FORT MYERS, Fla. – It was just another unpredictable day in southwest Florida as the playoffs started in the 16u Florida State Championship tournament. Sixteen teams made their way through pool play and only four games separated a team from a championship. To the surprise of many, the biggest obstacle was actually the weather as games were delayed up to three hours. Teams waited around to see if they would even get to play their first round playoff games.
The schedule changed because of the rain making the winners of the round one games Tuesday have to play three games Wednesday to win it all, instead of just two.
The Florida Surge entered bracket play with a 4-0 record and the number one seed. They allowed only two runs in pool play, while scoring 28. They were matched up against the BPA 16u White, the number 16 seed. BPA, which called Orlando, FL home, were like many teams in this Florida State Championship tournament in that they dropped their opening game and roared back with three straight wins to receive a berth into the playoffs. BPA head coach Frank Martz made it clear to his team that seeding meant nothing as they prepared for their game against the Surge.
“We have a very good program at Baseball Pros Academy (BPA), and we have played this team before and beaten them before,” Martz said. “They have an excellent team. It’s important as a takeaway for me as a coach that these young guys know how to ignore the seeding and play the game.”
The Surge got off to a hot start scoring three times in the bottom of the first inning thanks to some solid hitting with runners in scoring position. With one out in the frame, Martz decided to yank his starter and bring in Jacob Wood. That’s when the entire game shifted.
The top of the second inning saw 11 BPA batters come to the plate and resulted in a six-run inning. BPA capitalized on a few mistakes by the Surge and also played team-baseball by getting guys on by walks and hit batters, while also sacrificing runners over. Wood summed up his team’s approach by saying, “we are here to play for the team and not for individuals.”
After taking over in the first inning, Wood went straight to work. He commanded the strike zone for the rest of the game throwing 61 percent of his pitches for strikes. He battled all day long and allowed just three hits and no earned runs. Wood was able to mix his pitches well by getting the Surge hitters to chase his high fastball as well as his sweeping curveball low in the zone. He finished with 10 strikeouts and only ran into trouble in the sixth inning when the Surge had bases loaded and the tying runner at the plate with two outs.
“I just had to throw strikes at that point,” Wood said of the situation in the sixth inning. “I was a little scared, but I came back.”
Wood’s performance led his team to a 7-3 victory and a berth into the quarterfinals Wednesday. He was put in a rare situation to come in relief very early in the game, but he went about his business and pitched great for his team.
“It’s important for young players to learn to come in during important situations where there is a lot of stress and learn to control their emotions, and Jacob did an excellent job,” Martz said.
Although they were the underdogs according to seeding, BPA had the psychological edge throughout the game. Their players were plugged into the game, and members of the team played a key role in the game. They constantly stayed behind their teammates by chattering from the dugout and having a positive attitude. If bystanders were unaware of either team’s record heading into the game, they would have thought BPA was the team that was projected to win the game because of their body language and confidence.
“What our guys did was stay in the game,” Martz said. “They learned to smell the blood in the water and go for it. We’ve been talking to these kids about being predators or being the prey, and today they learned to be the predator.”
“It’s a team game, and you never know which piece you are going to need. So, when they stay in the game, I have a lot of tools in my toolbox as a coach. Those guys did an excellent job of staying in the game and being ready for their role.”
Having faced adversity by losing their first game of the tournament, BPA knew what it was going to take to get back to playing their brand of baseball. Martz had conversation with his team about how to get to the next level. He was simple in telling them what it took, and it was not something that was unreachable.
“Players at the next level have to learn how to win, score, and get outs,” Martz said. “The first game we gave away some outs, and we didn’t score when we had opportunities. And, what we did today and the two prior games was really focus on those two really important elements: getting outs and scoring runs.”
BPA set themselves up nicely after their win against the Surge. They knocked off what looked to be the best team in the tournament, and they now have the confidence that they can play with anyone.
In the quarterfinals, they are matched up against another team that went 3-1 in pool play: the FTB Max Bats. When 8:00 AM rolls around Wednesday morning, Martz will be looking for his team to be locked in again. Feeding off of their win against the Surge and the dominant pitching performance by Wood, BPA is hungry to claim a Perfect Game title.