FORT MYERS, Fla. — In a tournament full of talented teams and storied programs, Team MVP 15U did their part to stand out through three games of pool play this weekend at the inaugural PG WWBA Freshman World Championship.
Six teams finished Saturday undefeated, but the 3-0 Team MVP 15U boasted the best run-differential at plus-27. They scored 32 runs in three games, including a 9-4 win over Bob Barth’s Tri-State Arsenal 15U Blue team Friday afternoon — a game in which Team MVP 15U drew 15 walks. They out-scored their opponents 23-1 in two games on Saturday, clinching the fourth seed in the 14-team playoff bracket.
“The team has performed up to my expectations thus far,” Coach Jovon Edwards told Perfect Game before his team’s first-round playoff matchup Sunday morning at the jetBlue Player Development Complex. “The pitching has been great and the defensive play has been stellar. We’ve been hitting the ball the way we’re capable of.”
And hit they did.
Three players on the Team MVP 15U squad hit .400 or better in the tournament, including: Derrick Lewandowski (2017, Boynton Beach Community, Fla.), Christian Gardner (2017, Palm Beach Central, Fla.) and Travis Holt (2017, American Heritage, Fla.). Lewandowski led the team in hitting, going 6-for-11 (.570) with two RBI and six runs scored. Gardner hit .444 (4-for-9), including the team’s only triple, while Holt went 3-for-7 (.429) with four walks, good for a .636 on-base percentage.
Right-hander Angel Tiburcio (Palm Beach Central, Fla.) — one of the team’s three 2018 graduates — set the tone for Team MVP 15U’s pitching staff in game one on Friday, throwing 43 of 62 pitches (67 percent) for strikes in 4.2 innings. Right-hander Ivany Valdez (2017, Trinity Christian Academy, Fla.) struck out five in four one-hit innings Saturday morning. Right-handers James Marinan (2017, Park Vista Community, Fla.) and Jose Guerra (2017, Forest Hill Community, Fla.) combined on a four-inning no-hitter in their 12-0 win Saturday afternoon.
In 16 innings during three pool play games, Team MVP 15U held opponents to just eight hits. And that was without two of their pitchers, leaving them short-handed for the playoffs.
Against a strong CFBL Mizuno Red 16’s team Sunday morning in round one of the playoffs, the right-handed Triston Casas (Charles W Flanagan, Fla.) — another 2018 graduate — struck out nine batters in five innings for Team MVP 15U. All three runs scored against him were unearned, putting Coach Edwards’ team in a 3-1 hole heading into the bottom of the seventh inning.
A pair of fielding errors by CFBL allowed Team MVP 15U to score twice, forcing extra innings with a trip to the quarterfinals on the line. Starting the top of the eighth with the bases loaded and one out — per playoff rules — Mizuno answered with a three-run inning. Team MVP 15U plated just one run in the bottom half, ending their tournament run.
“I expected our team to rally back, and they did,” Coach Edwards said after the game. “But we came here without two of our arms that are as good as our pitchers here, so we were a little short-handed. We knew if we played after this game, we’d have to throw guys who threw yesterday. Hopefully we’ll get deeper and have a chance to play through Monday next time. We’ll be back.”
If the talent on their roster is any indication, they will be back. Perfect Game Scouting Coordinator, Jheremy Brown, likes the tools of several Team MVP 15U players, including outfielder Edmond Americana (2017, Trinity Christian Academy, Fla.).
“Americana showed a quick bat with a line drive swing at the plate,” Brown said. “And he’s quick in center field with a good first-step. He has a strong arm, too.”
Team MVP 15U’s third 2018 graduate, Xavier Edwards (Trinity Christian Academy, Fla.) — the son of Coach Edwards — showed impressive tools at shortstop.
“Edwards has a solid glove and good lateral range,” Brown said. “And like Americana, his arm plays, too.”
“(Xavier) has taken a liking to the game,” said Coach Edwards — a fourth-round pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1984. “His mom got him started. So I thought I might be the guy to train him. He really loves the game. And he’s more talented than I was, and I played professionally for five and a half years.”
Talent alone doesn’t always prevail though, and Coach Edwards is well aware of that. But he’s not discouraged by his team’s first-round exit. The experience alone is crucial to their development.
“It’s great to win, but we’ve stressed development, development, development,” Coach Edwards said. “And I believe in that development, championships will come. But if I can help these kids become better players, the organization is better served.
“Perfect Game puts together great tournaments,” he continued. “And this is a great opportunity for these guys just entering high school to play in front of scouts at a Major League Spring Training site. It’s a great experience for our kids that’ll help them move forward in the future. And I think our players are better than they were before they came to this tournament to play. That’s why we’re here.”