FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Warriors originally thought they would be motoring down the freeway this holiday weekend to defend a 16u championship they won exactly one year ago. Instead, it is an 18u championship they are in pursuit of here in southwest Florida, just south down I-75 from their Tampa, Fla., home.
The Warriors and co-coaches Brian Dubose and Nick Drangle thought they were putting together a team to defend their championship from last year's inaugural PG WWBA 16u Labor Day Classic.
While that tournament got under way at two venues here Saturday morning, the Tampa Bay Warriors instead found themselves competing in the PG WWBA 18u Labor Day Classic, a 20-team tournament that is running simultaneously with the 16u event and being played at three venues.
"This is Perfect Game, and we're going to play whenever and where ever we can," Dubose said Saturday morning after the Warriors rallied from a two-run fifth inning deficit to beat Naturals Florida, 3-2, in the tournament opener for both teams at the JetBlue Player Development Complex, the spring training home of the Boston Red Sox.
Rallying from behind became the order of the day for the Warriors. After scoring single runs in the bottoms of the fifth, sixth and seventh innings to nip the Naturals, they scored three runs in the top of the sixth to escape SWFL 18u, 6-5, in their second pool-play game of the tournament.
(NOTE: Naturals Florida rebounded from that early setback to the Warriors behind an eye-popping performance from left-hander Tyler Bauman (2014, Stuart, Fla.). Bauman threw 135 pitches in a complete game, seven inning, 17 strikeout three-hitter that ended in a 2-2 tie with Orlando Baseball Academy. Bauman also walked seven).
The team Drangle and Dubose have here this weekend is a combination of several of Tampa Bay Warriors teams, and its roster includes 18 2014 prospects (as opposed to just four 2013s). It's a young group for an 18u event, but that doesn't diminish expectations.
"Anytime we come out to a tournament we expect to do well," Dubose said. "Primarily you want them to get their work in and Perfect Game does a great job of getting the kids exposure in front of college coaches and people of that nature. That's why we're in it, for kids to get another opportunity to play at the next level."
"We've already got boxes full of trophies," Drangle added. "This is about getting them college scholarships."
Saturday's wins didn't come easy. The Warriors accumulated 12 hits in the two games -- uncommitted Michael McGuire (2013, Tampa) had five of them, all singles -- and the pitching staff gave up six earned runs on 12 hits and 11 walks while striking out 13.
The three runs the Warriors scored in the top of the sixth to rally and beat SWFL 18u came courtesy of a two-run error and a wild pitch.
The PG WWBA 18u Labor Day Classic managed to attract 20 teams from Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Puerto Rico for a holiday weekend tournament most agree presents a challenge. School is back in session across the country and it's simply a difficult time for families to get away, at least those that come in from outside of Florida. That is not, however, the way Drangle looks at it.
"I think it's a good tournament where people can be down here on the weekend and families can spend some time on the beach and stuff. We sure enjoy it," he said. "But it is a tough time of the year to get all the kids together."
Dubose agreed: "I think that anything that provides exposure for the kids is beneficial, especially for the kids still trying to get into college. I'm all for playing this time of year."
Said Drangle: "I think this is a good time of year for them to be playing, especially for the kids who are getting ready for their (high school) tryouts. Your top of the line varsity guys can pretty much show up and play varsity baseball, but for guys who were sophomores and are going into their junior years and trying to make varsity, getting some at-bats and getting ready for tryouts is beneficial to them as well."
This is also the time of year when high school football takes center stage, especially in a state like Florida that produces as many NCAA Division I football players as any in the country, with the possible exceptions of California and Texas.
Drangle said he has a couple of players on the team he has here this weekend that are playing football, but not as many as one might think.
"Once they get to this age, for the most part during their junior year you kind of see that the percentage of the kids playing multiple sports will start to slim down a little bit," he said. "You'll still get your athletes who will play two sports and we encourage it. It's based on the kid though, depending on where we think their next step in the process is but for the most part we encourage them to play multiple sports."
Drangle and Dubose plan on taking the majority of the players on this team to the 2012 PG WWBA Underclass World Championship here in Fort Myers Oct. 4-8. They are also working with the Team Citius organization -- it bases its operations out of both New York and Texas -- to put together a competitive team for the PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., Oct. 25-29.
That team will feature five or six players from the Warriors along with five or six from both New York and Texas and will be called the Citius Warriors.
In the meantime, the co-coaches are hoping to keep the core of this group of 2014s together to make an impact in the summer of 2013.
"A lot of these kids we've had since they were 12 and building continuity is one of the most important things," said Drangle, adding he expects about a 30 percent turnover rate between and now the start of the 2013 summer travel season. "Once they enjoy each other and they care about each other, I think you see that on the field.
"If it's a bunch of individuals out here, it shows; you can put 13 of the most talented kids out there and if they don't care about each other or care about winning, all they're in it is for themselves."
Both PG WWBA Labor Day Classic tournaments will feature eight-team playoffs. The 18u quarterfinals are slated for noon at Terry Park with the two semifinals to follow at 2:30 p.m. The 16u quarters and semis are also scheduled for noon and 2:30 p.m., but at the JetBlue Complex.
The 18u championship game is scheduled for 9 a.m. Monday with the 16u title game to follow at 11:30 a.m., both at the main stadium at JetBlue.