FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Three of the Orlando Scorpions' premier 17u and 16u teams enjoyed productive runs at Perfect Game WWBA and BCS Finals national championship tournaments over the first three weeks of July and one of those "runs" resulted in a 17u Perfect Game national title.
The mining operation for PG national championship gold continues this week for one of those 16u teams, a group that is playing at the 2013 16u Perfect Game World Series simply under the Orlando Scorpions banner.
The 16u Scorpions team here this week is mostly the squad that played under the Orlando Scorpions Underclass Purple name most of the summer. It's the group that won its first eight games at the PG WWBA 16u National Championship in Marietta, Ga., earlier this month before losing in the second round of the playoffs.
"We've got some really good players, but the one thing we have is good team chemistry," Scorpions 16u assistant coach Mike Bradley said on Wednesday from the Boston Red Sox jetBlue Player Development Complex. "The kids love to compete and they love to get after it together; they just love being out here. I think what sets us apart from some of the other travel teams is that we're team-first before individual-first, and it's worked well for us this summer."
It was the elite Orlando Scorpions Prime that won the PG WWBA 2014 Grads or 17u National Championship in rainy Marietta, Ga., in early July. The Prime also finished 5-1 (but out of the playoffs) at the 17u PG BCS Finals in mid-July. The Scorps Under Purple finished 8-1 after a second-round playoff loss to the South Charlotte Panthers at the PG WWBA 16u and was 5-2 at the 17u PG BCS Finals.
All things taken into account, it's been a pretty good summer for the Altamonte Springs, Fla.-based Scorpions organization. It has teams entered at each of the 16u, 15u and 14u PG World Series national championship tournaments this week and all are looking, not surprisingly, very competitive: after three pool-play games, each Scorps team sat 2-1.
The 16u group is especially intriguing. There are absolutely no gimmes at the elite 16-team 16u Perfect Game World Series, but the Scorps' opening three games at the tourney showed no mercy from the schedule-makers: an opener against Marucci Elite (a 5-1 win); a second game against the EvoShield Canes, fresh off a PG national championship at the 17u PGWS (a 3-1 loss); and then a date with the South Florida Elite Squad, the runner-up at the 17u PGWS (a 4-3 win).
There is not a team in the land that could find a lot to gripe about going 2-1 against that murderer's row.
"A tournament like this with only 16 teams but the top teams in the country, it's really exciting to see all the best players in our class," Scorpions middle-infielder Jonah Garrison said Wednesday. "It's just good to get out there with the top players that are equivalent with our team."
Garrison, a 2015 from Orlando who is ranked the No. 84 national prospect in his class and has verbally committed to the University of Miami, is the Scorpions' top-ranked position player. He has been with the Scorpions organization for four years now and has usually played up an age-group. He was with the Underclass Purple for their run, however.
"We started out the summer good and then kind of went on a slow streak and we just came out hot that tournament," Garrison said. "I think playing up at 17u all summer helped us and we just did really good up there."
Some of the other highly regarded position players on the Scorpions roster include middle-infielder Ramon Alejo (2015, Orlando, a University of Mississippi commit); catcher Nick Fortes (2015, Deland, Fla., No. 237, Ole Miss); catcher Jackson Lueck (2015, Longwood, Fla., No. 152, Florida State); and Stephen Wells (2015, Altamonte Springs, Fla., No. 266, Central Florida).
But the strength of this team is in its pitching staff. Orlando Scorpions owner Matt Gerber has entrusted Bradley and the rest of this Scorpions' coaching staff with enough arms to make a concerted run at this PG national championship.
"Pitching and defense is always going to win you the ballgames," Bradley said. "We're definitely loaded with arms -- not to take anything away from our bats because we've been swinging it really well lately -- and overall, top to bottom, we've got a lot of talent and a lot of depth.
"It gives you the opportunity to compete and give yourself a chance to win," he continued. "From what I've been told, this is the tournament of the summer and we're coming here with guns blazing, trying to win the whole thing; with our arsenal I think we've got a real good shot."
One of those arms belongs to 6-foot-3 right-hander Weston Davis, a 2014 from Bradenton, Fla., who has committed to the University of Florida. Davis, along with right-hander Logan Crouse (2015, Valrico, Fla., ranked No. 72, Florida State) were members of the Scorpions Prime team that won the PG WWBA 17u National Championship.
"We fought hard and we just played 'Scorp' baseball," Davis said of the championship run. "We took care of our business on the field and it was a great experience for the summer; it was probably one of the highlights of my life."
Those other top arms belong to right-hander Alex Carpenter (2015, Satellite Beach, Fla., No. 69, Florida State) and Bryce Tucker (2015, Altamonte Springs, Fla., Central Florida).
The Orlando Scorpions organization is about to celebrate its 20th birthday. Founded by Sal Lombardo in 1995, Gerber is now the owner and operator of one of the country's most successful and respected travel ball and college placement programs.
Based on past successes, the players on this Scorpions team came into the 16u Perfect Game World Series fully expecting to be successful.
"Coming from the Scorpions organization and what we've done in the past, we do have high expectations coming into these type of tournaments," Davis said. "This competition makes you better and it just helps you out for the future."
And so do the coaches: "You come to the field with the expectations of putting on a great show and coming away with a 'W'," Bradley said. "That's the expectation and if you walk away with a loss, it's very disappointing."
The players are also grateful of the opportunity they were given to be part of the Scorpions elite organization and to be put in a position to compete for a PG national title.
"It's gotten me a whole lot better as a baseball player and as a man," Davis said. "It helped me with my future so much and it's going to keep helping me with my future, and I'm just so grateful to be playing with the Scorpions; it's really helped me out a lot."
"It's been great; all the coaches are amazing," Garrison added. "Gerber runs a great program and gets us in good tournaments playing a lot of good teams against a lot of good guys. With my four years here I've always had great coaches (and) just playing with guys that are really good on my team makes me compete more."
Bradley, the head coach at Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando, is in his second year at the organization and hasn't changed his approach at all. It's been a good fit.
"We coach these kids like they're our own high school kids and we're getting after it and having a great time," he said. "The kids are resilient, they want to learn and they want to be pushed, and that's the one thing I'm convinced of: no matter what level -- if you're talking about travel ball or if you're talking about high school ball -- kids want discipline, they want that structure and they're going to thrive off of it. This organization provides that with the coaches that it has and because of that it's successful."