Tournaments : : Story
Sunday, October 11, 2009

Bass caps off victory for Florida Mustangs

Jim Ecker        
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Sam Bass isn't sure why his cap kept flying off his head when he pitched in the WWBA Underclass World Championship at Terry Park on Sunday evening. He'd throw a strike, then bend over and retrieve his cap. He'd get an out, then bend over and pick it up again.
 
Sometimes his cap falls off when he pitches, sometimes it doesn't. "The other day it didn't," Bass said.
 
He can be successful either way.
 
Bass lost his cap on a regular basis Sunday while tossing a complete game as the Florida Mustangs stopped FTB Mizuno, 6-2, in the quarterfinals of the WWBA tournament in a matchup of teams from the Sunshine State.
 
Earlier in the tournament, Bass pitched three innings in a combined no-hitter for the Mustangs. That time, his cap stayed firmly on his noggin.
 
Florida Mustangs Coach L.C. Smith doesn't care if the cap stays put or not. He just appreciates the progress Bass has made as a pitcher since August, with or without a hat.
 
"He's made a 180-degree turnaround since late this summer," Smith said. "We played in Fort Myers, back in the BCS tournament, and he had a little rough time. Tonight he came out and was just flawless with his walks and control. I'm really proud of him. He's come a long way in the past two months."
 
Bass, a 5-foot-11, 155-pound junior from Crestview, Fla., scattered five hits in the seven-inning game and allowed just one earned run. He struck out four batters and walked only one of the 27 batters he faced. He finished with a flourish, striking out the final batter with an 81 mph fastball, matching his best fastball of the day.
 
"I felt good, felt good," he said. "I could keep going."
 
The Mustangs can keep going, too, all the way to the semifinals on Monday morning. The Mustangs will face the Midland Braves/Royals Scout Team at 9 a.m. on the Stadium Field at the City of Palms Park in Fort Myers. Meanwhile, the East Cobb Braves will play the Orlando Scorpions Black team at 9 a.m. on the Auxiliary Field at City of Palms Park. The finals are scheduled for 11:30 a.m. at the Stadium Field.
 
Bass helped his own cause by driving in two runs, one of them with an RBI double in the sixth inning when the Mustangs scored three runs to make it 6-2.
 
Bass got plenty of help from center fielder Devante' Taylor, who made a terrific running catch of a long drive in left-center in the fifth inning. When the ball left the bat, it looked like a sure double or maybe a triple, but Taylor showed his great speed and ran it down. "After I got about halfway, I knew I had it," he said.
 
Smith has grown accustomed to seeing Taylor turn extra-base hits into outs. "He walks them down on a daily basis," he said.
 
Actually, "walk" is not the proper verb, not for a man who runs the 60-yard dash in 6.5 seconds. Taylor, a junior from Navarre, Fla., posted his 6.5 clocking when he won the "Fastest Man" competition at a Perfect Game event in Fort Myers this past summer. "He's got some wheels," said Smith.
 
Taylor is a comforting presence in center field for the Mustangs. "He's awesome," said Bass. "I love having him back there."
 
Taylor also helped spark the offense Sunday, going 2-for-3 with three RBIs. His two-run single gave Florida its 6-2 cushion in the sixth.
 
The Mustangs won three straight games on Sunday to reach the semifinals, just like all the semifinalists. All four teams have played six games in three days, and the two finalists will have played eight games in four days.
 
Smith has only 12 players on his roster and there are no reinforcements on the way. "We play with what we've got," he said, "and we play hard every day."
 
Smith said he's got a pitcher who's rested and fresh for the semifinals.
 
"I'm good," he said. "I've got one in the hole. I've got a pretty good arm. High 80s. He hasn't thrown an inning yet."
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