FORT MYERS, Fla. – One year ago during the last week of March and the first week of April, the Venice (Fla.) Senior High School Indians pulled off an elite tournament twin-bill. They were in Cary, N.C., for the USA Baseball National High School Invitational in late March and then attended the inaugural Perfect Game High School Showdown here in early April.
The Indians were impressive in their back-to-back national tournament challenges. They finished third at the NHSI in Cary and then won the first PG High School Showdown in Fort Myers, compiling a 7-1 overall record at the two events. In four wins at the PG High School Showdown, they outscored their Georgia opponents by a combined 19-0.
"We've played some great teams," Venice head coach Craig Faulkner said after the Indians beat Blessed Trinity (Ga.) High School in what proved to be last year’s championship game at the first PG HS Showdown. "It's very special to play that kind of competition and it's everything that I could have hoped for. We want to play the best competition and we felt like we may have had the toughest schedule in all of the United States, possibly.
“It's just very special to come here and win four in a row at this tournament. Perfect Game puts on such a great tournament and treated everybody so special; it's nice to be a part of their first year with this."
Now, a year later, Venice is set to return to Southwest Florida and shoot for the elite repeat.
The nationally No. 13-ranked Indians will defend their title at the 2nd annual Perfect Game High School Showdown later this week and will challenge a 10-team field that includes arch-rival and the No. 9-ranked Sarasota (Fla.) High School Sailors.
The Showdown’s games will be played Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the JetBlue Player Development Complex, City of Palms Park and Terry Park. A 3 p.m. championship game is scheduled at JetBlue Park on Saturday.
A nine-team Perfect Game High School Showdown-Academies tournament is also scheduled over the same three days. Games will be played at JetBlue, City of Palms, Terry Park and the Player Development 5-Plex with the championship game slated for 3 p.m. on Saturday at the 5-Plex.
Last year’s inaugural PG High School Showdown consisted of eight teams: four each from Florida and Georgia that played a round-robin against the other state’s four teams. The Florida schools won the head-to-head competition, finishing 11-5 against their Georgia counterparts; Venice finished 4-0 to claim the title.
This year’s field includes six Florida high schools – Bishop Verot Catholic (Fort Myers), William T. Dwyer (Palm Beach Gardens), IMG Academy (Bradenton), Montverde (Fla.) Academy, Sarasota and Venice – and four others coming in from out of state. Those schools are Allatoona (Acworth, Ga.), DeSoto Central (Southaven, Miss.), Concordia Lutheran (Tomball, Texas) and Lowndes (Valdosta, Ga.).
“Anytime you have an opportunity to play in a facility like we’re going to be playing in down there at JetBlue is something to be excited about,” DeSoto Central head coach Mark Monaghan told PG. “And then, the competition is our number one excitement just being able to play against the best in the country, in some aspects, with teams from all over. We’re excited about the opportunity.”
Monaghan’s Jaguars are expected to challenge for the Showdown championship with a roster that includes three Ole Miss recruits (seniors Clay Casey and Kyle Watson, and junior Dallas Woolfolk), two Mississippi State commits (juniors Keegan James and Austin Riley) and one Memphis signee (senior Drew Crosby).
Coming into the tournament at No. 9 in the national rankings, the Sarasota Sailors and long-time veteran coach Clyde Metcalf will make the more than an hour rive down I-75 (or maybe U.S. 41) and arrive here as one of the pre-Showdown favorites. They were 15-1 when the week began, and with three senior starting pitchers that have committed to D-I schools and a junior who will eventually join them, the Sailors look to be quite formidable at this event.
Those senior starters are right-handers Evan Mendoza (North Carolina State) and Joe Cavallaro (South Florida), and lefty Zachary McMullen (South Alabama). Uncommitted 6-foot-4, 220-pound junior right-hander Jordan Gubelman completes the rotation and senior catcher Brandon Chapman has committed to George Washington University. Sarasota was 3-1 at last year’s PG HS Showdown.
It’s also important to remember that this is the same team that surprisingly won the PG WWBA Florida Qualifier in October and placed six of its players on the event’s all-tournament team, with Gubelman among them. The Sailors jumped to a 15-1 start this season and will play Allatoona and Lowndes the first two days of the Showdown.
“I’m excited just for the fact that we get to open up with two teams from Georgia,” Metcalf told PG. “We always look forward to playing people out of our area and just playing different people. It’s a challenge and it’s kind of refreshing for you to be able to do that. You go through your district schedule and you play your local rivals, but it’s always nice to see a new face. That’s why tournaments like this are always so good for us.”
