FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Highly regarded outfield prospect Tre Gantt wore the No. 3 jersey and hit in the leadoff spot for the Indiana Prospects when they faced the South Florida Elite Squad-Prime in a playoff play-in game at the 17u PG BCS Finals Thursday morning. He will be a senior in the fall at Hamilton Southeast High School, calls mid-sized Fishers, Ind., home and has committed to the Ohio State Buckeyes from the Big Ten.
Highly regarded catcher and general utility man Alex Boos wore No. 4 and hit in the cleanup spot for Prospects head coach Shane Stout on Thursday. He will be a senior at Cathedral High School when the 2013-14 school year starts, lives with his family in big-city Indianapolis and has committed to Yale University of the academically prestigious Ivy League.
These are two young guys set to go their separate ways after high school and who probably would have never met if it were not for baseball and the Indiana Prospects. But on Thursday, after leading the Prospects to an important 4-2 win over the SF Elite Squad-Prime, they both agreed there was no place they'd rather be at the moment than at the beautiful Boston Red Sox jetBlue Player Development Complex competing at the 17u PG BCS Finals.
"There's a lot of playing time and playing good competition coming down here, and it's great going to the Florida and Georgia (Perfect Game) tournaments; it's been really good," Gantt said. "You come to these parks and look around and you'll see scouts at every field. It's a lot of exposure to a lot of great players and it's great to be on a team like this."
Boos concurred: "We're in a big location here with a lot of people walking around and you never know who's watching you; that's a lot of fun," he said. "You've got some of the best teams in the country playing here, which is exciting, especially being from Indiana and to see that we're competing on this kind of scale. It's just an exciting experience for everybody."
Gantt, Boos and their Indiana Prospects teammates are making a nice run at the 17u PG BCS Finals after a less than auspicious start to the tournament. They settled for a 7-7 tie with the 212 A's in their opener of the first set of three pool-play games and then were embarrassed by the North Florida Storm, 13-1, in their second game. They finally found their footing with a 10-2 win over the Orlando Scorpions 17u Black late Monday.
The Prospects beat the East Cobb Padres, 8-0, and the South Florida Bandits South, 9-1, to kick off the decisive second round of pool-play. The followed that the deal-closer: a hard-fought 4-3 win over the Orlando Scorpions Prime on Wednesday, a win that clinched the pool championship and launched them into the playoffs.
"We started backwards in the tournament and tried to win those first three games but we also knew if we saved our arms on the back end that we could make a good run," Stout said Thursday. "Playing such a good team like the Orlando Scorpions (Prime), we were able to roll out Ashe Russell ... and at this stage in the game (teams) are running out of arms."
Russell -- a 6-foot-4, 195-pound 2015 right-hander out of Fairland, Ind., who is ranked No. 16 nationally in his class and has committed to Notre Dame -- threw a seven inning complete game and allowed three earned runs while scattering seven hits, with four strikeouts and no walks. His fastball sat between 87 and 90 mph, topping out at 92.
Due to their struggles in their first two games here, the Prospects were seeded No. 4 in their five-team pod in the bracket and had to play the first-round play-in game against No. 5 SF Elite Squad-Prime (the top three seeds in each pod got byes into the second round). The Elite Squad pushed across a single run in the top of the first but Indiana quickly answered with two of its own.
Gantt -- a top-500 national prospect who has ran a 6.66-second 60-yard dash at a PG event -- led off the bottom of the first with an inside-the-park home run -- "Actually, I was thinking triple all the way but I saw (the third base coach) waving me so I just kept going," he said -- and two batters later Boos delivered an RBI double.
South Florida Elite tied the game with a single run in the top of the fourth but the Prospects won the five-inning game with two in the bottom of the fourth. Indiana got a combined five-inning, five-hitter from right-handers Ethan Larrison (2014, Shelbyville, Ind.) and Evan Warden (2014, Kokomo, Ind.). The twosome didn't allow an earned run, struck out five and walked four, with Larrison also plucking a couple of batters.
