Tournaments : : Story
Friday, March 29, 2013

Showdown: Venice High School

Jeff Dahn         Todd Gold        
Photo: Perfect Game
2013 Perfect Game High School Showdown event page

Perfect Game High School Showdown Team Previews:

Florida Georgia
Venice Indians Parkview Panthers
Sarasota Sailors Blessed Trinity Titans
Mater Academy Lions
Cartersville Hurricanes
Montverde Academy Eagles Savannah Christian Raiders

Venice Indians - Roster | Schedule

Third-ranked Venice (Fla.) High School is spending this weekend at the USA Baseball National High School Invitational in Cary, N.C. Next weekend, the Indians will get an opportunity to play just as good competition, but a little closer to home.

Venice, with one of the top high school programs in the state of Florida under 14-year head coach Craig Faulkner, will also be one the headliners at the inaugural Perfect Game High School Showdown, slated to run April 4-6 at Terry Park and City of Palms Park in Fort Myers, Fla. The tournament is a Florida vs. Georgia faceoff, with four of the top teams from each state going head-to-head with each other.

Faulkner couldn't be happier about playing four games in three days at the PG HS Showdown right on the heels of playing four games in four days at the NHSI.

"Playing in back-to-back tournaments is going to be a great test for us," Faulkner said. "Every team is a good team and that's really what we need to get ready to finish out the season."

The Indians won the Florida Class 7A state championship in 2012 (Faulkner also coached the 2007 Indians to a state title) and nine players that have either signed with or committed to college programs return from that team. They won 13 of their first 14 games to start this season.

"They're a bunch of winners," Faulkner said. "They won the state championship last year and a lot of the same players are back. We have a lot of guys who have committed, and deservingly so. They're good players and they play together and they can play small-ball and they can hit the long-ball, too."

The top guys include 2013s first baseman/outfielder Nick Longhi (Louisiana State), right-hander Cooper Hammond (Miami) and shortstop/third baseman Colton Lightner (Stetson); and 2014s shortstop/outfielder Dalton Guthrie (Florida), outfielder/first baseman/right-hander Brandon Elmy (Furman) and catcher Mike Rivera.

Faulkner is himself a Venice graduate and played collegiately at LSU for legendary coach Skip Bertman; the Tigers advanced to the College World Series in 1986 and '87 when Faulkner was doing the catching in Baton Rouge. He went on to play in the minor leagues for all or parts of eight seasons in the Orioles, Brewers and Cardinals organizations and began his coaching career with the Baltimore Orioles after ending his playing days in 1994. He returned to Venice as an assistant coach in 1997 and took over as head coach in 1999.

One of the assistants on Faulkner's coaching staff is 15-year big-league veteran pitcher Mark Guthrie, Dalton's father. Mark Guthrie and Faulkner spent this past summer coaching the Florida Burn travel ball team to three prominent Perfect Game tournament championships -- the 16u PG World Series, the PG WWBA Underclass World Championship and the PG WWBA Florida Qualifier -- and nine current Venice players were on those Florida Burn rosters.

"It's great because there's such good competition," Faulkner said of the summer-ball experience. "And when you've got good coaching to go along with it -- coaches don't overthrow pitchers and make them play the game the way the game is suppose to be played -- it can't do anything but make them better. Playing on the Florida Burn those kids saw great competition and it made them better players."

High School Team Breakdown: Venice High School

Top Prospects (Position, Class, PG National Rank):

1.  Nick Longhi, 1B/LHP, 2013, 40
2.  Brandon Elmy, OF/RHP, 2014, 86
3.  Dalton Gulthrie, SS/OF, 2014, 92
4.  Michael Rivera, C/3B, 2014, 333
5.  Cooper Hammond, RHP, 2013, Top 1,000

The conversation clearly begins with 2013 1B/LHP Nick Longhi. Not only does Longhi feature legitimately usable in-game power to all fields, he has an advanced hitting approach and has demonstrated the ability to control his at-bats, even against the highest caliber of high school pitchers.

But make no mistake, the Indians are not a one man team by any stretch. This is a team that boasts six starting position players with Division I commitments. 2014 C Michael Rivera was named MVP of the 2012 WWBA Florida Qualifier. 2014 SS Dalton Guthrie is slated to join Rivera at the University of Florida, and is currently ranked in the top 100 prospects in the nation for the class of 2014.

Not only do the Indians boast multiple impact bats, a luxury even in the state of Florida, but they have a lineup full of tough outs, so it should come as no surprise that they're averaging nearly six runs a game to this point.

While the only primary pitcher on the roster with a commitment to a major Division I program is sidewinding 2013 RHP Michael Hammond (Miami), the entire staff has done an excellent job to this point in the season. The Indians have allowed 16 runs in their first 14 games on the season. Half of those 14 games have been shutouts, including a stretch of five straight where they didn't allow a run from February 19 through March 12 (when fellow PG HS Showdown competitor Sarasota finally snapped the streak).

Hammond serves as the relief ace for the Indians, coming into games out of the bullpen when a tough situation arises, and has been able to work relatively long stints out of the bullpen. That kind of flexibility is huge for Venice and that combined with their high caliber defensive play are a big part of why they've been so stingy in the runs allowed column in spite of lacking a high end pitching prospect. Longhi is a highly effective lefty that can be used at times as well, while 2013 RHP Tyson Albert and 2014 OF/RHP Brandon Elmy each got a start in Venice's 2-0 beginning to the 2013 NHSI. 

Venice came into this week ranked third in the nation as play began at the National High School Invitational in Cary, NC. After an expected opening victory over Christian Brothers (TN), they met the No. 2 ranked team in the Nation: Cathedral Catholic (CA). A resounding 7-1 victory in that matchup has them poised for a potential move up in the rankings into the top two should they continue their scucess. In spite of the level of competition they will face in Fort Myers, the Indians will enter the bracket as the favorites on paper to win it all.
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