FORT MYERS, Fla. - The Sunshine State has failed miserably in living up to its slogan over the past week - at least down here in southwest Florida and the greater Fort Myers metropolitan area - as the Perfect Game 15u and 13u BCS Finals attempt to wrap up their six-day runs on Friday.
Finally, at about 10 p.m. (EDT) on Thursday the final four in each PG national tournament had been determined, about six hours later than originally scheduled.
Once play was able to continue at fabled Terry Park - the only venue in the entire metropolitan area that somehow escaped heavy rain on Thursday - three of the top five seeds in both the 15u and 13u BCS Finals brackets had survived to play semifinal games Friday morning - weather permitting.
The top-seeded Columbus Sharks (8-0-0) and No. 5 Elite Baseball (7-1-0) will meet in one 15u semifinal at 9 a.m. at City of Palms Park while the No. 2 and defending champion East Cobb Astros (8-0-0) will face No. 11 Team IMPACT (6-2-0) in the other 9 a.m. semi, also at COP. The 15u BCS Finals championship game is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. at COP's main stadium.
Because Terry Park missed most of the rain Thursday, the 13u BCS Finals playoffs weren't delayed nearly as long as the 15u BCS Finals games, which were rained out at both the JetBlue Complex and the Player Development 5-Plex.
The semifinalists had been determined by 7:30 p.m. and include No. 8 Mizuno Tampa Boltz (5-2-1) playing No. 5 MBA Pride Elite (7-1-0) and No. 2 Team Florida (8-0-0) against No. 3 Team Elite White (8-0-0) in Friday morning's final four. The semis will be played at 9 a.m. at the Player Development 5-Plex and the championship game is slated for 2 p.m. at COP.
Remarkably, all eight of the top seeds won their first-round playoff games to advance to the quarterfinals.
All the rain made for a long day, especially for the 15u's. Bill Kegler, the head coach of the final four-bound and top-seeded Sharks said it took its toll.
"It's very difficult, especially on the kids because they've been up since 9 o'clock this morning ready to go, and they're going to be up and ready to go for almost 12 hours by the time the (quarterfinal) is over," Kegler said before his team beat No. 8 Twelve Black in the round of eight.
"It is tough on them. It doesn't matter (that they're 15) they're tired; the humidity has taken it out of them, and you worry about arms, and catchers and pitchers and everything like that."
Justin Stone, the head coach of Elite Baseball, said the long delays can have an effect on 15-year-olds, but not noticeably more so than any other age-group.
"I don't think it has any more effect as what it has on any other level," Stone said before Elite Baseball upset No. 4 Boca Thunder Baseball, 5-3, in the quarterfinals. "You go to the college or the professional level, you're fighting the same thing, and it's the manager's or the coaches job to get their kids ready to play under circumstances.
"Whether it's a 162-game season when that becomes a grind, or a college season where you fight a lot of outside distractions or a 15 year old kid where you're fighting maturity, you still have the challenge of getting a guy ready to play whether it's 9 o'clock in the morning or after a 4-hour rain delay."
Team IMPACT calls nearby Naples, Fla., its home base and head coach Charlie Mauer readily admitted that the long weather delays probably had less affect on his team than some of the other playoff qualifiers.
"Luckily, we're a local team, and we have the luxury of being 30 or 40 minutes away and getting on our couches and sleeping in our own beds, and getting off our feet and not working out of a hotel room and everybody having dry clothes" he said. "I think that's a big benefit to having such a hot-spot for baseball (Fort Myers) so local, and it's a lot easier when you're at home with all the creature comforts instead of sitting in a hotel room."
The states of Ohio, Illinois, Georgia and Florida are represented in the 15u BCS Finals final four, with the Columbus, Ohio-based Sharks facing Chicago-based Elite Baseball in one of the semis. They're both thrilled to be representatives of northern programs.
"We've got a group of kids; I mean, they can play," the Sharks' Kegler said. "Just because we're from up north where everybody thinks sometimes we can't play, we can play a little bit. We don't look at that as a disadvantage. It's probably more of an advantage because it gets the kids motivated. They know when they go south they have to be at their best."
Elite Baseball's Stone was a D-I coach at Indiana State University and worked the last eight years in the Chicago White Sox organization. All of his roster spots are filled with Illinois boys, most from the Chicago area.
"When you come from the Midwest and you play on the West Coast and you play in the Southeast, there's always that unknown that's out there - where do you stand, where do you fit in," Stone said. "I think it's a continuation of building these kids' psyche on what their high-end goals are in the of baseball.
"These guys all want to play nationally at Division I schools, some of them are going to play pro ball and it's important that they get down here and compete so that they know they can compete against the best in the country."
No. 14 seed Hit & Run Baseball (4-4-0) pulled the biggest upset of the 15u's first round when it escaped No. 3 Georgia Roadrunners Blue (6-1-0), 4-3. Hit & run lost to Team IMPACT in the quarterfinals, but it was a good run for the Lutz, Fla.-based team coached by ex-big-leaguer Midre Cummings.
"We come in to compete. These kids train to compete and that's what we're going to do," Cummings said before the quarterfinal loss. "But we've ran into six, seven real good teams and we've been in every single game. The tide has been turning for us a little bit and we've been on the winning end instead of the losing end, and the kids have been working hard and they're really enjoying it.
"It's never a surprise. We've been playing well all week," he continued. "It's been a good ride and these kids have been working hard through the whole summer. It's not about winning, it's about playing the game the right way, and we've been playing the game the right way for the last couple of games. Good things happen with kids that work hard."
Mauer is just thrilled to have Team IMPACT still playing on Friday.
"To be able to play against the caliber of teams that pull from the areas that they pull from, to come from a small town like Naples and make a run with these big guys, it's huge to get to the final day," he said. "At the 15 year old level, they're still kids, and you have to take each game game-by-game, That's the easiest way to make a run. Every team here is here for reason ... and it would just be huge for the program to be able to make it into (Friday)."