FORT MYERS, Fla. - One of two Twelve Baseball Academy squads entered in this week's Perfect Game 14u BCS Finals had just won its third straight game on Monday morning, but head coach Gregg Bennett wasn't pleased.
Bennett said that in his view, his Twelve Baseball team had only played well in one of its first three games - a 15-0, and was only fortunate to have found a way to win the other two, including Monday's 7-3 victory over Team Mizuno of Puerto Rico 13u.
But all's well for Twelve Baseball Academy as it heads into two more days of pool-play that will ultimately decide the 16 teams that qualify for the tournament's playoffs, which begin Thursday morning. The playoff field will consist of the 11 pool champions from Tuesday's and Wednesday's second round of three games, with 11 wild card entries determined by a team's play in all six of its pool games.
From that standpoint, Twelve Baseball Academy's 3-0 start to the six-day tournament stacks up pretty well against the rest of the 44-team field.
"It's obvious that whoever pitches well and has depth on the pitching staff are the teams that are going to win go on to the (round of) 16, and I think that's appropriate," Bennett said after his team's win Monday at City of Palms Park.
"From this point forward you've really got to have seven (pitchers) that can get you through it, but I do like this format," he said. "We usually pitch very, very well and the strength of this team is the depth on the mound."
This a talented 14u squad Bennett puts on the field, led by a pitching staff that goes at least seven deep and by some pretty dependable youngsters that seem to know what to do when they have a bat in their hands. This group has done a lot of winning since they've were 11 years old and, according to Bennett, have won some kind of national title each of the last three years.
This is the first time Twelve Baseball Academy squads have played in a Perfect Game event - there is another team entered in the 14u BCS Finals called Twelve Baseball Academy Black - but Bennett said the teams within the organization that do travel are planning on doing more.
"We like it, and ever since the guys that are on this team were 10 or 11 they've done a lot of traveling," he said. "They're used to it and we're used to it."
The Twelve Baseball is Academy and organization were founded in 2006, and this summer the group boasts 23 teams (9u through 17u) that play primarily within the state of Texas. Kevin Hodge, a former Minnesota Twins farmhand who played eight minor league seasons, is the organization's director of operations.
"We feel like we try to do it the right way," Bennett said. "Our greatest strength is the teaching and coaching component; we coach the absolute snot out of our kids. If you play one of our teams, you'll see that they're going to be very fundamentally sound."
Bennett said elements of the group's philosophy includes not over-pitching the younger kids while encouraging them to throw as many fastballs as possible and stressing location.
"We're very proud of our academy and what we do," Bennett said. "You don't hear about it a lot on the national level because we only have a certain number of teams that go and travel and do this kind of thing. And that's the two teams that are here."
Twelve Baseball expects to be successful when it does bring teams to national tournaments like the 14u BCS Finals. As Bennett said, these youngsters have played on big stages before and know how to conduct themselves.
Three position players stood out at the plate in Twelve's first three wins here Sunday and Monday. Shortstop Austin McNicholas was 5-for-6 (.833) with a triple, four RBIs and four runs; first baseman Ryan Leckich went 3-for-8 (.375) with two triples and five RBIs; and outfielder Bryan Sturges was also 3-for-8 (.375) with a home run and four RBIs.
Right-hander Michael Milstead scattered five hits over five innings and struck out five in Monday's outing, and didn't allow an earned run. In all, five Twelve Baseball pitchers combined to allow 15 hits and four earned runs in 14 innings (2.00 ERA) through Monday.
"We're kind of different because we want to develop our kids," Bennett said of coming into a tournament with winning being the only goal. "There's a very difficult balance between developing them - playing them in different positions, letting them feel their way through pitching - and winning. This team wins a lot and plays well and we've been very successful, but we really, really want to make sure that every kid gets an opportunity to be developed.
"We still want to win and we didn't come here to do anything but win, but we balance that with our kids' play."
The Twelve Baseball Academy roster here for this event features players exclusively from the high school class of 2016 who call Texas cities like College Station, Houston, Round Rock, Austin, Katy, Kingwood and Spring home. Bennett said most of the players on this summer's 23 Twelve Baseball teams come from the cities of College Station - the home of Texas A&M University - and Bryan.
Every young prospect is welcome, as long as they buy into Twelve Baseball Academy's philosophy.
"I ask that they play the game the right way, and that's the main thing we do with every team we have," Bennett said. "That means that they play fundamentally sound; things like throwing strike one, hitting the ball on the ground with runners on second and third and nobody out, bunting the runner over, not walking guys with a lead. We ask that and that's what we want, and we get really upset when they don't do that."
Twelve Baseball Academy was one of eight of the 44 teams at the 14u BCS Finals to complete the first round of pool-play with a 3-0 record (Twelve Baseball Academy Black finished 1-2, but will play on). The second-round pool assignments and the Tuesday-Wednesday schedule will be posted here later Monday night.