FORT MYERS, Fla. -- On a breezy and warm Memorial Day afternoon at jetBlue Park on this city's far southeast side, SWFL (Southwest Florida) 16u head coach Clint Montgomery tried to explain what was, in his mind anyway, the unexplainable.
His SWFL 16u ballclub -- with a roster comprised of almost all 15- and 16-year-old prospects from southwest Florida -- had just ambushed the Miami-based South Florida Elite Squad Louisville Slugger 16u team by a 7-1 count to win its second straight PG WWBA 16u East Memorial Day Classic championship. Just like a year ago, this group came into the tourney largely unheralded but, this year anyway, ended up destroying just about everything in its path.
"Like I told my assistant coach last year, to win one of these things you've got to have a crazy amount of luck with 80 teams in here; certain things have to go right," Montgomery said after the championship game. "And I said on the way over here today if we're able to win this again -- this has been just crazy. I just don't know how to explain it."
No explanation needed. A quick look at the box score and scoring summary from the championship game kind of puts SWFL 16u's entire experience here the last four days into a nice little, all-telling carryout bag.
Brandon Hernandez, a 2015 middle-infielder from Royal Palm Beach, Fla., smacked a three-run double and Chris Berry, a 2015 corner-infielder from Seminole, Fla., drove Hernandez home with an RBI triple during a five-run third inning that sealed SF Elite Squad Louisville Slugger 16u's fate early on. SWFL 16u left-hander Shane McClanahan, a 2015 from nearby Cape Coral, Fla., worked five effective innings, allowing no runs on three hits with five strikeouts, and that was that.
It was, in reality, a microcosm of what SWFL 16u (8-0) had done all weekend in its eight games here, and that was dominate. It outscored four out-manned pool-play opponents by a combined 35-2, then disposed of four playoff foes by a combined 22-3. That's a 57-5 margin of victory for those of you still scrambling for your calculators.
"The guys played real well," Montgomery said. "I knew that we were ultra-athletic and I knew that we were going to be able to run. I did not know we had so many guys with good approaches at the plate; we had several guys that put good (wood) on baseballs all weekend."
One of those guys was Zuriel Collins, a 5-foot-10, 160-pound 2015 middle-infielder from Palm Harbor, Fla., who was playing in his first Perfect Game tournament with SWFL Baseball. Collins went 8-for-15 (.533) with three RBI and three runs scored, and posted a .611 on-base percentage and 1.211 OPS; he was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player.
"They've been very special," Collins said of the last four days he spent playing ball at the 16u East Memorial Day Classic. "This is my first Perfect Game (event) and I just felt like I wanted to come out and do the best that I could."
While he was getting to know his teammates for the first time, he sensed they might be capable of accomplishing something special together.
"We felt pretty good," Collins said. "We didn't know each other that well but as the days went by we came together as a team; I feel like I've known these kids for a long time. Our hitting came through in the clutch and our defense was good -- we only had (six) errors the whole tournament, and in the dugout we were all together as one, all of us cheering."
SWFL 16u's defense played as big of a role in the championship as anything else; it committed only six errors in the eight tournament games. The pitching wasn't bad either -- Montgomery used 11 arms that surrendered only 21 hits and produced a 0.61 ERA with 47 strikeouts in 46 innings. McClanahan made three appearances and allowed only four hits and two walks with five strikeouts and didn't allow a run in seven innings.
"I was surprised at how well we threw strikes and that we made just (six) errors the whole tournament," Montgomery said. "Any time you can get through eight games and make (very few) errors with high school kids that are 16-and-under, that's a pretty damn good defensive team."
SF Elite Squad Louisville Slugger 16u 2015 right-hander Gentry Fortuno from Pembroke Pines, Fla., was named the tournament's Most Valuable Pitcher. Fortuno worked eight innings giving up six hits and one earned run (0.88 ERA) with 12 strikeouts and no walks.
SWFL 16u scored two runs in each of the third and fourth innings and added a single run in the fifth to erase a 1-0 deficit and down Florida Baseball Academy Blue 16u, 5-2, in one 16u Memorial Day Classic semifinal on Monday.
Anthony Churlin went 3-for-3 from his spot atop SWFL's batting order and Garrett Zech was 2-for-2 with a pair of RBI. 2015 right-handers Brandon Hernandez and Joey Dalton combined on a seven inning five-hitter, striking out five.
SWFL 16u's Troy Bacon, a 2015 righty from Tampa, was nearly perfect with a five inning no-hit shutout of Florida Barons Baseball 16u in a 10-0 quarterfinal win Monday morning. Bacon struck out eight and the only Barons base-runner reached on an error. Berry was 2-for-2 with three RBI to lead SWFL's 12-hit attack.
"I'll tell you what they showed (this weekend)," Montgomery said. "This team got together after one game and bonded so quickly -- Friday was the first time we had been together as a collective group. In that short period of a time these kids came together, and this team really loves playing with each other. That's really nice and makes it a lot easier."
Montgomery is the head baseball coach at Island Coast High School in Cape Coral, just over the bridge from Fort Myers. His life revolves around coaching high school athletes, and that includes during the months after school has let out for the summer.
"I always look forward to summer ball because it's a nice break from the high school season and it's a different atmosphere," Montgomery said. "I always look forward to it but anytime you're coaching you like to have a good team, and I think we have a pretty good one here. But you're only as good as your next game, so we'll keep on pluggin'."
The SF Elite Squad Louisville Slugger 16u (7-1) built leads of 6-3 and 8-4 but had to hold on to beat a determined Florida Burn Silver, 8-6, in one of the 16u Memorial Day Classic semifinals played Monday afternoon. Florida Burn Silver finished the tournament with a 5-1-1 record.
The Elite Squad Louisville Slugger banged out 11 hits, but only one for an extra base. Robert Montes was 3-for-3 with an RBI and David Villar went 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI.
2015 right-handers Andrew Cabezas and Davis Brown combined on a six inning two-hitter and SF Elite Squad Louisville Slugger 16u took advantage of six errors that led to five unearned runs and topped FTB Ozzie, 8-2, in quarterfinal play Monday morning. FTB Ozzie bowed out at 5-1.
2016 right-hander Dustin Baber threw a seven inning complete game three-hitter with eight strikeouts and no walks, and Josh Olechnowicz and Luis Morales each drove in a pair of runs to lead Florida Baseball Academy Blue 16u (5-2) to a 7-0 win over the Broward Nationals (4-1-1) in a quarterfinal Monday morning.
The Florida Hardballers 16u Red (5-1) jumped to a 6-1 lead after three innings but the Florida Burn Silver scored four in the fourth and added five more in the fifth and held on for a 10-6 win in quarterfinal action Monday morning. Cory Fisher was 3-for-3 with two RBI and two runs scored and Kyle Hintz and Justin Cohen each drove in a pair of runs to lead the Burn Silver's offensive attack.