FORT MYERS, Fla. - This is a team that just might be the most impressive No. 12 seed in the history of seeded tournaments.
Team Warehouse lost only once in six pool-play games at the Perfect Game 14u BCS Finals from Sunday through Wednesday, but the loss came in the second round of pool-play and cost Warehouse the pool championship. It qualified for the 16-team playoffs with one of five at-large bids and was awarded the 12th seed.
That in no way diminished the threat Warehouse (6-1) posed to the rest of the playoff field, as was first witnessed by the East Cobb Pride in a first-round playoff game Thursday at the JetBlue Player Development Complex. Warehouse put a 10-spot on the board in the top of the seventh and rolled past the Pride, 13-0, to advance to the quarterfinal round scheduled for later Thursday afternoon.
The first two rounds of the playoffs were scheduled to be played at JetBlue with Friday's semifinals and championship game slated for City of Palms Park. Rain was playing havoc with the schedule late Thursday afternoon, however.
The first-round performance was actually fairly indicative of what Team Warehouse has been doing since play started Sunday morning and continued into Thursday. It won its first three pool-play games by a combined score of 28-1, with two wins by shutout and the other a 2-1 decision over Goose's Gamers.
In the second round of pool-play, TW beat the Tampa Suns 14u, 9-0; lost to the Team Citius USA Warriors, 9-6; and beat the East Cobb Longhorns, 9-0. Warehouse committed four errors and allowed six unearned runs in the loss to Citius. But including Thursday's playoff win, Warehouse has posted five shutouts wins and one other in which it allowed just one run in its six wins here this week.
"We've faced quality teams all the way through and we've played quality baseball all the way through, outside of the one game when we kicked it around it a little bit - which at (age) 14 they're going to do," Warehouse assistant coach Randy Snodgrass said. "But they regrouped and came back out and beat two East Cobb teams, and whenever you can beat them, it's a pleasure."
The Team Warehouse organization is owned and operated by former big-leaguer Dante Bichette, who is also the team's head coach and was in the dugout Wednesday. But after the win over the East Cobb Pride, Bichette let Snodgrass do the talking.
"We've been in a bunch of tournaments locally and we've played very, very well," Snodgrass said. "We went and played some 16s (16u tournaments) to prepare us for this. Our kids work extremely hard ... so they were prepared coming in here, but when you come in a tournament like this with the talent of this caliber, you never know what you're going to get. We knew we were prepared, and that's all we can do is take care of ourselves."
Warehouse left-hander Clayton Jeffries (2015, Lakeland, Fla.) pitched 6 1/3 innings of two-hit ball - striking out 11 and walking six - in the win over the EC Pride. He's pitched 8 1/3 innings and has allowed no earned runs and four hits in two appearances. Right-hander Michael Ruff (2016, Apopka, Fla.) worked nine innings and didn't allow any runs on two hits while striking out seven as Warehouse's other workhorse pitcher.
Nine Warehouse pitchers combined to allow only two earned runs in 37 innings (0.57 ERA) on 25 hits with 35 strikeouts in its first seven games here.
"We've been an offensive team in the past," Snodgrass said. "What's made us a little different now is that we've found a few arms."
Oh, the offense is still there. Warehouse totaled 11 hits in its playoff opener, led by a quartet of impressive young hitters.
Bo Bichette (2016, Orlando, Fla.) - Dante Bichette's youngest son and the brother of New York Yankees first round compensation draft pick Dante Bichette Jr. - was 3-for-4 with two doubles, three RBI and three runs scored; Juan Abreu (2016, Casselberry, Fla.) - the winner of the 14u BCS Finals Fastest Man contest on Saturday - was 2-for-4 with a triple and three runs; Jeffries was 2-for-5 with a pair of doubles and was credited with four RBI; and Pablo Cedeno was 2-for-4 with a double and two runs.
For the tournament, Cedeno (.533), Abreu (.522), Bichette (.471) and Jeffries (,429) are all hitting above .400 and combined for 12 extra-base hits and 30 RBI.
"What you do is, you try to surround yourself with kids that want to work," Snodgrass said. "We've been fortunate with Dante, who brings in his professional work ethic to the organization, and the kids know what to expect. They prepare themselves the same way every day: they eat, they sleep, they get up, they've got a routine, and he has taught them that."
Dante Bichette Sr., who enjoyed a 14-year MLB career and was a four-time All-Star with the Colorado Rockies from 1994 to 1998, built a large, state-of-the-art hitting facility in the Orlando area for his sons and certainly others to use as they developed through the years. The facility is housed in an old warehouse, and the team took its name from that.
"As time went on, the kids would say, 'We're going to go hit, we're going to go to the warehouse,' and it just kind of stuck," Snodgrass said. "Everybody would say, 'Where are you going?, well, we're going to meet you at the warehouse,' and it took off from there. So started calling ourselves Team Warehouse."
This will be this group's second full season playing together but the first under the Team Warehouse name. Some of the core members of the team have been playing together under other banners since they were 10 years old.
The 12-seed meant nothing while Team Warehouse was dismantling the fifth-seeded Pride on Thursday. At that point in time, nothing seemed out of the ordinary to young guys sitting in the TW dugout.
"We expected to move on to the final 16, absolutely," Snodgrass said. "We've been in 12 or 13 tournaments back home and we've won nine of them, so we've played some good baseball. But you come here and you face somebody good every day - a good pitcher can shut you down at anytime. But we expected to move on, and if you don't, you shouldn't be here."