FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Judging from the tone of his voice, it was apparent Corey Baptist didn't intend to sound boastful after helping his FTB Pride squad win the championship at 2nd annual PG WWBA 18u Labor Day Classic.
When asked how the weekend went for the Pride and if the team thought coming into the event it might have a good chance at winning the championship, Baptist grinned a little sheepishly before he answered with unquestioned humility.
"It's been pretty good and it's a good way to start the fall," he said. "We've got a good team and I'm glad we came out on top. Honestly, I think we knew (coming in) we had a pretty good shot at making it, and luckily we took home first place."
The top-seeded FTB Pride completed a perfect 6-0 three-day holiday weekend by clipping the No. 7-seeded Nola Baseball Monsters, 6-2, in the title game played Monday morning at beautiful jetBlue Park, the spring training home of the Boston Red Sox.
With up to 10 top-200 prospects in the classes of 2013 and '14, the Pride were viewed by many as the favorites coming in. Head coach George Gonzales said he was able to use the team's pitching depth to make a run to the championship, utilizing "pitchers only" through pool-play and keeping everyone on a 75 pitch-count.
"That, and with Corey Baptist swinging it like he did, and the bats really came alive ... and we just stayed hot 1-through-9 (in the order)," Gonzales said.
FTB (6-0) jumped to a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning against Nola Baseball (4-2), and after the Monsters countered with two in the top of the second, the Pride scored single runs in the third, fourth and sixth to seal the deal.
Baptist (2013, Seminole, Fla.) was 3-for-4 with a double and three RBI, putting a capper on a tournament in which he was named the Most Valuable Player. In six games, Baptist was 10-for-18 (.566) with a pair of doubles, a triple, home run, eight RBI and five runs scored while sporting a .579 OBP and 1.523 OPS.
He led a group that quickly came together over the three-day weekend.
"Some of us played together in the summer and then we got some (other) guys together," Baptist said. "I enjoy playing with these guys and we all get along pretty good; we never have any arguments. I like these (PG tournaments) a lot because you usually see pretty good competition and you see good pitching."
Righties Austin Garcia (2013, Labelle, Fla.) and Luis Alvarado (2014, Salinas, P.R.), and lefty Eugene Vazquez (2013, Orlando, Fla.) combined to throw a five-hitter at the Monsters in the championship game. It continued a tournament filled with fine performances from FTB pitchers. The FTB staff compiled a 0.52 ERA and struck out 41 in 41 innings.
FTB Pride right-hander Cre Finfrock (2014, Jensen Beach, Fla.), the 81st ranked national prospect in his class who has committed to Central Florida, was named the Classic's Most Valuable Pitcher. Finfrock, who was not on hand at Monday's championship game, pitched five hitless, scoreless innings and struck out five in one appearance.
Gonzales explained that a core group of six young prospects on this team have been with him for almost a year, but others have been sent to join the FTB Mizuno and FTB Chandler squads in an effort to bolster the entire organization from top to bottom.
"We're really trying as a program to establish three very good teams," he said. "We kind of divide up all the infielders and position players, as well as the pitchers. But we've been pretty successful with the Pride, and we've been able to be in championship games quite a bit and we're very blessed to be able to do that."
FTB Pride finished as runner-up at last year's PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., and Gonzales is hoping to send more FTB teams over there in October to contend once again.
"We've got to figure out how we're going to divide it up," he said. "We plan to come, show up and represent. Last year we were one inning short of winning that title, and this year we're coming with a chance to get back in that championship game and finish what we didn't get done last summer."
The Pride were dominant in their three pool-play wins, outscoring three opponents by a combined 18-2 to grab the No. 1 seed in the eight-team playoffs.
Right-handers Brandon Lawson (2013, Spring Hill, Fla., Miami commit) and Puerto Rican top prospects Angel Alicea-Nieves (2013) and Alvarado (2014) combined on a seven-hitter with eight strikeouts in a 3-2 win over SWFL 17u in the quarterfinals. Right-hander Alex McGathey (2013, Treasure Island, Fla.) then threw a six inning four-hitter in a 10-2 thumping of FTB White in the semifinals.
The Nola Baseball Monsters arrived in town from hurricane-ravaged New Orleans very early Saturday morning and went right to work, winning their first two pool-play games by shutout -- 8-0 over Suncoast Reebok and 2-0 over the P.R. Mets. They lost their final pool-play game Sunday morning, 5-2 to FTB Royal, but still advanced to the playoffs as the No. 7 seed.
Once there Sunday afternoon, the Monsters upset the No. 2 Tampa Bay Warriors, 6-4, then whipped No. 6 Orlando Baseball Academy, 9-2, in the semifinals.
Although the PG WWBA Labor Day Classic field included only 20 teams, it proved to be a very competitive event. FTB Pride was the only team to get out of pool-play without a loss or a tie and there were upsets in two of the four quarterfinal games.
"This early in the season, normally, we're not in our best game shape, but the challenges were very good," Gonzales said. "The weather was nice, too; we didn't get beat with that 150 degrees (temperature).
"There's nothing like the Perfect Game events," he continued. "The challenges are there, the coaching staffs you meet on the opposing side know what they're doing ... and the level of ball is still very good, more than you see in any other sanctioning body."
2012 WWBA 18u Labor Day Classic runner-up: Nola Baseball
2012 WWBA 18u Labor Day Classic MVP: Corey Baptist, FTB Pride