FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Monday morning started out a little bit on the hectic side for the Palm Beach County (PBC) PAL 14u players, coaches, parents and well-wishers.
PBC PAL was originally scheduled to play its final pool-play game at the 14u PG BCS Finals at 11:30 a.m. at the Boston Red Sox's jetBlue Player Development Complex. It was then directed to the Cape Coral (Fla.) Sports Complex for an 2 p.m. game instead, and finally was re-directed back to jetBlue for that original 11:30 a.m. game. They arrived at jetBlue at about 11:10 and were ready to play by 11:45.
"We expect that and we're OK with that," PCB PAL 14u head coach Mike Smiciklas said Monday afternoon. "We understand that (Perfect Game) does a lot of work (to get rain-delayed games played) and (PG) does a lot getting it all done. You've got a lot of teams and a limited number of fields and the rains are coming; we're prepared so that's not a problem at all."
It was a refreshing attitude during a two-week stretch of rain-delays, postponements and finally cancellations that have plagued the PG BCS Finals national championship tournaments and tested everyone's patience since the tournament's kicked off on June 20.
But PBC PAL 14u has persevered, and even after a 5-5 tie with Next Level Baseball 14u Monday afternoon at the jetBlue Complex and with a 5-0-1 overall record, it will be playing in the first round of the 14u PG BCS Finals playoffs on Tuesday morning.
PBC PAL had to really scramble Monday afternoon to secure itself an automatic berth in the playoffs. It went into the bottom of the seventh inning trailing Next Level, 5-3, but pushed across an unearned run and then got an RBI single from Brady McConnell (2017, Boynton Beach, Fla.) to tie the game, where it ended with PCB PAL on its way to the playoffs.
"What I love about our club is that we never give up," Smiciklas said. "We fight and we battle and we just never give up. We've been doing it all year; we'll get down but we don't give up and for whatever reason we seem to come back and we pick away and we pick away -- this was a typical game for us. At the beginning of this tournament we had some lopsided scores but this particular game is what we've had to deal with this summer, so we're prepared for this. I think what it does is it builds character in the kids and they're learning to become better ballplayers."
The PAL's finished 3-0 in their first set of three pool-play games, dismantling their first three opponents by a combined score of 39-7. They then smoked Team Elite Gray, 14-3, before escaping the Tampa Terror, 2-1, to start the second round of pool-play before the 5-5 tie with Next Level.
"We came out and we swung the bats really well, and we pitched well and we threw strikes," Smiciklas said. "The way the format is set up, that's when you really have to use a lot of strategy as far as pitching and pitch-counts, and you really have to make sure you set yourself up for the elimination rounds (playoffs); that's what it's all about. I was really pleased that our kids threw strikes and gave us the opportunity to play defense ... and we hit the ball real well."
PBC PAL showed off two prospects that enjoyed superb six-game performances at the plate in the first four days down here. Tarik Latchmansin (2017, Royal Palm Beach, Fla.) batted 8-for-15 (.533) with four doubles, a triple, a home run, nine RBI and seven runs, with a 1.733 on-base-plus slugging (OPS) percentage; Tyler Ahearn (2017, Jupiter, Fla.) was 6-for-13 (.462) with a pair of doubles, eight RBI, five runs and a 1.115 OPS. On the mound, right-hander Logan Cook (2018, Lake Worth, Fla.) made two appearances and delivered 7 2/3 innings, allowing two earned runs (1.83 ERA) on eight hits; righty James Marinan (2017, Boynton Beach, Fla.) worked six innings and gave up one earned run (1.17 ERA) on five hits.
The 14u PG BCS Finals playoff field slowly came together Monday night, and PBC PAL claimed its first berth in this particular tournament (it will face the Big Stix Gamers at 11:30 a.m. on Field 6 at jetBlue).
Palm Beach Country PAL has been an organization for nearly a dozen years but this is the first 14u team it has fielded, according to Smiciklas. This team was assembled at the beginning of the summer and are starting to find their own way just as they play in their first Perfect Game national championship tournament.
"What I love about them is they're great kids and they listen; we're getting better every game we play -- we seem to get a little bit better, a little bit better," Smiciklas said. "I'm really pleased with this group we have."
PBC PAL 14u played in three non-PG tournaments before coming here this week and had pretty good success for a first-year group. This is their first Perfect Game tournament as a team.
"This is what we try to preach as coaches: we don't go individual," Smiciklas said. "I don't like to talk about individual goals or individual achievements, it's a team -- we work as a team, we win as a team, we lose at a team, and we're getting that. At this age it's inevitable -- you're going to have kids who it's about 'me', it's about 'me', and they're all the superstars of their little league teams and everybody's coddled this kids.
"What we're trying to do is get these kids prepared for high school, and in high school baseball we're a team; we can't play as an individual. You can't win a baseball game with one player. We're learning that and we're playing really well as a team."
Smiciklas is a retired police officer -- 27 years with the Boca Raton, Fla., Police Department -- and is coaching in his first season with PBC PAL. He had coached at the high school level in the past and actually played two seasons in the minor leagues (1984-85) after playing at Armstrong State University in Savannah, Ga. He has a 17 year old son Michael (2014, Boca Raton, Fla.) that plays with the PBC PAL 17u team and he also has a 9-year-old, so he feels like he has the pulse of the young prospects.
"I've been through this and I understand these kids," Smiciklas said. "I understand where they're coming from and I can kind of relate to them, so for me there haven't been that many (challenges). I will say the biggest challenge I had with coming back to 14-and-under baseball was the size of the field and the speed of the kids. They're a little slower than the bigger kids so I have to remember that when we're trying to run bases and things like that. But other than that it's been pretty good."
He continues to coach these young prospects, day-in and day-out: "We teach constantly; we teach all day long and that's what we do," Smiciklas said. "They're like sponges and they're getting it. We want to get them ready for the 16-and-under team and that's our goal, to get these kids prepared to go play for the 16-and-unders."
And when Tuesday dawns, the playoffs await. With any luck at all, PBC PAL 14u won't have to travel all across southwest Florida before it lands at its first-round game.
"Anything can happen in the playoffs," Smiciklas said. "It just depends on who you have left and who's going to come play that day, and that's really what it comes down to."