FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Bullets Baseball Gold 14u head coach Bruce Barter sounded pretty confident Sunday morning that he had this whole 14u PG BCS Finals format figured out. It's a unique format in which a team plays one set of three pool games in the first two days of the tournament, gets placed in a second pool for two more days of three games and hopes it does well enough in the second set to advance to the 16-team playoffs.
"I treat the first three games of pool-play trying to watch my pitching and trying to keep everybody fresh on the mound," Barter told PG late Sunday morning before the Gold 14u out of Valrico, Fla., took on the Seneca War Eagles (Shamong, N.J.) in the first game of both team's second set of pool-play.
"I know in the second round, now you've really got to play well and win that in order to move on into the elimination (playoff) round," he said. "You get some good stats (in those first three games) on who's hitting well, who's fielding well, who's pitching well, so we go into the next round of pool (play) saying, 'OK, these are the guys that we need to go with for our best chance."
Turns out Barter had things figured out pretty well. The Bullets Gold 14u are 5-0 heading into Monday's final pool-play game against the IBAHS Knights from Trujillo Alto, P.R., and look in fine shape to claim a spot in the 16-team playoffs -- a field that will include the 12 reshuffled pool champions and four at-large entries that are earned based on a team's play in both three-game sets of pool action.
Upon closer inspection, the Bullets Gold 14u looks to be not only in terrific position to earn a playoff a spot but also in pretty good shape to earn a potentially high seed.
The boys that call Valrico, Fla., home, opened the first set of pool-play by getting past the always-tough 6-4-3 DP Tigers out of Marietta, Ga., 3-0, in their tournament opener. They then went off on Elite Baseball Training from Chicago, 12-0, in their second game of the tournament.
"I think the teams from up north kind of have a little bit of a disadvantage against some of the teams from down here," Barter said. "We just kind of played well as a team and it worked out that way."
They followed that up with a wild 12-8 win over Next Level Baseball 14u (Tallahassee, Fla.) in their final game of the first pool-play set, then got past the Seneca War Eagles and the Central Florida Gators (Altamonte Springs, Fla.) in the first two games of their second set of pool-play on Sunday.
By outscoring their first five pool-play opponents by a combined 42-14, it would be easy to reach the conclusion the Bullets Gold's strongest weapon is its offense, and that wouldn't be far off-base.
Bullets Gold hit .314 as a team in its first five games, led by outfielder Clayton Coringrato (2017, Tampa, Fla.), 7-for-12 (.583), four RBI, four runs scored, 1.623 OPS; second baseman Corbett Stoskopf (2017, Plant City, Fla.), 4-for-11 (.364), five RBI, four runs, 1.227 OPS; and Bruce Barter (2017, Lakeland, Fla.), 2-for-8 (.250), double, triple, five RBI, three runs, 1.025 OPS.
Coach Barter used only five pitchers in the Bullet Gold's first five games, and they compiled 1.81 ERA after allowing eight earned runs on 23 hits with 18 strikeouts and 12 walk in 31 innings. Right-hander Robby Wertman (2016, Dover, Fla.) made two appearances and allowed no earned runs on four hits in seven innings of work.
This Bullets Gold 14u team has been playing together for the last several years and has done a lot of learning and a lot of growing up together on the field of play.
"The advantage that I feel our team has is that we've been playing as a team," Barter said. "I don't load up with guest players, I don't load up with other kids -- I get a lot of calls, I get a lot of emails saying 'My kid's available, my kid's available, do you need anybody?' We're not built like that. These guys are the same guys I've had the last several seasons and they perform well and try hard for each other."
The Bullets Gold 14u roster is stacked with talent from the cities of Tampa, Brandon, Valrico and other cities and towns from in and around Hillsboro County. The Bullets Baseball organization identifies Valrico as its base of operations.
Bullets Baseball was established in 1998 by Sal Giardina and Mike Lancaster operating with only one 11u team known as the Bloomingdale Distance. The organization now features 11 teams ranging from 9u through 18u. The program has produced some championship-caliber teams through the years and sent a 16u team to the 16u PG BCS Finals last week.
"This year we've kind of turned our focus on Perfect Game, to try to come down here and get this experience," Barter said. "As they turn 15, 16 and then 17, we think they'll get a lot of exposure with Perfect Game so we wanted to come here and check it out. They love coming here and seeing different teams, different pitching. When you play tournaments in our area -- and we try to move around -- you see a lot of the same teams and you kind of know who's going to pitch and you know their pitching style. It's great to come out and see kids from everywhere -- lefties, righties, different speeds, everything.
"This team doesn't quit," he continued. "We've been down by a lot of runs and they never feel like they're out of it. Normally, they're strong at the plate so it gives them the confidence that if they have a bad inning, they can bounce back. Yesterday we were down, and two innings late we were up 8-5. It doesn't impact the way they play and the way they go about their business on the field."
Each of the 48 teams in the 14u PG BCS Finals Perfect Game national championship field will play their final pool-play game on Monday with the first round of the playoffs set to begin at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, weather permitting. The 15u PG BCS Finals national championship is being contested simultaneously but its pool-play games won't be completed until Tuesday morning, with the first round of the playoffs not slated to kickoff until 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
The semifinals for the 14u PG BCS Finals are scheduled to be played Wednesday at 9 a.m. on the two fields at City of Palms Park, with the championship game set to begin at 11:30 a.m. at the main stadium at COP. The 15u PG BCS Finals semifinals are scheduled for 9 a.m. on Wednesday at the former Boston Red Sox Player Development 5-Plex with the championship game slated at 2 p.m. at City of Palms Park. Teams that advance to the championship game at each tournament will wind up playing 10 games in six days.
"The most that we've played is seven games in two days, so I'm hoping that 10 games in six days -- they should be able to withstand the mental aspect and the physical aspect," Barter said. "With the rain delays here and there and trying to keep them down at the hotel without them getting too active or rambunctious can be a challenge. Yesterday our (game) time changed and we came out a little later after they sat around the hotel, and they were a little anxious, you could tell. It's definitely a challenge for us to keep them ready to play and keep them focused for when the first pitch is thrown.
"I try to let them know if they go out and throw strikes, play defense and just try to have good quality at-bats, they can compete; that's all I ask," he finished. "Winning is great and we've won several tournaments, but something like this, if they just go out and compete we;ll see how everything unfolds."