FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The 18u PG BCS Finals national championship tournament -- and the five other PG BCS Finals, for that matter -- is all about second chances. Teams that fall flat on their face over the event's first two days can get up, dust themselves off and still reach the top simply by performing more to their expected capabilities during play in days three and four.
Count the Mizuno Edge out of Boca Raton, Fla., among those teams performing at the 36-team 18u PG BCS Finals among those that are grateful for a second chance. Despite losing both its pool-play games Friday by a combined score of 19-5, the Edge will wake up Sunday morning with a clean slate and with as good of a chance as any of the other 35 teams to be playing in the tournament's championship game at Hammond Stadium late Wednesday morning.
The tournament format rewards outstanding play in the second three-game set of pool-play games, which begin Sunday. The pools will be reshuffled at the completion of play Saturday and the nine champions of the refigured pools earn automatic berths into the 16-team playoffs. There will also be nine at-large berths awarded, and the results of Friday's and Saturday's first set of games are figured in when determining the at-large entries.
A team like the Mizuno Edge knows what it has to do. Despite finishing the first set 1-2 -- they rallied from a 4-0 deficit to beat Orlando Baseball Academy 18u, 10-4, on Saturday -- if they can win the championship in their refigured pool over the next two days, they will be guaranteed a spot in the playoffs. It's a format Edge head coach Alvaro Gomez is learning to like.
"I don't mind it; we can use the first couple of games kind of getting a feel for what we have," Gomez said Saturday morning before his team's game against OBA 18u. "I've got so many kids that I want to play and get good looks on, so I really don't mind experimenting a little bit. Plus, on a four or five day routine, some of my pitchers that might not get to pitch in a shorter tournament now can get to throw and get their work in.
"I've got a couple of young guys that need to throw and learn and go through their bumps in the road, and I guess that's kind of what we went through (Friday)."
The guarantee of six games in four days -- an offshoot of the tournament format -- is another plus, according to Gomez. He pointed out that when one of the two games the Edge lost on Friday got a little one-sided, he was able to march out some pitchers who otherwise might not have gotten an opportunity, knowing that it wouldn't hinder his options on Sunday and Monday.
"But you've got to be careful, and I like the strategy behind this, too: you can't waste your big arms early in the tournament," he said. "I'm a firm believer in pitch-counts and keeping guys' arms safe, because here I don't think getting the win is the ultimate goal -- college exposure is the ultimate goal. If I can save my arms by mixing things up and by maybe getting some position players that aren't hitting so well a pitching opportunity, that would be great, too."
This Mizuno Edge 18u team is mix of veterans and newcomers, most from the just-graduated class of 2013 with some 2012s, 2014s and even a couple of 2015s stirred in. The majority of the players on the roster come from southeast Florida -- Coral Springs, Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale and the surrounding areas.
A core group including Ronnie Rocca (2013, Boca Raton, Fla.), Jonny Ortiz (2012, Coral Springs, Fla.), Alex Kline (2012, Coral Springs, Fla.) and Tyler Corbin (2013, Wellington, Fla.) have been with the Team Mizuno program for a number of years and have combined to play in dozens of Perfect Game events.
Gomez runs the Gomez Sports Academy that is based in Coral Springs but operates clinics, camps and instructional schools throughout the country. His clientele include college, high school and youth players the year around and even some professional players during the offseason.
"Most of my players come through our academies and do private lessons with us," Gomez said. "I really want to know a player that I'm putting on Team Mizuno because I want to know his character, I want to know his grades, I want to know his family."
One of those guys is Corbin, who Gomez said first started visiting his academy when the player was around 7 years old. Corbin started playing with the Mizuno Edge on a fulltime basis last summer.
"These Perfect Game tournaments are usually the best ones during the summer, so I'm pretty excited about being here," Corbin said Saturday. "I've been playing with some of these guys for the last two and half years; they're some of my best friends and I miss them during the school year. I stay in touch with them over the school year ... and they're all hard-working and good to be around.
"Our team has always been elite, so we come into each tournament trying to win it, every time," he added.
Corbin has signed with Florida Gulf Coast University right here in Fort Myers, and has already started taking some summer classes there; he will begin summer training workouts at the school next week. He said he's going to try to continue to play with Mizuno whenever his schedule allows it, more to stay in "baseball shape" than anything else.
"Tyler is a hard-nosed, great kid who plays left field, plays catcher, hits third through seventh in the lineup," Gomez said. "He's always been clutch and he's a strong, strong kid; I think he's going to be a good college baseball player as long as he continues that work ethic that he has now."
Another top prospect that is playing with the Mizuno Edge this week is catcher Ronnie Healy (2013, Jupiter, Fla.). Healy has signed with Broward College, a community college located in Fort Lauderdale.
An alumnus of 21 Perfect Game events including the 2012 PG National Showcase, 2013 PG World Showcase and the 2013 PG Pre-Draft Showcase, Healy -- ranked 83rd nationally in the class of 2013 -- is having a monster tournament through three games: he batted 6-for-10, including 4-for-4 with two doubles, two singles, four RBI and three stolen bases in Saturday's win over OBA 18u.
"Ronnie is a big time player," Gomez said. "He's a big time talent; I haven't seen a swing like that in a long time."
Gomez brought this team here for the exposure the tournament provides to college coaches; Corbin and Healy are the only players here for the Edge that have signed with or committed to colleges, and that includes the 2012s and 2013s. But there's also a side of Gomez -- a side of all the Edge players have and that Corbin alluded to -- that makes him long to win a PG national championship.
"Our first goal is to keep the kids safe and showcase them, but of course on the competitive side, you always want to win," he said. "Perfect Game (tournaments) have been great events for us, always and I don't think I'll feel good until I win something here -- we always want to win and we always feel like we can. It's sad sometimes when my guys get older (and they haven't won a championship) but I still think that we can always do damage and we always expect to win a tournament."
And, because of that second chance the PG BCS Finals provides, a championship is still very much in play for the Mizuno Edge. Gomez isn't happy with the 1-2 record to open the tournament, but also knows there is no reason to dwell on it. This tournament is all about additional opportunities.
"There's nothing lost," he said. "We start all over again once we start the second (round of pool-play), and that's great. And another thing, too: I'll get to see what guys can really produce in what spot ... so it gives me a chance to really get to know my players.
"Now when a college guy or a pro guy comes to see me and says, 'Hey, what do you know about this guy?' I've done him justice by seeing him in a couple more games than I could have otherwise."
Second chances can be a beautiful thing.