NTT’s first two pool-play wins – 10-2 over the Florida Red Sox Freshman Team Saturday and 13-2 over the East Cobb Angels Sunday – included Touki Toussaint from Coral Springs, Fla.; Andre Riveroy from Chino Hills, Calif.; Dalton Davis from Hazel Green, Ala., and Carter Toth from Pomona, N.Y.
Toussaint had a monster game against the Red Sox Freshmen Team, going 4-for-4 with a home run, a triple, nine total bases, five RBI and three runs scored.
The pitchers who combined to give up only two earned runs on four hits with 12 strikeouts over 11 innings in the two games were Toussaint, Davis, Toth, Brent Kissinger (Parkland, Fla.), Andrew Loepprich (Charlotte, N.C.) and Cody Woodburn (Margate, Fla.).
Luke’s goals for the organization – as stated on its website – are directed toward the young prospects who want to be part of SC NTT:
“Help you learn to love the game.
Teach you to play it the right way.
Prepare you to make your high school team.
Prepare you to be a varsity starter by your sophomore season.
Market you to a school that best fits your needs.”
It’s really that simple.
“We have kids who play at a very high level, and the positive thing about that is there’s a ton of college recruiters out here looking at our games every time, so the other kids get seen as well,” Luke said. “My commitment to our families is if (the young players) come in and they do the things I ask of them and they survive our program for four years, they’re going to be playing college baseball somewhere.”
That’s what, in Luke’s mind, makes Perfect Game tournaments like the BCS Finals so valuable.
“We could go play for a medal or a trophy anywhere, and that doesn’t mean anything to me,” he said. “The long-term health, development and promotion of these kids to achieve their highest level of baseball and achieve a scholarship for their parents is the goal.
“We win a lot of games because of the good families, but the trophy and the standings and the rankings are very minimal compared to the fact that I want to make sure that everyone of these kids plays college baseball and it doesn’t cost their parents anything.”