Tournaments : : Story
Thursday, July 19, 2012

Scorps 17u live to play another day

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

FORT MYERS, Fla. - The Orlando Scorpions 17u Purple had just stung SWFL 17u, 9-2, in a quarterfinal playoff game at the Perfect Game 17u BCS Finals late Thursday afternoon, when slugging first baseman Gunnar McNeill let loose with a battle cry of sorts.

"We live to play another day, guys," he yelled out as the team walked off the field at the Player Development 5-Plex. Just a few moments later as the sixth-seeded Scorpions 17u walked into their dugout contemplating a spot in Friday morning's semifinals, McNeill spoke briefly with Perfect Game.

"I think we're catching fire at the right time. Today our bats came out alive," he said. "We had a letdown against Bucky Dent (Academy), but we're doing it good right now so we're going to try to ride it to the finals."

The Scorpions 17u Purple beat the SE Texas Gladiators, 9-0, in the first round of the 17u BCS Finals playoffs for their fourth straight win early Thursday afternoon; they lost their third game here this week, 5-2 to Bucky Dent Academy before winning their final three pool games. Coincidentally, Bucky Dent Academy will provide the opposition in Friday morning's semifinal round.

The sixth-seeded Orlando Scorpions 17u Purple (7-1) and No. 7 Bucky Dent Academy (7-1) will meet in one 17u BCS Finals semifinal game Friday at 9 a.m. on Field 3 at the Lee County Sports Complex, the spring training home of the Minnesota Twins. Top-seeded SCORE International (8-0) will face the No. 5 East Cobb 16u (7-1) in the other semifinal on Field 5 at Lee County, also at 9 a.m.

The 17u BCS Finals championship game will be played at venerable Hammond Stadium on the Lee County Sports Complex grounds at 11:30 a.m.

It should surprise no one that the Scorpions 17u Purple are in the final four, even if they did enter the playoffs as the No. 6 seed. The Orlando Scorpions organization is one of the nation's finest and consistently turns out teams that are capable of contending for Perfect Game national championships.

It was for that reason that Scorpions' head coach and general manager Matt Gerber was disturbed by his team's performance at the PG WWBA 2013 Grads or 17u National Championship up in Marietta, Ga., last week; the Scorps finished 4-3 and failed to make the playoffs.

"We were really disappointed that we didn't play well up in Atlanta," Gerber said Thursday. "I told the guys after our last game up there that we wanted to carry it over here and show what we can really do.

" We were very disappointed with how we played up there because we think we're one of the better (17u) clubs in the country," he continued. "The guys have really been playing with a lot of intensity and playing for a reason down here this week."

Eight to 10 of these players were on the team that lost in the championship game to SF Elite Squad 16u Black at the 2011 PG WWBA 2013 Grads or 16u National Championship. Some pitchers have been added, and a couple of position players, but it's basically the same group.

"The core of the group has been together with us and in our organization for four years," Gerber said. "They know how to win, they're battle-tested and they do a good job."

Twenty of the 24 prospects on the Orlando Scorpions 17u Purple roster have already committed to NCAA Division I schools, and it will be only a matter of time before the other four make their verbals. Ironically, two of those four - McNeill (2013, West Orange HS, Windermere, Fla.) and Zach Krider (Lake Brantley HS, Longwood, Fla.) are having outstanding tournaments this week.

McNeill, a 6-foot-3, 205-pounder ranked No. 172 nationally in the class of 2013, was 2-for-3 with a double, triple and three RBI in Thursday's win over SWFL. In eight tournament games this week, he is hitting 10-for-20 (.500) with four doubles, a triple, a home run, eight RBI and nine runs scored.

"I'm  just seeing the ball well and I'm putting some good swings on the ball, and that's about it," he said, adding he's in no real big hurry to make a college commitment.

"I have a few offers but I'm just waiting right now," he said. "In the fall we'll be going to Jupiter (PG WWBA World Championship) and then we'll just see what's going to go on."

Krider, ranked No. 148 in the 2013 class, was 10-for-22 (.455) with a pair of doubles, 10 RBI and six runs.

But it is a couple of Ole Miss commits who are really carrying the load. J.B. Woodman (2013, Edgewater HS, Orlando) is having a tournament for the ages, hitting .708 (17-for-24) with five doubles, four triples, a home run, 15 RBI and seven runs scored.

Tate Blackman (2014, Lake Brantley HS, Altamonte Springs, Fla.) is another Ole Miss commit who was 2-for-3 with a home run and three RBI in the quarterfinal victory, and is 7-for-18 (.389) with seven RBI in the tournament. Blackman is the No. 31-ranked overall national prospect in the class of 2014.

Woodman and Krider attended the Perfect Game National Showcase in Minneapolis in mid-June, and Blackman attended the PG Junior National Showcase, also in Minneapolis two days before the National.

"I love the coaches and I love my teammates - they're all great guys," Blackman said while at the PG Junior National of his relationship with the Orlando Scorpions. "I'd recommend the program to anyone any day; it's awesome to be with the Scorpions. Just being able to play for them, everybody knows the team and the program and they come and they come and watch you."

Gerber likes bringing his 17u team down here to the BCS Finals right on the heels of the PG WWBA National Championship. He likes the fact that the BCS Finals mandate the use of BBCOR bats, the same "metal" bats required by the NCAA.

"Most of these guys are going to play college baseball before they play pro baseball," he said. "These are the bats that they'll be using and the college (recruiters) that are here can get a look at them. A lot of people say there's not much difference between BBCOR and wood but I disagree; I still think there's a difference and you see that with a lot of the scores in this tournament."

The Orlando Scorpions 17u Purple squad expected to be playing in Friday morning's semifinals. They also don't expect it to end there.

"It's a good accomplishment, but we're not satisfied," Gerber said. "We still have some pitching left, so we're going to try to make a run at it during those two games (Friday) and see what we can do."

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