PEORIA, Ariz. - In the days leading up to Tuesday's opening games at the inaugural 17u Perfect Game World Series, one of the two Florida-based teams expected to be in the 16-team field had to unexpectedly withdraw.
That created an opening that a prominent Southern California-based outfit was more than happy to fill. And now, the last team to enter the tournament has put itself in position to be the last team standing when the four-team championship round is played Saturday morning.
The ABD Bulldogs, based in San Bernardino, Calif., won its second-to-last pool-play game Friday morning at the Peoria Sports Complex to move to 4-1-1 in the 17u PG World Series Pool B standings and clinch a spot in Saturday's semifinals.
South Florida Elite Squad stood atop the Pool B standings with a 5-1 record, and ABD and SF Elite were scheduled to play late Friday night in a game that will determine the pool champion.
The East Cobb Braves (6-0) clinched the Pool A championship early Friday morning and Team Northwest (4-1-1) clinched the pool's runner-up spot at the same time. The final four is set - East Cobb Braves, Team Northwest, SF Elite Squad and ABD Bulldogs - but the semifinal pairings won't be determined until the Pool B champion is crowned late Friday.
ABD wanted to play in the 17u PG World Series from the get-go but had another commitment. When that commitment fell through and the Florida-based squad had to drop-out of this tournament at the last minute, the Bulldogs were more than happy to jump in.
"We've been working well as a team and we've been meshing together as each day goes by and we've been getting better as the days go on," ABD top shortstop prospect Elliott Barzilli said after ABD's 9-1 win over the Dallas Patriots Friday morning.
"I think what's made us really hungry and wanting to win the tournament is that we were a last-minute team (to get in)," he said. "We've kind of felt like the underdogs throughout this whole tournament, so that's what we kind of really want to do."
ABD was ready to go when the 17u PGWS kicked-off Tuesday night. The 'Dogs beat the EvoShield Canes in their opener, 4-0, but lost to the host team Arizona Elite, 5-2, on Wednesday morning. Wins over Baseball U and the San Diego Show followed before ABD settled for a 1-1 tie with Marucci Elite.
The Bulldogs' win over the Dallas Patriots Friday morning coupled with another tie for Marucci clinched the final four berth.
"We've been playing good defense and that's what's kept us in the games," ABD head coach Mike Spiers said. "As long as you can play defense you can stay in the games and keep the score close, and then as time goes on you can wait for everyone's pitching to wear out, and then it gets a little bit easier to hit."
The ABD Bulldogs have five players on their roster with NCAA Division I commitments, including Barzilli (2013, Palisades Charter HS, Calif.), a Georgia Tech commit. Barzilli is the No. 84-ranked national prospect in his class and hit a long home run in Friday's win over the Pats. He hit .286 (4-for-14) with the home run, three RBI and three runs scored in ABD's first six games here.
"I try to work well with the team and make everybody better," Barzilli said, adding that he decided to leave his home in L.A. for Atlanta and Georgia Tech be he "wanted something new" and he "just wanted an ACC or SEC school."
The prospect having the best tournament for ABD is big first baseman/right-hander David Denson (2013, South Hills HS, Calif.), the country's 251st-ranked prospect and a Hawaii commit.
Denson (6-4, 240) was 3-for-9 (.333) with two triples, a home run, six RBI, four runs, and eight walks at the plate, and was one of ABD's most effective pitchers. He and 2015 left-hander Bailey Falter (Chino Hills HS, Calif.) combined to throw 10 1/3 innings in a start apiece, and allowed no earned runs on five hits while striking out 10 and walking eight.
2015 catcher Chris Betts (LB Wilson HS, Calif.) hit .417 (5-for-12) in the first six games with two doubles and two RBI. Austin Colvin (2014, Lakewood HS, Calif.) was 6-for-17 (.353) and Codi Santana (2013, St. Bonaventure HS, Calif.) was 6-for-15 (.400) with five RBI.
Spiers said he is missing a couple of key pitchers and one or two key position players at this tournament that normally would be with this group. He brought up some guys from his younger team to fill those spots, and everything has worked out fine.
The goal now is to carry that over into Saturday morning.
"We just want to keep going and just let it play itself out," Spiers said. "We want to go out and play good defense and keep the score close and then hopefully come out on top."
The two semifinal games will be played at 8 a.m. on Fields 3 and 4 in the Seattle Mariners' section of the Peoria Sports Complex. The championship game is slated for 10:30 a.m. at PSC's main stadium.