FORT MYERS, Fla. – The jetBlue Player Development Complex and jetBlue Park where the Boston Red Sox hold their Spring Training camp and play their Grapefruit League games are state-of-the-art in every way imaginable.
OK, maybe the big manual scoreboard embedded into the left field wall that was rescued from Fenway Park is a bit of throwback, but that just adds to the exceptional feel the modernistic ballpark that has seating for nearly 11,000 Grapefruit League fans exudes.
It has been dubbed “Fenway South” by both Red Sox and Lee County, Fla., officials, and has become a Perfect Game favorite when it comes to hosting tournaments and showcases. JetBlue Park is the venue of choice for both the 2014 Perfect Game Junior National and National Showcases scheduled for the second week in June.
It has also become a favorite venue for the Sailors from Sarasota (Fla.) High School, which sits not all that far north of the facility on I-75. The Sailors won the 2013 PG WWBA Florida Qualifier on jetBlue Park’s perfectly manicured field in October and on Saturday won the championship at the 2nd annual Perfect Game High School Showdown on the same field.
The rosters compiled by Sarasota High head coach Clyde Metcalf for the Florida Qualifier and again for the PG HS Showdown were nearly identical, and produced a pair of PG tournament championships.
“This is the same group and we’re starting to hope that with Fenway South we’ve got a little something going here,” Metcalf said with a broad smile after his Sailors got past DeSoto Central High School (Miss.), 4-2, in Saturday afternoon’s championship game.
“We’ve played really well in this park and when we won that one (the PG WWBA Florida Qualifier) in the fall we told the kids the next trip is the Showdown and then the next trip is the (Florida Class 7A) state tournament that’s held here.”
It was a great weekend all-around for Metcalf and the Sarasota program he has captained for 33 seasons. He not only won the Showdown championship after a loss in the tournament-opener, but he watched his nationally No. 9-ranked team improve to 18-2 this season while also capturing the 800th and 801st wins of his long and illustrious career just on Saturday alone.
“He’s definitely the best coach I’ve ever had and he always will be,” Showdown Most Valuable Pitcher Jordan Gubelman said. “There’s a reason why he’s a hall of fame coach.”
The Sailors (3-1 at this event) were matched against a very strong DeSoto Central team in the championship game. The Jaguars were 3-0 at the Showdown coming in, having beaten their pool and playoff opponents by a combined 16-1.
A four-run Sarasota second inning ignited by an RBI single from senior Sam Carillo – the three other runs that came around in the frame were unearned – put the game out of reach very early. Carillo finished 2-for-3 with the RBI and a run scored while Evan Mendoza and Dylan Busby delivered doubles in the Sailors’ four-hit attack.
DeSoto Central’s Keegan James was 3-for-3 with two doubles and an RBI in the title game.
Due to some sort of glitch in PG’s online statistics system, complete championship game stats were not available Saturday night. It is known that Gubelman, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound junior right-hander, pitched a complete game and gave up two earned runs on six hits with nine strikeouts and no walks through six of those seven innings. The performance led to the MV Pitcher Award.
“This has been a very good experience,” the soft-spoken Gubelman said. “We have a bond like no other. We’ll come out here and play our hardest and either way, win or lose, we’re still a team.”
Sarasota’s senior catcher Brandon Chapman, a George Washington University recruit, was named the Most Valuable Player after a tournament in which he hit .333 (4-for-12) with four doubles, four RBI and three runs scored. Those numbers are also unofficial.
“It’s been kind of hectic with a lot games in a short amount of time, but we fought through it,” Chapman said. “I think we had some momentum coming in (to the tournament) – we had some big wins against some pretty good teams and some pretty good pitchers – and I think we just carried on with that.”
Sarasota lost its Showdown opener to Allatoona High School (Ga.), 1-0, despite a seven inning no-hitter from senior right-hander Evan Mendoza. He struck out seven and walked two but his defense let him down with four errors resulting in Allatoona’s only (unearned) run. Buccaneer senior right-hander Cooper Murphy scattered five hits over seven innings and struck out five.
“I like the way they rebounded. I really did,” Metcalf said of the way his team bounced back after the bizarre setback. “I think the loss was good for us. I think it changed the way we approached the game and the way we approached a lot of our at-bats and a lot of the things we do defensively. You don’t like to lose but it might have worked out (for the best). We bounced back really, really well; I was very proud of them.”
The Sailors did manage to come right back with a 10-3 pool-play win over Lowndes High School (Ga.), with Chapman smacking three doubles and driving in four runs.
“I think it woke up our bats,” he said. “Losing that game just woke us up and we just kept going off of that; we really started hitting. This has been a great experience.”
The four-team semifinal field was set late Friday, matching the Venice Indians (2-0) against the DeSoto Central Jaguars (2-0) and the Sarasota Sailors (1-1) against the IMG Academy Ascenders (1-1).