"We started off (the tournament) a little bit slow but we knew we had the potential to keep winning games," Boos said. "We beat a hell of a team in the Orlando Scorpions-Prime and we can in today and kind of grinded on out, but we've got some momentum going."
The importance of the win over the Scorpions-Prime was a common theme on Thursday.
"We just came off that big win against the Orlando Scorpions and I'm pretty sure that set a fire under us," Gantt said.
"We're just fighting," Stout said. "I told the guys you've got have a short memory. It started out bad and no matter whether it's travel baseball or high school baseball and you're preparing for college, when you get there you've got to forget about the bad days -- and the good days, as well -- and just strap it up and go get 'em the next day.
"After that first round of pool-play the guys started believing and I think we're a dangerous team."
This same group of Prospects spent last week fighting the rain in the Atlanta area at the PG WWBA 17u National Championship. They only got three games in before being eliminated but Stout saw some good things.
"We know we've got a good ballclub," he said. "We're not the flashiest of teams but we just do the little things to get the game done; we will do things methodically over and over and over just to get the job done. I can't say enough about how proud I am of the way the guys has stepped up."
The core of this group has been together for as many as four years although some key pieces certainly have been added along the way; Gantt is in his second year with this team and Boos is playing his first summer with the Prospects.
"It's a good bunch of kids and they all get along together," Stout said. "Some of them are from different areas and they welcome each other in, and I just kind of think that's what makes it work -- a little diversity. You get to see different walks of life and how people do things a little different, and it keeps you on your toes with guys that are ready to step up and play."
The Prospects' 17u roster consists predominantly of prospects from Indiana but there are three spots filled with guys from Florida and one with a player from New Jersey. There are four Prospects that attend Cathedral High School in Indianapolis but none of the other players are high school teammates.
"We melded as soon as we got together. Even being from all around we melded right from the start; it's just a great group of guys and you couldn't ask for a better team," Boos said.
"Last year it was kind of like we were a little bit quiet; this year it's more like a family and friends and we're just all up and together the whole game," Gantt said, adding that "Being with the Indiana Prospects definitely helped me with my commitment to Ohio State and getting noticed by scouts."
It's the college commitments that are most important to Stout, who is officially the Indiana Prospects' director of baseball operations. There might be no bigger fan of PG than Stout and that's because of the opportunities PG's tournaments present the young prospects.
"We've been a part of Perfect Game for a long time and I send all my teams here, and whether it's (BCS) or the WWB, with the quality teams that (PG) has here and all the college coaches and professional scouts it's a great experience," he said. "Without Perfect Game I'd say 90 percent of these kids are not getting their looks as far as colleges go, and we're going to continue to come back down and support these events -- it's the best place in the country to be."
Stout also spoke of the parents of the players on this Prospects teams, many of whom took the last two weeks off from their jobs to follow their sons first to Atlanta and then to Fort Myers.
"Not a lot of people have 15 days that they can take off work but they know if their kids perform at an event like this there are paybacks -- college scholarships are on the line," he said. "What can you say other than the fact that this is the place to be and it's an investment in the kids."
And Stout takes special pride in the fact that the Prospects can compete as an organization based in Indianapolis as opposed to Atlanta, Houston, Orlando, Tampa or Miami.
"We're doing something in the Midwest that I don't know is being done with a lot of other programs," he said. "All 18 of the kids on last year's 17u team are going to (NCAA) Division I schools, and now we're rolling into this (17u) group; these kids will be going to Division I schools."
Trey Ball, the seventh overall pick in June's draft by the Boston Red Sox, was an Indiana Prospect the last couple of years.
"We like to think that we're doing the right things and we've got the right things in mind as far as what the goals are," Stout said. "We play as a team together, we stay as a team together and we don't fly kids in back and forth just for an event. The college coaches know what kind of kid they're getting when they get an Indiana Prospects kid -- a hard-nosed kid that plays the game the right way."