Tournaments : : Story
Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Braves eye BCS bounce-back

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

FORT MYERS, Fla. - Tuesday's nearly day-long rain gave the Richmond Braves 2013 National team an unexpected day off at the Perfect Game 17u BCS Finals. It also left everyone from coaches to players to parents to tournament officials a little bit cranky at day's end.

But a tournament-tested group like the Richmond Braves is usually able to let the frustration roll off its back without much consequence.

"Everybody's anxious to play, but it's tough (weather-wise) down here and we know that," Richmond Braves 2013 head coach Tommy Mayers said Wednesday morning before his team finally got back into action after about a 42-hour layoff. "Perfect Game does a good job of getting everything done, and we just deal with it. We've been doing it long enough that it's not a big deal. It's tournament baseball, so we're used to it."

The Braves did stub their toe Wednesday morning, losing to the Orlando Scorpions 17u Purple at the Player Development 5-Plex in their first game of the decisive second round of three-game pool-play.

The loss may have hurt their chances of winning the pool championship - and gaining the automatic playoff berth that goes with the title - but it didn't necessarily eliminate them from playoff contention. If the Braves win their second game Wednesday night and their third Thursday morning, they would likely be in contention for one of the four wild-card berths into the 16-team playoffs.

Regardless of how things play out the rest of Wednesday and into Thursday, Mayers is happy to have to this talented Richmond, Va.-based group down here for this tournament.

Mayers, who with Jeff Roberts founded the Richmond Braves National Baseball organization in 1999, is at the BCS Finals for the first time as the Braves coach, having sent younger teams with other coaches down to the tournament in the past.

"I like it; I like the Fort Myers area and I like this event," he said. "We went to Atlanta and played and then came straight down here, so we're in our second week on the road, basically. But the week's going good so far."

The Braves 2013 were at the PG WWBA 2013 Grads or 17u National Championship in Marietta, Ga., last week, where they went 6-1 in pool-play and gave up only nine total runs but missed the playoffs due to tie-breaker criteria.

The loss, a 2-1 heart-breaker lost in the bottom of the seventh inning, was the first pool-play loss for a Richmond Braves team at a PG WWBA event in the last 10 appearances. Wednesday's loss in a BCS Finals pool game was also a rarity.

"I've got a good group, but it's not one of the more offensively-geared groups like I've had in the past," Mayers said. "They're solid, they execute well (and) I've got a lot of speed. If we get on base and start doing things, then a lot of good things are going to happen."

The roster features five 2013 prospects that have committed to NCAA Division I schools: first baseman/left-hander Bryce Harman and shortstop Charlie Yorgen, both with East Carolina; left-hander/first baseman Austin Nicely and right-hander Jack Roberts, both with Virginia; and right-hander Ryan Lauria, with Louisville.

"In the last few years we've been getting between 40 and 50 kids per class into college, which is really good," Mayers said. "Last summer a lot of our high-end guys committed as rising juniors, so we're just working on getting the rest of the guys into their respective schools."

Of those top prospects, the 6-foot-6, 205-pound Harman (Lloyd C. Bird HS, Chesterfield, Va.) stands out. Perfect Game ranks him the No. 73 overall national prospect in his class, and No. 2 among Virginia 2013s.

Through the Braves' first four games here, he was 5-for-13 (.385) with a triple, five RBI and four runs scored. He had yet to appear on the mound, where his fastball has touched 91 mph.

"This is a good tournament and I think we've really got a good shot at winning it," Harman said before Wednesday's loss. "You need good hitting, good pitching, good defense, and you need to play mistake-free ball and get the job done."

Harman was named to the all-tournament team at the PG WWBA 17u - as a pitcher. He worked six hitless innings, walking two, with 10 strikeouts in just one outing, and a PG scout noted that Harman "has outstanding arm speed and an explosive, overpowering fastball ."

But it's also obvious he likes to hit, as well, and has weighed the differences between wood bats, used at the WWBA, and BBCOR bats, the use of which is mandated at the BCS Finals.

"I was thinking about the other day before we came down here, and I decided I really swinging wood," Harman said. "It just feels right, and for some reason the BBCOR just doesn't feel right in my hands. But I'm going to start swinging (the BBCOR) a lot now just to get used to it."

It's possible Harman will be a two-way player at East Carolina, which is located in Greenville, N.C., and is a member of Conference USA. Head coach Billy Godwin started recruiting Harman in the fall of sophomore year.

"It's a great school and a great baseball program, and I just love the coaching staff," Harman said. "The head coach (Godwin) is a great guy and the first time I ever talked to him I got a good vibe from him.

The Richmond Braves National Baseball organization has been involved with Perfect Game for close to a decade. It took a 14u team to the first PG WWBA 16u National Championship held in Bourbonnais, Ill., in late July 2004, one of just eight teams in the field. This year's WWBA 16u National Championship, being held this week in Marietta, Ga., features a 242-team field.

This summer, the organization fielded 15 teams: one 12u, two 13s, two 14s, two 15s, five 16s and three 17s.

Richmond Braves teams won a PG WWBA 15u National Championship title in 2005 and a PG WWBA 16u National Championship crown in 2008. They also finished as runner-up in 16u and 17u National Championships in different years.

"Perfect Game has treated us well and we look forward to coming to their events," Mayers said. "And we go into every event expecting to be playing at the end."

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