Senior Mason Dancer hit a one-out single, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt, to third on a wild pitch and then scored on a wild pitch in the bottom of the seventh inning to lead Sarasota a wild 6-5 win over IMG Academy in a semifinal Saturday morning.
It was Metcalf’s 800th win in 33 seasons as head coach at Sarasota High (the championship game victory would become his 801st). He just recently announced his retirement as the school’s athletic director after 22 years in that post.
“It’s a great milestone,” Metcalf told PG before Saturday afternoon’s championship game. “I think it’s something that as time goes on I’ll look back and I’ll relish a little bit more. … It’s a nice milestone and I’m very proud that I did it all at Sarasota High School. It’s my alma mater, I was born and raised in that town and I’m very proud to have been allowed to coach there for 33 years; it belongs to the guys that played for me and the guys that coached with me.”
The Sailors jumped to a 4-0 lead in the bottom of the first on a sacrifice fly from junior Cody Brickhouse, and RBI double from Busby and a two-run single off the bat of Carillo. IMG pushed across a pair of runs in the top of third before Sarasota added a single run in the bottom of the inning for a 5-1 lead.
The Ascenders got two more in the top of fifth and tied in the top of the sixth on an RBI single from junior Ryan Karstetter. IMG senior Luke Bonfield, an Arkansas signee, stroked two doubles and a triple and drove in three runs and Karstetter was 3-for-4 with two RBI. The Ascenders out-hit the Sailors, 11-7.
The Central Jaguars moved into the championship game with an unusual 3-1 win over Venice in the semifinal round. They scored all three of their unearned runs in the top of the third on the strength of two walks, two errors and a dropped third strike; DeSoto totaled only four hits, including a pair of singles from junior Colin Coates.
Senior left-hander Drew Crosby, a Memphis recruit, worked the first five shutout innings for the Jaguars, and allowed four hits with two strikeouts and two walkouts.
Venice, which totaled six hits, scored its only run when Rylee Buckmaster walked with the bases loaded in the bottom of the sixth. Indians’ junior left-hander Kade Hunkapiller didn’t allow an earned run in five innings, and gave up four hits with seven strikeouts and a pair of walks.
Venice (3-1), the defending PG HS Showdown champion, came back from its unusually untidy semifinal loss to top IMG Academy, 3-1, in the third-place consolation game. IMG went 1-3 at the tournament.
The Indians scored all three of their runs in the bottom of the first when Dalton Guthrie hit a leadoff single and eventually scored on a fielder’s choice groundout from fellow Florida signee Michael Rivera. The other two runs – and all three were unearned – came across on the strength of two errors, a walk and a hit batter.
The Ascenders scored their only run in the top of the sixth when Andrew DiLacqua led off with a double, moved to third on a single from Taylor Lane and scored on a fielder’s choice groundout.
Venice right-handers Ryan Miller, Buckmaster and Colin Cristello combined on five-hitter, striking out four. IMG senior right-hander Stephen Hueber might have actually been a little bit better, not allowing an earned run on three hits and striking out five in five innings of work.
DeSoto Central showed off its over-powering array of arms right from the get-go at the tournament with a 10-0, six inning win over IMG in its Thursday opener and a 3-0 win over Montverde Academy (Fla.) on Friday. Impressive junior right-hander Riley Austin threw a six-inning two-hitter at IMG, striking out nine and walking five; he also doubled and drove in a run.
Venice, too, got great pitching in its two pool-play wins, both 6-0 triumphs over Lowndes (Ga.) and Allatoona (Ga.). Junior lefty Kade Hunkapiller, sophomore righty Buckmaster, senior left-hander Ryan Ahern and junior right-hander Colin Cristello combined on a 10-strikeout, one-walk, no-hitter against Lowndes. Senior righty Brandon Elmy pitched 5 2/3 innings of one-hit ball with 10 strikeouts against Allatoona.
After its unexpected 10-0 loss to DeSoto Central, IMG rallied with a 7-0 win over Dwyer (Fla.) behind an eye-popping complete game no-hitter from junior lefty Logan Allen. A South Carolina commit, Allen struck out 14 and walked three.
The 2nd annual Perfect Game High School Showdown was deemed a success by all, especially by the coach who has now won 801 games and likes to call Fenway South his home away from home.
“This is a well-run tournament, the facilities are exceptional and the talent was really, really good,” Sarasota’s Metcalf said. “There were some very good teams here and you had to go out and grind every game. At this time of year, as a high school coach, that’s what you want to do.
“We look forward to coming down here (for the Showdown) – really a great tournament and really, really some quality ballplayers. There were some good baseball players here.”
2014 Perfect Game High School Showdown MVP Brandon Chapman (left) and MV-Pitcher Jordan Gubelman, Sarasota High School