FORT MYERS, Fla. - SF Prospects co-founder and head coach Howard Steirn had no allusions about what awaited his ballclub when it arrived here this weekend to defend the championship it won at last year's Perfect Game 16u BCS Finals.
Defending champions typically have large targets on their backs, after all.
"I think everybody looks at the (Perfect Game) website (and) with the technology and all the information that's out there, people are definitely looking at how we performed the year before and they're going to want to get us early," Steirn said Sunday afternoon under a sweltering southwest Florida sun at the Lee County Sports Complex.
Appropriately, perhaps, an outfit by the name of the Cincinnati Heat toasted the SF Prospects, 1-0, in the tournament-opener for both teams. It was an eerily familiar situation for the Prospects, who started pool-play at this tournament a year ago with a 1-1 record before rattling off eight straight wins to claim the title.
The 2011 16u BCS Finals championship game was played in a steady light rain at City of Palms Park following a week plagued by persistent rain. This year's event kicked off with a high temperature and equally high humidity, but Steirn was, nonetheless, reminded of last year's event.
"We struggled at the beginning and then came back and obviously won out from that point on," Steirn said. "It was a great event and we always love doing the Perfect Game events. We like the formats for them and we like the facilities that Perfect Game provides. Unfortunately, this year it's brutally hot."
Just like last year, the tournament-opening loss will not be a deal-buster for the SF Prospects. They will play two more pool-play games on Monday - both at the Boston Red Sox's new JetBlue Player Development Complex - and then get ready for a second round of three pool-play games Wednesday and Thursday.
At the completion of pool-play Tuesday night, the 64 teams in 16u BCS Finals will be slotted into 16 new pools, featuring champions, runners-up and third- and fourth-place finishers from the original pools grouped into newly organized pools. Only the 16 pool champions from the second set of games will advance to Thursday's playoffs.
"There are pros and cons of any type of seeding; everybody debates that at the coaches' meeting and everybody discusses it," Steirn said. "I like it because it gives more kids the opportunity to play in the first three games and then it allows us to narrow things down and really focus on the second three, just like everybody else.
"They're holding their more talented pitchers until the last three (games) and it just gives everybody the opportunity to get some work in and get ready for the games that are ultimately going to really matter."
That in no way means to infer these first three games are "throwaway games." No one wants to go 0-3 in the first set of pool-play games and then hope to go 3-0 in the second.
"It's remotely possible that with a 2-5 scenario you could actually move on (into the playoffs), with the problem of that being that you're the (No.) 16 seed," Steirn said. "I'm not sure you want to go against the (No. 1 seed) at that point."
The SF Prospects organization - SF stands for South Florida but the group refers to itself only as SF - has one 17u and two 16u teams playing travel ball this season, its second as an organization. Both the SF Prospects and SF Prospects Navy are here for the 16u BCS Finals this week and the SF Prospects will be at the 17u BCS Finals here July 14-20.
The SF Prospects teams are made up of players from Broward and Dade counties in the Fort Lauderdale and Miami areas, two of the most talent-rich counties in the country.
"We're very fortunate that the team has been put together the way it is," Steirn said, while declining to specify any top prospects on his roster. "We've unfortunately had some injuries and we had to leave some kids out ... so we only have 18 kids who are physically able to play at this tournament, but they're all good. They're all capable of playing not only at this level, but beyond."
The Prospects 1-0 loss to the Heat on Sunday showcased some terrific pitching on both sides. Heat hurlers Jacob Mason, Paul Spaulding III and Dave Vaske combined for a three-hit, five-strikeout shutout, while Prospects pitchers Jeremy Tache, Alexis Herrara and Andres Nunez struck out nine while allowing just four hits and no earned runs.
The BCS Finals are metal bat tournaments, with a mandate that the 14u, 16u, 17u and 18u participants used BBCOR bats. These are the same bats that most high school athletic associations require and the same bats by used by the NCAA.
"It definitely makes it different; I think everybody has their own take on it," Steirn said of the metal bats. "I'm personally a wood-bat person and I think with some of the technology with a wood bat - the composite wood not breaking as much - ... there is a lot more opportunity to have high-quality wood bats. I personally would like to see the whole sport move over to wood."
The SF Prospects will be obligated to use the BBCOR bats while they attempt to get back on track with games against the Excel Blue Sox and Ostingers Baseball Academy 16U on Monday at JetBlue. For the Prospects, it just might be the start of another incredible run to another PG national championship.