FORT MYERS, Fla. --This summer of intrigue for the Alpharetta-based Georgia Roadrunners 15u squad began the first week of June in Marietta, Ga., continued with several more days of play the last week in June, also in Marietta, and now has settled in nicely for what the 'Runners hope is six more days of play in early July, this time in southwest Florida.
It's been intriguing because as the Roadrunners 15u travel from one prestigious Perfect Game tournament to the next, they have established themselves as one of the top 15u outfits in the country.
The mission this week is to haul back to Alpharetta the Perfect Game national championship trophy from this week's 15u PG BCS Finals which will conclude on Wednesday. As this was written early afternoon on Monday, the Roadrunners still needed two more pool-play wins just to get an automatic berth into the playoffs.
They finished 2-1 in their first set of pool-play games, which don't count toward advancing to the playoffs but do figure into the playoff's seedings. The 'Runners lost their tournament opener to the Maine Lightning, 3-2, before bouncing back to beat the Florida Express, 9-1, and Naturals Baseball, 11-0. They won their first game in the decisive second set of pool-play, beating the NY Gothams, 10-3, Monday morning.
"That first game against Maine was definitely not how we wanted to play throughout the whole tournament, and the kids kind of know that in the grand scheme of things it's not going to make-or-break you," Georgia Roadrunners head coach Peter Bergoron said Monday before his team's game against the Gothams at the Lee County Sports Complex.
"But certainly when you come down here you want to put on a good show for the Perfect Game scouts and everybody else that may be watching. So, the first game didn't go as planned but they rebounded and did well. We really stress the importance of pitching and defense and not giving free passes to guys; making them earn it."
This is a team with plenty of star power blended with a generous portion of very above-average talent. The leader is unquestionably shortstop Jahmai Jones (2015, Roswell, Ga.), who has risen to No. 6 in PG's class of 2015 national prospect rankings (No. 2 in the state of Georgia).
Jones' performances have bordered on the ridiculous this summer as he helped the Roadrunners to a co-championship at the 14u/15u Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational in early June and a final four showing at the PG WWBA 2016 Grads or 15u National Championship in late July. He was named to the all-tournament team at both events.
In his first four games at the 15u PG BCS Finals, Jones went 7-for-11 (.636) with four doubles, a triple, a home run, three RBI, seven runs scored and a video game-like 2.147 OPS from his lead-off spot in the 'Runners' lineup.
"With all this competition that's around us and all these teams that can compete in games, I feel really comfortable down here," Jones said with a sense of joy on Monday. "I love the competitiveness between the teams that we've played and the teams that we're going to see in the future; just seeing all the baseball happening around us, it's a good feeling to have."
After playing in the 14u/15u PG-EC Invite, Jones spent a couple of days in mid-June at the Perfect Game Junior National Showcase in Minneapolis, where he continued to impress the hundreds of scouts and college recruiters in attendance. One of the people watching his performance inside the Metrodome was Georgia Roadrunners founder and director Tom Haire.
"He's a terrific kid who seems like a man already; he's really a mature, nice, well-balanced kid from a great family," Haire said at the time. "He's a good ballplayer who has all the tools -- he's a big, strong, fast kid who loves to play baseball."
The Georgia Roadrunners 15u roster also includes highly ranked catcher Michael Curry (2015, Murphy, N.C.) and second baseman Cobi Vance (2015, Fayetteville, N.C.). Curry is the No. 60-ranked national prospect in the 2015 class (No. 2 North Carolina) and Vance, who has committed to Alabama State, is ranked No. 163 (No. 6 North Carolina).
Curry was named the Most Valuable Player at the 14u/15u PG-EC Invitational and Vance, Benaiah Franklin (2016, Atlanta), Sawyer Steele (2016, Newnan, Ga.) and Jake Lee (2015, Brooks, Ga.) joined Jones as all-tournament selections at both June PG tournaments. Trey Cabbage (2015, Blaine, Tenn.) and Kevin Strohschein (2015, McDonough, Ga.) are also enjoying fine seasons at the plate for the Roadrunners this summer.
"Those guys are definitely the names that everybody knows," Bergoron said of Jones, Curry and Vance, "but our goal is to help all these kids move on and play (NCAA) Division I baseball if they want to. I think there are a lot of prospects on this team that can play at the Division I level."
As for their play at this tournament so far, Curry offered a bit of a mixed review.
"We've been on a pretty good run, even though we started out a little shaky and kind of overlooked that team in the first game," he said, "but we started to settle and get better and started to focus more. We had some confidence coming in because we made it to the final four (at the PG WWBA 15u National) ... but we can't overlook teams like we did in our first game here."
This team is definitely developing its own personality as the summer progresses. This is Bergoron's first year of coaching the Roadrunners 15u but there is a core group of guys that have been playing together now for several years. Players have dropped off and others have climbed on board in the last two or three years but there is a sense of continuity, and Bergoron has enjoyed watching the team come together.
"I think with every team you get a good mix," he said. "You got your loud guys, you got your quiet guys -- you've got your guys that are vocal and get on each other and you've got your other guys that just kind of go about their business. I would say this is one of the better morning teams that I've been with, which is important when you get in these tournaments and you've got 9 a.m. games and everything else. They can do some crazy things but still get themselves up pretty quick."
"We've actually got a really great chemistry," the catcher Curry said. "We only practiced like two or three times (early in the summer) but we jelled together when the summer started and we developed great chemistry. We understand what the job is and we all have the same goal and we all want to win, so we work together for that to happen."
The Georgia Roadrunners expect to still be playing on Wednesday, the day the semifinal games and the championship game at the 15u PG BCS Finals will be played. Bergoron won't allow himself to anticipate a short stay at these events.
"When we come into these tournaments, we try to set up our pitching and other player rotations with the idea that we're going to keep playing through the whole thing and not just the six-game guarantee," he said. "So certainly, coming into these, we're planning on getting into that bracket play and see how far we can make a run."
After the Roadrunners complete their run here, they will return to Marietta next week for the 2013 PG WWBA 2015 Grads or 16u National Championship. After that, they'll wrap up their summer of intrigue at the CABA World Series. If it were up to a player like Jahmai Jones, it would be one long, endless summer.
"We've been really successful in the games that we've played and we've really been able to come together as a team and play our game," he said. "It's just great when your team comes together like this because it's really something; it's not just a baseball team it's almost like a band of brothers. These guys are something else and getting to know them over the summer it's really been quite an experience to have. Just to be able to have one common goal and one thing that we all have in common, it's just a real easy way for us to band together.
"We have so many characters on this team it's like a rainbow of (personalities). It's a great team; the guys on it go well together ... and I just love this team."