Tournaments | Story | 7/9/2016

Gators build on 17u experience

Vincent Cervino        
Photo: Perfect Game

EMERSON, Ga. – The Central Florida Gators, primarily a 2018 and 2019 team, competed well in the 17u WWNA National Championship that ended on Friday. The Gators were the No. 4 seed in the playoff bracket and made it to the round of 16. That experience set up the Gators to make a deep run in the 16u National Championship that began as the 17u wrapped up.

“It’s definitely helped us because the 17u teams are a little bit better with a little bit better arms,” said Mason Denaburg, the No. 30 overall player for the class of 2018 and a Florida commit. “We’re still going to see some good pitching here and definitely some good pitching later on down the road. It’s prepared us for everything.”

The team is built upon a core of key players. Mason Denaburg, Tyler Callihan, Connor Ollio, and Nolan Gorman are all highly ranked 2018-19 players who have been with the team for some time now. Coach Mark Roberts explained how having played together for a long time, coupled with the experience of the 17u tournament, has the Gators prepared to make a deep run in this tournament.

“I’m just trying to get on base for the kids to hit me in behind me,” said Denaburg. “There’s three studs behind me that are going to do something good every time. It doesn’t matter who gets on someone’s going to get the job done.”

“Just playing the game,” added Roberts of the Gators’ success. “Playing against the game is hard enough, we don’t really pay attention to who’s on the field. Once you get to 16 and 17, they’re all playing against high schoolers so they don’t get intimidated either way. We’ve had 12 of the 16 kids since they were nine years old. They’ve grown up together, they’ve played together, they root for each other, and they help when they need to help. It’s been a real enjoyment with this team.”

This team is built on a depth of pitching. The versatility provided when almost everyone can pitch and almost everyone can hit in any spot of the lineup allows for creativity on the coaching end in order to put the best possible team on the field at any given time.

“We’re fairly deep in pitching, of course you always have your wipeout guys, but we have 12 kids who throw strikes and can throw a wrinkle in there,” said Roberts. “Depth-wise we’re very good there. On the hitting side we have power from one through 10 no matter the batting order. We have good average one through 10 and pretty decent team speed. Our only weakness is that we have a lot of two-way guys. At this age there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s hard to tell a kid that he’s a PO (pitcher only). He can be a PO when he gets to the next level. The downside of PO’s is that you have to carry 20-25 guys and you have guys complaining about playing time.”

Manager Joe Mercandate balances putting the team with the best chance to win on the field with allowing his players to be showcased in front of scouts and college coaches. Mercandate knows that his team is prepared and primed to make a deep playoff run.

“We try to teach these guys how to play the game the right way,” said Mercandate. “Our guys play hard and we don’t have to coach them up too much in terms of the small parts of the game. They know how to move guys over, how to shift on defense, and they have an overall feel for what they have to be doing out there. It’s competitive, we want to win, but we also want to make sure our guys are showcased and that pro scouts and college coaches get a chance to see them so we try to put them in the best possible position to do so.”

Undoubtedly a factor that makes winning a lot easier is team chemistry. This team is very familiar with each other and have been playing together for a few years now. When everyone on the team has each other’s backs, it makes dealing with mistakes and overcoming them a lot easier.

“Our guys are very comfortable with each other,” added Mercandate. “They’re very relaxed and calm. We’ll get into some tough spots and you don’t see our guys tense up and make silly mistakes. They know that we’re good enough to get through it and they pick each other up when we have the opportunities. They’re a confident group, but it’s also a group that trusts each other and as a team that’s the most important thing.”

“Everyone has our back, we’ve been together for a while,” said Nolan Gorman, the No. 38 overall player for the class of 2018 and an Arizona commit. “We know if we make a mistake that everyone’s going to pick you up and be right behind you.”

One of the obstacles the Gators are going to have to overcome is an injury to Elijah Cabell, one of their most talented players. Cabell, the No. 5 overall player in the nation for the class of 2018 and an LSU commit, went down with an injury during the 17u tournament and will be unavailable for an undetermined amount of time. Mercandate mentioned that the injury is not too serious and that he is rehabbing and working hard to get back on the field.

Cabell enjoyed a tremendous amount of success during the 2015 tournament season, and so did the Gators. Cabell, who was named to the All-Tournament Team at four different Perfect Game tournament events, garnered MVP honors at the 2015 15u PG World Series, where the Gators were the runner-up, and they also finished third at the 15u BCS Finals.

The Gators took another step towards a championship with a 2-1 victory over Tri State Arsenal 15u Prime. The Gators used three pitchers to keep Arsenal at bay; Andrew Roberts, the No. 4 third baseman nationally for the class of 2019, Tommy Ben, the No. 7 first baseman in the state of Florida for the class of 2017, and Eric Foggo, the No. 9 righthanded pitcher in the state of Florida for the class of 2017. The triumvirate of pitchers held Arsenal to only one hit and one run in a dominating pitching effort.

Gorman, who was named to Perfect Game’s 2015 15u All-Tournament Team along with teammates Cabell and Ollio, reached base in all three trips to the plate, going 2-for-2 with a walk, a run scored and one driven in.

After their first game on Friday finished in a 2-2 tie, the Gators secured their first win of the tournament and showed a complete team effort in the victory on Saturday. The depth and talent of this Gators team puts them in prime position to compete for the championship title.

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