It's 14u playoff time ... finally
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- As lunchtime hit on the Fourth of July holiday here in southwest Florida on Thursday, the sun was poking though gathering gray clouds and baseball was being playing on the fields of Terry Park.
Lo and behold, the first playoffs games at the 2013 PG WWBA 17u Grads or 14u National Championship had even gotten started sharply at 1 p.m. --about a half-hour before the lightning warning siren sounded and a short cloudburst let loose.
That has been the daily storyline at the 7th annual PG WWBA 14u National Championship. But players, coaches, families and Perfect Game officials have soldiered on through the delays, postponements, cancellations and wholesale rescheduling.
By the time the 11-team playoff field had been determined by early afternoon on Thursday, six teams (those seeded 6 through 11) were scheduled to play first-round games while the other five received first-round byes into the quarterfinals. Because not every team in the tournament played the same number of pool games, the seedings were determined by, first, winning percentage; second, average runs-against per game; and third, average runs-scored per game.
After all the math was done, Kentucky Baseball Club 14u-Boggs (3-0) out of Lexington, Ky., received the No. 1 seed; Fireline Bail Bonds (4-0) out of Hialeah, Fla., was No. 2; and the St. Louis (Mo.) Gamers Blue (3-0) received the No. 3 seed.
It's been a process that has required a lot of patience and flexibility from everyone involved.
"Other than the fact that we've had to find ways to be creative to keep their juices flowing, it has been a little bit of a challenge," Kentucky Baseball Club 14u-Boggs head coach Chuck Crawford said early Thursday afternoon. "I understand this -- this is my 33rd year of coaching. This is a great tournament and (Perfect Game puts) on a great affair with some great competition. So I really don't have any gripes -- the weather's the weather; that's baseball."
Kentucky Baseball Club 14u-Boggs features seven players that played on the Cal Ripken World Series championship team two years ago as 12-year-olds, and also boasts some tremendous young pitching talent on its roster.
Ben Jordon (2017, Olive Hills, Ky.) is a 6-foot-7, 180-pound right-hander who will be a freshman at West Carter County High School in the fall; he worked five shutout innings in his only start, allowing two hits and striking out six and walking none with a fastball that reached 86 mph.
Right-hander Jackson Boggs (2016, Lexington, Ky.) and right-hander Jacob Abbott (2016, Lexington, Ky.) were also terrific in their two starts at this tournament, combining to pitch 14 innings and allowing no earned runs on 11 hits and nine walks with14 strikeouts.
"These kids are use to this, man," Crawford said. "It's different than it was whenever I was playing in the fact that I was three-sport guy. Most of these guys are one-sport guys and they're use to the mindset that whenever we hit the field and we get between the lines, we compete. Do we always have the best athletes? No. But do we have a good approach and a good mindset? I would like to think so."
Xtreme Baseball (4-0) out of Fort Myers and the 6-4-3 DP Cougars (4-0) out of Marietta, Ga., snuck into the playoffs as the Nos. 8 and 9 seeds, respectively, and faced each other in a first-round pairing (Xtreme advanced to the quarterfinals with a 7-1 win in the five inning game). They, too, had to deal with the delays and disruptions of the previous five days but both were able to play four of their five scheduled pool games.
"The challenge has been with our rotations -- the pitching rotations and the rotation of our position players," Xtreme Baseball head coach Glen Stegemann said before his team took the field against 6-4-3 DP. "A lot of our guys pitch and play a position, so that's probably been the most difficult thing for us is to strategize who needs to pitch when and who's going to be playing where."
Stegemann said it's his young team's personality -- a willingness to fight to the end -- that helped them reach the playoff quarterfinals.
"Our particular group seems to rise to the occasion," he said. "When it's an important game and something's on the line ... that's when they really seem to get ultra-focused. They're 14 years old and the ones that are freshmen are already playing varsity ball and the ones that are becoming freshmen are already slated to be varsity players for their high school teams, so I think they realize they have to be (focused). "
Being based in the Fort Myers-Cape Coral area, the Xtreme players get more than their fair share of exposure at the Perfect Game tournaments and showcases that are held here, and learned early on you have to be ready to perform in front of the pro scouts and college coaches at all times, no matter what the weather throws your way.
"They've had college coaches and pro coaches come up and talk to them and tell them that they'll never know when someone might be watching them," Stegemann said. "They have to be focused and it doesn't matter whether they're winning by 20 or losing by 20, the scouts shouldn't be able to tell whether they're winning or losing. They've kind of bought into that."
Ric Bishop, the head coach of the 6-4-3 DP Cougars, said his team would never lose its focus when playing on a stage as big as a Perfect Game WWBA National Championship provides.
"This is something that each team builds their whole season around to get to a tournament like this," Bishop said, also speaking before his team's first-round playoff game. "You want to make the best of it, and our approach the whole time was to win game one and then go on to the next.
"I think it's been a challenge for everybody, but you don't want to make excuses and you don't want to say this or that because everybody has kind of gone through the same thing," he continued. "At the end of the day you can only control what you can control -- that's what we tell our kids -- and everything else will take care of itself."
The 6-4-3 DP Cougars sharpened their claws for this tournament by playing full-time in the Atlanta area, one the of the nation's true hot-beds for youth and high school-aged baseball talent. Bishop said they have always shown a resiliency that was developed on the fields of the north Atlanta suburbs.
"We play against the best (teams) that are around up there and we feel like it's the best baseball in the country," he said. "It hopefully prepares these guys for being put in situations in this type of atmosphere, and so far they've done a good job."
The level of competition they play and the ability to train the year around at a 40,000-foot facility in Lexington has also helped the top-seeded Kentucky Baseball Club-Boggs get ready for the big stage and dealing with adversity, according to Crawford.
"You would like to think that all of these kids are going to play at high level of high school and a lot of these kids are going to be (NCAA) Division I college (players)," he said. "I really think that you're going to be looking at the Perfect Game website four or five years from now and you're going to be seeing these kids' names right at the top.
"Believe you me, expectation is everything," Crawford concluded. "If you set the expectation that we're not going to look at winning and losing as our measuring stick of how we do, but we're going look at how we play each play of each game, if we're in the right positions, if we're doing the right things and we're being the best teammates that we can be, that's the key to building these guys up to where they become premier players."