JUPITER, Fla. -- The ABD Bulldogs have the Aflac All-Americans and star players who might be high draft picks next June, but the ABD Boxers have a spot in the semifinals of the 2009 WWBA World Championship on Monday morning.
Who would have predicted this?
The Bulldogs did not make the playoffs at the World Championship, bowing out in pool play. But the Boxers, who normally take a back seat to the Bulldogs in their own organization, won their pool and proceeded to win two playoff games on Sunday to reach the Final 4.
Steve Pallares went the distance and struck out nine batters Sunday night as the Boxers topped Marucci Elite, 3-1, in the quarterfinals at the Roger Dean Sports Complex. The victory came just a few hours after the Boxers topped the Georgia PG Texas Orange team in the Round of 16.
The Boxers are calling themselves the Orange County Boxers in this tournament, but they're essentially the ABD Boxers with a few other players thrown in for good measure, including a few guys who normally play for the Bulldogs. Now they're only two victories away from winning the same title that the ABD Bulldogs won here last year.
"I think we've surpassed initial expectations," Boxers Coach Jon Paino remarked, perhaps the understatement of the tournament. "But now that we've gone this far, I think the guys are bound and determined to give it their best."
The Boxers will face the Orlando Scorpions in the semifinals Monday morning, matching a team from California against a team from Florida. The Diamond Devils (from South Carolina) will meet the Braves Scout Team (mostly Californians) in the other semifinal, with both games scheduled for 9 a.m. The championship game is scheduled for Roger Dean Stadium at 11:30 a.m. on Monday.
The ABD Bulldogs feature such Aflac All-Americans as Tony Wolters, Stefan Sabol, Michael Lorenzen and Peter Tago, but those guys aren't playing in the semifinals. The Boxers are.
"Most of the time, the Bulldogs are more likely the team to be in the tournament, but hey, we come out here every day," said Pallares. "We're a scrappy team."
The Boxers have surpassed the Bulldogs on a few occasions, but not often. "It's infrequent," said Paino, "but it does happen."
The Boxers played a strong game against Marucci Elite, got some timely hitting and Pallares did the rest, relying on his curveball in the latter stages to finish the job. The game was stopped in the bottom of the sixth inning due to the two-hour time limit, denying Marucci a chance to bat in the top of the seventh.
Pallares finished strong, fanning the last three batters he faced in the top of the sixth after issuing a pair of walks.
"We were proud of him today, real proud of him," said Paino.
Pallares was not planning to travel from California to Florida for this tournament because he was concerned about missing several days of school, but that changed. "I originally wasn't coming out here, and then at the last minute Coach called and said we need you out here. And I jumped on the next plane," he said.
Pallares missed the Boxers' first game in the tournament on Friday while traveling, but was here for both games Saturday and all three games on Sunday as the Boxers finished their pool games and began the playoffs. Pallares also plays in the field for the Boxers when he isn't pitching, and he's not about to go home now with his club in the semifinals.
"No," he said emphatically. "No turning back."