Venice unexpectedly struggled at this year’s NHSI tournament, winning only one of its four games; it comes into the PG HS Showdown with an 11-5 record. But this is a team that reached No. 1 in PG’s National High School Top 50 Rankings earlier this season and will be considered a Florida state championship threat until the very end.
It boasts the talents of Florida recruits Michael Rivera and Dalton Guthrie, Furman signee Brandon Elmy and Florida Atlantic recruit Ryan Miller. Rivera, Guthrie, Elmy and Miller were among nine Venice Indians named to last year’s PG HS Showdown all-tournament team.
No. 49-ranked Bishop Verot, with a 15-1 record on the 1st of April, also competed in the NHSI in Cary last week and after dropping its tournament-opener won its last three games at the event. It was a strong showing for the senior-laden Vikings team.
“We played pretty well up there after our first game,” Bishop Verot third-year head coach David Nelson said. “I would have been happy with 2-and-2 and we came out 3-and-1, so it was a good week, that’s for sure. We won our last three (in Cary) and that definitely put us in a good place mentally. We’re definitely coming into the Perfect Game Showdown on a high note, for sure.”
The Vikings are paced by senior left-hander Jonah Owenby (South Florida), senior right-hander Jeffrey Passantino (Lipscomb), junior right-hander Thaddeus Ward (Central Florida), senior outfielder Evan Dougherty (Duke) and senior shortstop Bobby Brennan (Maine).
“With the teams that are involved with the Showdown this year – IMG, DeSoto Central, Montverde, Sarasota, the school from Texas – we’re definitely looking forward to facing some great competition,” Nelson said. “That’s the most important thing, facing some very, very good teams and very, very good talent, and getting better from that (experience).”
All 10 rosters of the teams at the Showdown are loaded with high-end prospects and at least 43 of them have already signed with or committed to NCAA Division I schools.
IMG Academy boasts seven D-I signees/commits: junior left-hander Logan Allen (South Carolina), senior outfielder Luke Bonfield (Arkansas), senior outfielder Andrew DiLacqua (Arizona State), junior outfielder Eric Feliz (Notre Dame), junior infielder Ryan Karstetter (Virginia), senior third baseman Taylor Lane (Florida) and senior right-hander Brian Rapp (Boston College).
Led by four senior right-handed pitchers who are all Division I signees – Paul Campbell (Clemson), Austin DeCarr (Clemson), Scott Hovey (Massachusetts) and William Montgomerie (Connecticut) – No. 33-ranked Salisbury (Conn.) Prep School headlines the field at the PG High School Showdown-Academies. Senior shortstop Will Toffey (Vanderbilt) and senior catcher Kyle Adams (Richmond) also stand out on head coach John Toffey’s 2014 roster.
“It’s terrific exposure for our guys,” Coach Toffey said of competing at the Showdown. “They always want to play with and against the best and we’re really looking forward to heading to Florida in about a month. It will be a great experience for our guys and it will be a tremendous challenge playing against some really strong teams from other parts of the country.
“It will be great for our kids to get out of New England and play baseball in Florida. We’re really, really looking forward to it and thankful for the opportunity to be invited by Perfect Game (to the event) … and go to Florida and compete against some of the best high school teams in the country.”
The PGHS Showdown-Academies field includes several club teams, with SBO Storm Puerto Rico (San Juan, P.R.), SBO Storm Florida (West Palm Beach, Fla.) and Future Stars Baseball (St. Thomas, Virgin Islands) among them.
The always salty Ontario Blue Jays (Thornhill, Ont., Canada) with 2013 Perfect Game All-American and North Carolina State signee Gareth Morgan from Toronto, and the Home Plate Citadels (Peachtree City, Ga.) with 2013 PG All-American and Georgia Tech signee Kel Johnson from Palmetto, Ga., are also in the field.
Select games played at JetBlue Park will be streamed online in high definition courtesy of Volar Video and iHigh.com. Daron Sutton and David Rawnsley will provide the commentary.
Thursday, April 3
4 p.m. – Montverde Academy Eagles (Fla.) vs. Bishop Verot Catholic Vikings (Fla.)
7 p.m. – IMG Academy Ascenders (Fla.) vs. DeSoto Central Jaguars (Miss.)
Friday, April 4
4 p.m. – Lowndes Vikings (Ga.) vs. Sarasota Sailors (Fla.)
7 p.m. – Allatoona Buccaneers (Ga.) vs. Venice Indians (Fla.)
Saturday, April 5
12:30 p.m. – TBA vs. TBA – PG High School Showdown 3rd Place Game
3 p.m. – TBA vs. TBA – PG High School Showdown Championship