PEORIA, Ariz. - This much is certain: Only four of the 16 teams that set sail Tuesday night at the first 17u Perfect Game World Series with championship aspirations will still be harboring those hopes by the time Saturday morning rolls around.
What is also becoming evident early on is that the road those four teams take to the semifinals will likely be filled with speed bumps, which gives teams like the San Gabriel Valley (SGV) Arsenal plenty of reasons to continue to push forward as the week progresses.
The SVG Arsenal, a powerhouse organization based in West Covina, Calif., jumped at the opportunity to participate in the inaugural 17u PG World Series, an event designed to bring together the top 16 17u teams in the nation for a five-day tournament.
"The experience for these guys is amazing, to be fortunate enough to be (recognized as) one of the top 16 teams in the nation and to come out here and compete with these guys is an opportunity these guys won't forget, especially at this level," SGV co-coach John Lee said Wednesday morning from the Seattle Mariner's practice fields at the Peoria Sports Complex.
After each team had completed its second game of pool-play early Wednesday afternoon, there remained but three unbeaten teams, including upstarts Mountain West '13 out South Jordan, Utah, and Team Northwest, based in Puyallup, Wash. Among those with at least one loss were pre-tournament favorites Marucci Elite, the Houston Banditos and the EvoShield Canes.
SVG Arsenal, not necessarily one of those pre-tournament favorites, was also 1-1 after outlasting Tri-State Arsenal, 12-5, Wednesday morning. It lost to Team Northwest, 7-1, in its tournament opener Tuesday night.
"We always have high expectations with these guys," Lee said. "We have talent through all of our levels, and especially once these guys get to their sophomore, junior (and) senior years, we definitely hold high expectations for them.
"We just want them to play the game right, and that's what it's about for us," he said. "If you go out there and compete and make people beat you, this group should get the job done."
There are special challenges for the managers at this tournament, especially when it comes to handling their pitching staffs. It's hot in the Phoenix area in late July - oh, shoot, it's been hot everywhere this summer - and work-loads need to be watched closely.
"You try to put a few games together and you try and get your pitching in a spot where maybe you can use them again or you utilize your arms the way you're supposed to," Lee said. "That's probably the toughest challenge anyone faces out here."
Lee said he has eight to 10 players on his roster who can he can call to the mound. He doesn't anticipate too many complete games.
"That just comes down to whoever's on the mound that day going out there and challenging guys," Lee said. "They have to have a good rhythm and a good pace to their outing, and then going out there and getting quick outs if they can."
Right-hander and Cal State Fullerton commit Adrian De Horta (2013, South Hills HS, Calif.) made the start for SGV Wednesday and lasted only 3 1/3 innings, giving up two earned runs on four hits while striking out four. His fastball hit 91 mph in the first inning then sat in the high 80s the rest of his outing.
"He'll sit anywhere from 89-91, with a pretty sharp slider that's not too loopy," Lee said of De Horta before the game. "He's developed a changeup over the last year that he's done a great job with. In my opinion, it's developed into his number two pitch behind his fastball."
There are seven 2013s and 2014s on the SGV Arsenal roster with NCAA Division I commitments, including top 2014 outfield prospect Scott Hurst (Bishop Amat HS, Calif.). Hurst is the No. 29-ranked overall national prospect in his class and, like De Horta, has committed to Cal State Fullerton.
Outfield prospect Joseph Corrigan (2013) and top infield prospect Jack Flaherty (2014) are teammates at California's Harvard-Westlake High School, and last spring were also teammates of 2012 first-round draft selections Max Fried and Lucas Giolito. Corrigan has committed to Southern California while Flaherty remains uncommitted.
Right-hander Ryan Olson (2013, Western Christian HS, Calif.) and shortstop Severiano Romo (El Dorado HS, Fullerton) - ranked No. 139 and No. 167, respectively - have both committed to the University of San Diego.
It's a talented group.
"This is really the first time this season they've been together as a whole," Lee said. "But the chemistry is there; they've got good energy and they get it together. There's a good group of local guys from our area, so they all know each other and they all know how to pick each other up."
With all the teams here capable of beating up on one another on any given day and the pitching rotations still falling into place, it's almost certain the final four won't be determined until the last of the pool-play games are played. The SGV Arsenal will continue to strive to advance to Saturday's playoffs while continuing to make memories along the way.
"To come out here and see this talent from throughout the nation, it not only forces them to really adapt and play to the top level that they're capable of, but they're also building relationships," Lee said. "A lot of our guys are West Coast guys ... but these are the guys they're going to remember.
"It's extremely beneficial for them to play at this high of a level and against this type of talent, and it's only going to go with them into college and into the next level after that."