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Tournaments | Story | 7/16/2019

Rallying around the Rebels

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Cameron Collier (Perfect Game)

FORT MYERS, Fla. – There’s a travel ball program based in Sarasota, Fla., that has been winning a lot of games on the Perfect Game tournament circuit this summer. It has “Florida” in its name and has continued to perform to rave reviews at this week’s PG 16u BCS National Championship.

And, no, it isn’t the Florida Burn.

The Florida Rebels, looking sharp in their powder blue uniforms, ran their pool-play record to 4-0-0 with a victory Tuesday morning at the jetBlue Park Player Development Complex and are 27-4-1 in PG tournament-play this summer.

They’ve won three PG tournament championships during the calendar year and the players and coaches alike feel they have a legitimate shot at winning a PG national championship when the 16u BCS concludes on Saturday.

The Rebels have certainly been dominant over the first three days of play here, outscoring their first four pool-play opponents by a combined 45-8; their batters have rapped out 41 hits, 16 of the extra-base variety.

“We’ve been known to swing it but last season it seems like we were known mostly our gloves,” top-500 2021 outfielder/infielder Mason Janz told PG Tuesday morning. “And now, we kind of started hitting out of nowhere and  we were, like, OK, we’ll take  it.”

Janz has singled, doubled and tripled in six at-bats (.500), driven in five runs and scored three. Top-500 2021 Aaron Deegan can already count two doubles and a triple amongst his six hits and he’s already driven in 10 runs while scoring four.

Top-500 2020 Cameron Collier, a South Florida commit, has doubled four times in eight at-bats and has four RBI and six runs scored; 2021 Brady Jernigan has a double and four singles in eight trips (.625).

Florida Rebels head coach Jeff Waldschmidt used 11 pitchers in the four games and they combined to allow only three earned runs in 21 innings (1.00 ERA) on 15 hits with 15 strikeouts. 2021 right-hander Ezra Brennan worked four, three-hit shutout innings and 2021 righty Karson Ligon, a Miami commit ranked No. 221 nationally, went 3 2/3 innings without giving up an earned run on three hits.

The winning started early for the Rebels this year when they captured the title at the PG Underclass East MLK Championships played in January here in Fort Myers; Collier was named the Most Valuable Player at the event.

Next up came a championship at the PG 16u WWBA East Memorial Day Classic, also played in Fort Myers, and Deegan was named the MVP. The ball kept rolling for the Rebels when they wore the championship crown at the PG 16u Florida World Series, with Deegan winning MV Pitcher honors.

“We won our first one in January and then we just brought the momentum from the high school season into the summer,” Janz said. “We won our first one and we thought, OK, this is good. We won the second one and we said, let’s try to make it to three in a row and then we won the third one and we said, ‘OK, I guess we’re pretty good.’”

The Rebels’ roster was constructed around prospects from the Sarasota-Bradenton-St. Petersburg-Tampa area. Six of the players attend Braden River High School in Bradenton and three others attend Osceola HS but after that it’s kind of mix and match.

“We’re just a bunch of friends who all live about 30 minutes away from each other,” Janz said. “We’ve been playing with each other our whole entire lives.”

It’s not a flashy collection of athletes at first glance with just the handful of top-500 guys along with the highly ranked pitchers Ligon and 2021 righty Lucas Hartman (No. 257); Collier and Ligon are the only commits so far.

“We’re not the kind of team that has all the (college) commits,” Collier told PG on Tuesday. “So it’s cool when you play all these teams that do (have commits) … and we always seem to finish on top. People are like, ‘Dang, the Florida Rebels won again,’ and it’s just pretty cool. …

“It’s simply because of how well we play,” he continued. “We’ll get ‘em on, we’ll get ‘em over and we’ll get ‘em in. We do what we have to do to win and it’s a cool feeling … being the local kids that just keep winning.”

Collier went to describe a dugout filled with guys who have become especially tight because everyone’s local and a lot of them have been playing with or against each other since they were eight or nine years old. He called it “cool” that they were all together this weekend playing in a 16u PG national championship tournament along with some of the top 16u programs in the country.

It’s obvious in the way they carry themselves that the Florida Rebels don’t play with any kind of chip on their collective shoulder but at the same time they aren’t ignorant of the realities.

It’s easy for people to look at the rosters of the other powerhouse programs from just north of here along Florida’s Gulf Coast – the Florida Burn program has won multiple PG national championships in the last five years or so – and assume the Rebels don’t stand a chance when they meet head-to-head. And we all know what happens when you assume …

“A lot of (these players) have been asked to join a larger organization but they’ve stayed together because they’re mostly homegrown and they’re from three or four major high schools,” Rebels third base coach Trey Corish said on Tuesday. “They’ve just played well against the better teams; they get up for the big games.”

Janz also said that several of the Rebels’ players have had contact with a few of the larger programs but, in his words, they “respectfully declined” the overtures.

“It’s really fun, honestly,” he  said when asked what it means to be a part of the Rebels program. “It’s the best kids from all the high schools around (one area) and we just go out and have a lot of fun together.”

Everyone knows that winning is fun and when a team wins 85 percent of its games over one season of PG tournament-play, that team must be having a blast.

“Throughout the whole summer it’s just been nothing but positive energy and forward momentum,” Collier said. “Everyone’s developed like crazy this summer so it’s pretty cool how that plays out on the field.”

The PG 16u BCS National Championship is the Florida Rebels’ swan song for the summer of 2019, but if this team was a Broadway show you could definitely say it put registered Tony Award winning performances from the opening act in January until the final curtain in late July.

“It has been an excellent run,” Corish said. “We’ve pitched well, we’ve hit well; our top five, six seven kids have mashed all summer long; it’s been good.”

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