FORT MYERS, Fla. – A smothering late-spring heat has hung over this southwest Florida city the entire Memorial Day weekend. And on Sunday, a different kind of Heat made an appearance.
The Ocala Heat, a 17U team representing Ocala (Fla.) Heat Baseball Academy, made a surprising run at the Perfect Game 18U WWBA Memorial Day Classic over the past three days. The Heat went 3-0 in pool play and picked up the No. 4 seed for the playoffs, which they kicked-off Sunday night against the Florida Pokers 18U White at Terry Park.
You can count Heat Coach Eric Martinez among those mildly surprised. The Ocala Heat Baseball Academy has been in existence for only six months.
“I am a little bit,” Martinez said before his team’s game against the Pokers. “I knew we had a great group of kids. We’ve just got a great, hard-working group of kids. I thought it would be a little new to some of the kids and they might falter a little bit, but hey, they’re tough, they came in here and they’re playing good ball.”
The Heat’s run to the playoffs was fueled by its pitching staff.
Right-hander Garrison Vandeventer (2013, Silver Springs, Fla.) threw four innings of two-hit, shutout ball with six strikeouts and one walk in a tournament-opening 2-0 win over Florida Flash 18U; right-hander Dalton Southerland (2013, Lake Butler, Fla.) allowed only four hits in six scoreless innings in a 1-0 win over Ostinger’s Baseball Academy; and righty Conner Hannah (2012, Dunnellton, Fla.) allowed one run in five innings with five strikeouts in a 5-2 pool championship-clinching win over Team Velusia Black.
“We’re getting great pitching, great pitching – phenomenal pitching,” Martinez said. “And really, we’re known more for out bats so it’s great to see the pitchers relaxed, throwing strikes and doing the little things. We preach the little things.”
The bats weren’t totally silent. Shawn Sanders, Will Mackenzie, Ryan Crile and Dallton Martinez have all had multi-hit games.
Dalton Martinez is Coach Eric Martinez’s nephew and the son of Tampa Bay Rays bench coach Dave Martinez. Dave Martinez was instrumental in getting the Ocala Heat Baseball Academy up-and-running just six months ago.
“Things are going great,” Eric Martinez said. “We’ve got a 17U team, a 16U team, 14, 13 and 10. We’re trying to it right.”
Regardless of how this tournament ends for the Ocala Heat, they have already been noticed. And Martinez wants to make sure the academy and its reputation continues to grow.
“We want to be there for north-central Florida, being from Ocala,” Martinez said. “We feel there is a void that needs to be filled for these kids, and we want to be some place where the kids can develop and get better and move on to the next level. All of these kids have an opportunity, in our eyes, to play at the next level. We were given opportunities at that age to play at the next level and we want these kids to have the same thing.”