Tournaments : : Story
Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Delays OK, playing ball better

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Rock and Roll Hall-of-Famer Tom Petty once lamented in verse that "the waiting is the hardest part." While that might be true more often than not in love and life, sometimes waiting around in hotel rooms and hanging out at hotel swimming pools can be just what is needed for a baseball team made up of 14- and 15-year-olds.

"There's been a lot of team-bonding at the hotel that we get use to at a lot of these tournaments, especially the Perfect Game (events) where you stay a little bit longer," MBA Pride Elite head coach Phillip Hurst said right before his team was to take the field against the East Cobb Expos in a rain-delayed first-round playoff game at the 15u PG BCS Finals national championship tournament.

 "It's just hanging out and enjoying time away from home -- it's everybody's summer vacation so we're just having a little fun with it."

Occupying the other dugout was East Cobb Expos' head coach Nic Crisp, who was pretty sure the most recent of the tournament's rain delays -- this one followed by a couple of short cloudbursts that delayed the start of the first-round playoff games from 4:30 p.m. (EDT) until roughly 6:30 p.m. -- wouldn't have any effect on his young players.

"It's a resilient bunch," Crisp said from the field at the main stadium at Terry Park while the grounds crew repeated what has become a daily ritual of grooming the infield. "These guys work their butts off all year long and they're just excited to get a chance to play on these nice fields down here at these facilities.

"They're use to it, because whenever we play in south Florida there's usually a lot of bad weather; they're a resilient bunch that enjoy playing the game and they're excited to get the opportunity to be in the playoffs."

Games got played and playoff brackets took shape at both the 15u PG BCS Finals and the 14u PG BCS Finals on Tuesday.

The 14u BCS Finals are right on schedule, in fact, with a final four of No. 5-seed Palm Beach County PAL 14u (West Palm Beach, Fla.) versus No. 1 Houston (Texas) Banditos Black and No. 11 Dallas Tigers Woods (Coppell, Texas) vs. the No. 7 Arena Starz (Baltimore, Md.) in a pair of semifinals Wednesday at 9 a.m. at City of Palms Park. The championship game is slated for 11:30 a.m. at the main stadium at COP.

No. 2 Xtreme Baseball (Fort Myers) and the No. 4 Midland Tribe (Cincinnati, Ohio) were eliminated in the playoff's first round, and the No. 3 Georgia Jackets went by the wayside in the quarterfinals.

The 15u PG BCS Finals bracket isn't as far along. The first-round playoff games weren't completed until late Tuesday night, the quarterfinal and semifinal games will be played Wednesday morning at the former Boston Red Sox Player Development 5-Plex, with the championship game scheduled for 2 p.m. at City of Palms.

The East Cobb Expos, based in Marietta, Ga., beat the MBA Pride Elite, 4-2, on Tuesday to advance to Wednesday's quarterfinals.

This East Cobb Expos team is not a typical East Cobb Baseball team in that its roster is much more diverse than the ECB teams that are stocked primarily with talent from Georgia. The EC Expos program has scouts stationed all over the country that put together a team with kids from coast-to-coast while still playing out of the East Cobb Complex in Marietta, Ga.

"It's team-building and team-bonding time," Crisp said of the intermittent downtime his team experienced this week. "We've got a group that has kids from all over the United States, from California to Texas to New York and from all over the place, so they needed a little time with that and it was very, very beneficial to our team for that time we enjoyed."

This MBA Pride team playing at the 15u PG BCS Finals is actually a 14u team, with its roster stacked with kids in the high school classes of 2017 and 2018. It is the third straight PG event that the teams has played up and age-group, and they're only getting strong because of it.

"We were more than happy to play up," Hurst said. "Our guys love challenges and we talked about it and we decided, hey, these guys are all preparing to play at the next level, whether it's high school, college, professional -- we're all getting prepared to do something later on in life. You're going to get challenged every step of the way and if you never challenge yourself you'll never know how good you can possibly be.

"Whenever you think about playing some of the better 15-year-old teams -- and not just in Florida but in the country -- to be the No. 2 overall seed when pool-play was over, I think that was outstanding for a bunch of 14-year-olds."

The Texas Drillers (Spring, Texas) rolled into the 15u PG BCS Finals as the No. 1 seed after completing two sets of pool-play with a 6-0 record; they beat No. 16 So Cal National Travel Team, 9-0, in the first round of the playoffs. The MBA Pride Elite (Daytona Beach, Fla.), the Reivers Elite (Bayamon, P.R.) and the East Cobb Tigers (Marietta, Ga.) were the Nos. 2 through 4 seeds after also completing pool-play at 6-0.

The East Cobb Expos barely slid into the round of 16 after finishing 4-2 in pool-play; they were the No. 15 seed.

"They support each other and they root for each other no matter what they're doing," Crisp said. "They all do it together and they're always cheering for each other and that's what it takes to be a team. Last year we finished in the top-eight of this thing and we expected that or better this year. So we'll see how it goes today."

The East Cobb Expos survived on Tuesday to play another day. The better team on paper -- the MBA Pride Elite -- will return to Daytona Beach no worse for the wear and as proud of their intent and their accomplishments as any other team in the field.

"We come into every event -- not matter if we're playing up or we're playing the same age-level or whatever we're doing -- with the same expectations, and that's to play MBA baseball," Hurst said. "We want to represent our team, the organization and the parents that spend a lot of time traveling with these kids right here, and every event that we go to our goal is to be the guy holding the trophy at the end."

The waiting can be the hardest part. There's always next year, after all.

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