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Semis feature top seed, 3 hopefuls

Tournaments : : Story
Jeff Dahn        
Published: Sunday, September 18, 2011

FORT MYERS, Fla. – The No. 1 seed made it through. After that, it’s a bit of free-for-all with a decided Florida Travel Ball touch.

Top-seeded FTB Pride won its first round and quarterfinal round playoff games Sunday and was joined by its brethren from FTB Mizuno 17u as entrants in the final four at the Perfect Game WWBA Florida Qualifier after the first two rounds of the playoffs were completed Sunday afternoon.

Sunday could be described as a day of relative dominance by the top-seeded Pride, but also as a day of upsets that resulted in the Nos. 10, 12 and 14 seeds reaching Monday’s semifinals.

All four quarterfinal games were played at venerable Terry Park. The semifinals and championship game will be played Monday morning at Hammond Stadium. The semifinal matchups feature No. 12 SWFL 18u vs. the Pride and No. 14 Bucky Dent Academy vs. No. 10 FTB Mizuno 17u.

The grand prize for the Florida Qualifier’s champion is a paid invitation to the prestigious 2011 WWBA World Championship Oct. 20-24 in Jupiter, Fla.

The Pride started the tournament clinging by the skin of their teeth, winning their first two pool-play games by counts of 1-0 and 2-1. Their final pool victory came by a score of 13-0 over the Utica Brewers Scout Team and their first playoff victory came by a score of 9-0 over SWFL 17u. That led to a 5-1 victory over the Sarasota Baseball Club in Sunday afternoon’s quarterfinals.

“This was everything we wanted,” Pride assistant coach Ronnie Rodriguez said after the quarterfinal victory at Terry Park. “The pitching has been real, real good for us but on the first day we weren’t swinging it very good.”

The pitching has been outstanding. There’s just no other way to describe it.

Frank Grandinette, Tyler Howe, Brad Zunica, Brandon Lawson, Phoenix Sanders, Nate Brecklin and Jeffrey Pusantino combined to pitch 30 innings of 20-hit ball without allowing an earned run while striking out 32 in the Pride’s first five games here.

The Pride roster lists nine prospects who have signed D-I letters-of-intent, including Grandinette (Miami) and Brecklin (The Citadel).

The collection of prospects on the top-seeded FTB Pride are relatively young and relatively unknown. Rodriguez said if this group moves on to the WWBA World Championship, it would remain basically intact, with only the addition of few more pitchers.

“We’ve got some kids that can play ball, that know the game and understand it,” he said. “They can make adjustments during the game.”

Like every other team here this weekend, the idea is to get the prospects in front of the most influential eyes.

 “Our reason (for being here) is to get the kids looked at and get them signed, get them into their next home,” Rodriguez said. “Going D-I, D-II, juco, even the draft. We’re trying to win the tournament, but our goal is to get the kids signed. We try to get kids with a 3.0 (GPA) or higher, so it’s all about school.”

But that doesn’t necessarily mean team goals are set lower than expected. There is a tournament to be won, after all.

“I really think that we can win it,” Rodriguez said.

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