FORT MYERS, Fla. - The Port Charlotte, Fla.-based Iron Pigs are proven winners at the 14u level. They showed their championship mettle when they won the 14u/15u Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational June 6-10 in Marietta, Ga.
So when the Iron Pigs lost their tournament-opener at the Perfect Game 14u BCS Finals, 7-4, to the New York Grays 14U Sunday morning at the Player Development 5-Plex, nobody was more displeased with the performance than the Pigs themselves.
"We just swung at some bad pitches in that game. That's all," Iron Pigs head coach and co-founder Wayne Harrell said after the game. "We just didn't hit the ball like we normally do. The umpire was a little tight to start out but then he opened back up and we just needed to hit better."
But unlike most other tournaments when a single loss during the first three games of pool-play would be enough to make some teams start to think about packing their bags for home, the Iron Pigs are guaranteed to still be playing through at least Wednesday.
And they have just as good of a chance as the other 43 teams in the 14u BCS Finals field of making it to the first round of the playoffs Thursday morning.
The 44 squads in the tournament were divided into 11 four-team pools and used Sunday and Monday to play their first three pool games. When that round of play is completed Monday night, the teams will be shuffled and placed in 11 new pools with three new opponents. Each newly organized pool will feature a first-, second-, third- and fourth-place team from one of the original 11 pools.
The 16 playoff qualifiers will include the 11 champions from the second round of pool-play, along with five at-large entrants. The five at-large teams will be selected according to their records and other tie-breaking procedure based on their play in all six pool-play games.
While it is within the realm of possibility that a team could go 0-3 in the first round of pool-play and then go 3-0 in the next round and advance to the playoffs as the pool champion, no one treats these first three games as throw-away games. Certainly not the Iron Pigs, anyway.
"We want to win every game we play," Harrell said. "But here you can keep going and you've got a chance to win the second pool and you've still got a chance at the wild card. You lose one and you still have an excellent shot."
The Pigs bounced back to beat Team Raw in their second game of first round pool-play Sunday afternoon.
The whole concept of two rounds of pool play is unique to the BCS Finals and is done to insure each entrant more games during their stay here. Coaches have to give added thought to their pitching rotation to be certain they will have their best and freshest arms for that Tuesday through Friday run through the final round of pool play and the two days of playoff action.
Harrell was also on top of things when the Iron Pigs won the 14/15u PG-EC Invitational in early June based on a 3-0 record and a No. 1-seed entering the playoffs. The Pigs outscored their three pool-play opponents by a combined 20-0 to earn the top seed, a fact that helped them down the road.
They also won their first two playoff games to advance to the semifinal round, but the semifinals and championship games in all three tournaments - 14u/15u, 16u and 17u/18u - were cancelled by rain on June 10, and team champions, runners-up and third-place finishers were determined by virtue of tie-breaking procedures. The Iron Pigs, with their No. 1 seeding, had won the championship, their first in their first year of existence.
"We played great baseball," Harrell said. "We hit the ball well all week long and we pitched great. We pitched phenomenally up there and we played some great, great defense up there."
It was the team's pitching that lifted them to the 14u/15u PG-EC Invitational championship. Six pitchers combined to throw 30 innings in their five wins, and allowed 16 hits and two earned runs (0.47 ERA) while striking out 32.
The team Harrell has here this week is essentially the same as the one that won up in Marietta. There were three 15-year-olds on the Marietta roster - it was 14u/15u tournament - that are not here this week. Among those in attendance are outfielder/infielder Anthony Churlin and right-hander Nicholas Brown, both of whom were named to the PG-EC Invitational All-Tournament team.
The Iron Pigs were put together this year by combining the Florida Curve out of Port Charlotte and the Bandits out of Fort Myers. Those two teams came together to form the Iron Pigs, which this summer consists almost entirely of incoming freshmen (class of 2016).
"We were both quality 14u teams the year before, and we had talked about doing it for a couple of seasons. It just came to fruition this year," Harrell said. "The kids really like it a lot."
Harrell sounded confident his team would bounce back after losing its opener. He knew they had at least five games left to play and expected things to be different the next time out.
"Our pitching was off a little bit in this game (Sunday) but I think we pitched well enough to win this game; we just didn't bring our bats," he said with a shrug.