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Tournaments | Story | 6/24/2019

CF Select shines on 14u stage

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Andy Perez (Perfect Game)

FORT MYERS, Fla. – One of the youngest teams in attendance at the Perfect Game 14u BCS National Championship that has played out here the last five days – with four more to go – is also a team that is shining the brightest.

The Winter Park, Fla.-based Central Florida Select smoked SBO Florida out of Coral Springs by a 12-1 count on Monday to run their record to 5-0-0 at the PG national championship event. The Select's fast start has surprised just about anyone who has been paying attention, perhaps no one more than head coach Mike Smalley.

“Our goal realistically is to finish in the top-10,” Smalley told PG about a half-hour before his team took the field to face SBO at the jetBlue Park Player Development Complex. “We know there are teams that we can’t play with here. We’ll compete but we know there are teams that can beat us.

“In baseball, on any given day you never really know, but there are a handful of teams that are just at another level, where we hope to be next year.”

That might sound like Smalley is poor-boying it a little bit, but the players on the CF Select’s roster would be very much at home playing at the 13u level because this is, in fact, a 13u team.

Nine of the boys won’t graduate high school until the spring of 2024, meaning they just completed the seventh grade. There are four other team members from the class of 2023 and one – corner-infielder/right-hander Tyler Toro—from the class of 2022.

Smalley told PG the team went 101-9 at the 12u level last year and he and his assistant coach, Dave Elmendorf, decided to skip 13u this year and jump up to the 14u ranks.

“We knew that we’d take some lumps and let the boys experience some failure and teach them some lessons but looking back it was a no-brainer for us and we’re glad we did it,” he said. “It’s been a big challenge playing 14u but as the year’s progressed, the boys have caught up to the older kids and they’ve played really well recently.”

Truth be told, five games into the PG 14u BCS National Championship, the CF Select have seemingly done everything well. While going 3-0-0 in the first set of pool-play games, they outscored their opponents by a combined 38-4 and two games into the second set, it’s been 19-2.

Six players have collected at least five hits in the five wins, led by the versatile Andy Perez, a 5-foot-6, 125-pound 2023 switch-hitter who is still one month shy of his 14th birthday: Perez is 11-for-15 (.733) with seven doubles, nine runs scored, six driven in and a .778 on-base percentage.

“We’ve got to (play with) the most energy that we can,” he said. “We try to play at our best and then be ready for the next day and stay energetic.”

2024 Zachary Hopper has seven hits, including a pair of doubles, with three runs and seven RBI. 2023 Garrett Baumann and 2024 Talan Bell have six hits apiece, with Baumann hammering four doubles, scoring eight runs and driving in eight and Bell collecting a pair of doubles with seven runs and four RBI.

2024 Brayden Toro counts a double and a triple among his five hits, with a run and an RBI, and 2024 Austin Jacobs has five singles and scored four runs and drove in four.

The pitching has been lights-out, as well. Brayden Toro, Tyler Toro, 2024 Dillon Smalley, 2024 Ryan Ashford, 2023 Clayton Shiver, Bauman, Bell and Perez have all pitched and combined to allow only two earned runs over 27 innings of work (0.52 ERA).

Smalley and Elmendorf first assembled this team two years ago and seven or eight of the guys have played together the last two years. The Central Florida Select program consists of just the one team, so this is it – what you see is what you get. The Select go into every tournament they play with three basic goals: have fun, get better and win games.

“We feel like if we have fun the kids are going to want to be out here, so we try to keep it light,” Smalley said. “They work really hard and they enjoy working hard. But if they’re having fun they’re going to want to come to practice and come to games, and we work really hard at practice; we have really tough practices and it shows.”

This year, the coaches added a fourth goal that reflects the players’ coming of age, and that’s to make them the most prepared freshmen as they begin their high schools careers. Colleges are increasingly recruiting high school freshmen these days and coaches Smalley and Elmendorf want these guys to be prepared for the landscape they’re about to walk out onto.

“Our coach always tells us that we’re not playing up, we’re just playing our age,” 2023 Andy Perez told PG on Monday. “It’s going to make us better more ready for high school. That’s our No. 1 goal is to be the most prepared freshmen in high school.”

Despite the fact that the CF Select has doubled 19 times in these first five games, Smalley said it’s vitally important that this team takes care of the small stuff first, things like playing good defense and running the bases well that can serve to complement solid pitching and timely hitting.

He went on to say that so far at this BCS championship, he feels like his pitchers have been throwing strikes and doing a nice job holding runners and his glove-men in field are holding up their end.

Both Smalley and Elmendorf have sons on the team – Dillon Smalley and Devon Elmendorf – an arrangement that Smalley called both fun and challenging. He said they’ll probably do this 14u thing together for another season and then let the boys go their own way.

“I don’t want to coach my son once he’s in high school; I want him to play for someone else,” Smalley said. “But it’s a lot of fun coaching our kids and honestly, we feel like they’re all our kids. We’ve known most of these kids long enough that we know which ones need a kick in the rear and which ones need a pat on the back; you coach each one a little bit differently.”

Keeping things loose and fun is the highest priority for everyone involved with the Central Florida Select. Smalley noted that despite its youth, this is a collection of players and families that has already done a lot of traveling together and has formed what will likely be life-long bonds for many of them.

They’ve already learned how to keep a nice balance between having fun at the hotel, hanging with their buddies, swimming in the pool and doing that whole Play Station things. But they’re also here to play baseball and five games into the PG 14u BCS National Championship they’ve been doing that very well.

“It’s just fun to be with this team at a hotel for a weeklong tournament,” Perez said. “It really helps build up how you work together and how you can stay strong. … For me, my fun comes from succeeding, and do what I can try my best all the time to work together as a team and win (games).”

Reflecting on last year’s 101-9 season, Smalley said that a record that gaudy is simply not a realistic expectation moving forward; the CF Select is 15-7-2 at PG tournaments this spring/summer. Playing at the 14u level where they’ve learned a little about losing has been good for them, Smalley said.

“They’ve started to understand how to handle failure,” he added. “We talk about ‘Don’t let 0-for1 turn into 0-for-3’ type of things and the kids are doing much better than I expected. I expected us to be a .500 team this year and they’re far exceeding those expectations.”

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