FORT MYERS, Fla. – The Florida Hurricanes 14u Platinum arrived at the Lee County Player Development 5-Plex on Friday and introduced themselves to the rest of the field at the Perfect Game 14u BCS National Championship with all the subtlety of a mortar attack.
Thirty-eight runs on 25 hits. Those were the totals that came from wins of 13-1 in four innings over the Colorado Yard Dogs and 25-0 in three innings over Titans Baseball on the first day of play Friday. No one would have been surprised to learn that the Canes 14u Platinum players were getting dizzy from circling the bases.
“It’s a lot of fun when everybody’s hitting and everybody’s playing well,” standout 2022 outfielder/third baseman Roman Anthony told PG after returning to the 5-Plex for the Canes Platinum’s third pool-play game late Saturday morning. “Our pitching has been great, too – it’s all because of our pitching – and our hitters have been even better.”
Those first two outcomes here might have been a little bit of an aberration, considering the Florida Hurricanes needed a two-out, two-run triple from Anthony – the No. 61-ranked national prospect in his class – to walk-off the FBH Angels, 3-2, on Saturday (the Canes collected seven more hits).
But make no mistake, this team is a legitimate title threat at a tournament that runs through next Friday. Quite a few of the guys that are on this West Palm Beach, Fla.-based Hurricanes 14u Platinum roster were also rostered with the Florida Hurricanes 2023 Platinum team that won last year’s PG 13u BCS National Championship.
The Canes Platinum are coached by former minor-leaguer and professional and collegiate coach Theron Todd, and he doesn’t believe winning championships is something that occurs accidently.
“We try to set a culture and an understanding that when we come to a tournament we want to have fun but we want to win,” Todd told PG on Saturday before his team took the field against the FBH Angels. “Winning cures a lot of things and it creates a better environment.
“And then the players, when they’re happy and they’re winning and having fun and enjoying each other you create more success. I allow the kids to create that on their own, so they have a lot of freedom.”
Devan Meran, a 2022 outfielder, was named the Most Valuable Player at last year’s 13u BCS National Championship and was joined on the all-tournament team by his 14u teammates Anthony, Bradley Link, Jake Kulikowski and Michael O'Shaughnessy.
After three games here the last two days, Meran is leading his team with six hits, all singles; he’s scored five runs and driven in two. Anthony has five hits, including a double and a triple, with five runs and eight RBI; Edian Espinal has four hits with a double and a triple, six runs and two RBI; Christopher Diaz also has four hits with a double, four runs and eight RBI.
Additionally, Kulikowski, Oscar Hernandez and Andy Hernandez each have three hits. Kulikowski (3 runs, 5 RBI) and Andy Hernandez (7 runs, 1 RBI) have both doubled twice and Oscar Hernandez has doubled and tripled (6 runs, 2 RBI).
“It’s just a lot of fun, honestly,” Oscar Hernandez said of the hit parade. “This is a friendly game and I’m just having fun with my boys, my brothers. This is how we play all the time and this is what we try to do every time.”
The Canes 14u Platinum needed only 14 innings to win those three games so the pitching staff has not been stretched out – yet. 2023 left-hander Austin Schrowe was impressive in his three innings of work against Titans Baseball, striking out six without allowing a run, a hit or a walk.
It would be tempting to look at those gaudy offensive numbers and just assume that this collection of players who are still in their early teens are just a bunch of free-swingers, but they adamantly rebuke that assumption.
The Canes 14u Platinum hitters, according to Anthony, work hard on a taking a two-strike approach at the plate, knowing what the count is, trying to take a pitch the other way and not being too aggressive or too hesitant.
“A lot of us have a really good approach and that’s probably why we get so many hits,” he said. “We just try to play our game, get out (in front) as quickly as possible. We try to score a lot of runs so we can get out quick and then try to stay relaxed.”
His teammate Hernandez agreed: “We want to go up there and try to put the ball in play because you never know what can happen once you put the ball in play,” he said. “We know that some teams are capable of making plays and some aren’t so we just try to hit it hard and put it play.”
Todd told PG that these guys actually are pretty disciplined in their approach to hitting but there is an important caveat. They are very young players – most are 14 years old – and they tend to step up to the plate wanting to impress their peers and just about anyone else who might be watching.
There is still an immaturity about them and they’re not nearly as disciplined as they might think they are today or what they will become as they continue to play at each advancing level.
“For the most part, when one or two kids start showing a good approach most of them start to try to follow (that lead),” Todd said. “But when they don’t have success against a decent pitcher or someone who’s slow … it’s hard for them to adjust and not try to kill the ball; it’s a battle.”
The Canes 14u Platinum have been hammering it on the Perfect Game tournament circuit this spring. Playing mostly in PG Baseball Association events, they came into this PG national championship tournament with a 58-10-3 record dating back to the third week of January.
Todd admits that’s a lot of games but told PG they have been able to do it because of the depth within the program and because the 2023s on the roster were still in middle-school and didn’t have school teams to play with. Both the parents and the kids were committed to the schedule and with the PGBA tournaments being played close to home, they ran with it.
The Florida Hurricanes 14u Platinum are affiliated with the nationally prominent Virginia-based Canes Baseball organization, and the operation of the team is overseen by Canes General Manager Dan Gitzen.
“Dan has been really, really good to us,” Todd said. “He’s come down to see us a few times from Virginia, so we’re real appreciative that the head guy takes the time out to come down to watch the 14u team and see what’s coming through the pipeline.”
Like most national championship caliber teams, the Canes 14u Platinum have experienced turnover with their roster in the last couple of years, but the core has been together for at least the last year-and-a-half. Due in large part to the success the team has enjoyed over the last year or two, a lot more young players are wanting to become involved with the program.
They knock on the door and Todd opens it up, telling the youngsters will get a look and if they and their parents are a good fit, the door will open even wider. “We have some rules and we have some standards but we give kids opportunities,” he said.
“Everyone’s a different person; everyone’s unique in their own way,” Hernandez said. “It’s kind of fun because you get to act like yourself … and everyone’s open to the new players and even the older players who come back. It’s just a good environment.”
Sunday is Day 3 at the PG 14u BCS National Championship which means each team begins its second set of three-game pool play. (The tournament format can be found by following this link). The playoffs begin on Wednesday, the semifinals will be played on Thursday and the championship game on Friday, June 28.
It’s a long haul, but the defending 13u BCS national champions know their way around this block and feel like they’re ready for a repeat.
“We know we have a whole week out here, so we try to stay hydrated and stay ready for the next game; just be ready for the next one,” Anthony said. “We come in here thinking we should win it again. Our pitching is great, so we rely on our pitchers just to throw strikes and get the job done, and we’ll just try to go out and win it again.”
“We’re trying to make (winning) this tournament a tradition,” Hernandez concluded. “Every time we cone here we try to win it all; every tournament we come to, we try to win it all.”