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FORT MYERS, Fla. – Don’t second guess or be hesitant at all of staying with DeSoto Central High School out of Southaven, Miss., as your pre-tournament pick to bring home the championship trophy from this week’s 2nd annual Perfect Game High School Showdown.
Don’t look at the Jaguars’ 9-4 record and think they don’t deserve the same consideration as any of the others in the 10-team field that might own glossier records. This is, after all, a team that made an appearance in the PG National High School Top 50 rankings a couple of weeks ago and is looking to get back there after what head coach Mark Monaghan expects to be a stellar effort when the 2014 PG HS Showdown kicks off late Thursday afternoon in Lee County, Fla.
“I put together a tough, tough schedule even without the Perfect Game tournament,” Monaghan told PG this week. “We knew we were going to be challenged but we wanted to make sure we’re battle-tested when we get to the end (of the regular season) when it matters most.”
Monaghan goes to battle with a young and talented pitching staff led by junior right-hander Austin Riley. A 6-foot-3, 227-pounder, Riley is ranked No. 46 nationally (No. 1 Mississippi) in the 2015 class, and is a Mississippi State recruit who has played in five PG WWBA tournaments with the Dulin Dodgers in the last couple of years.
Senior left-hander Drew Crosby (Memphis) and senior righty Clay Casey (Mississippi) – one of the team’s top hitters – and junior right-handers Keegan James (Mississippi State), Dallas Woolfolk (Mississippi), Spencer Price and Brant Blaylock give Monaghan plenty of options.
“Our focus with this group is centered around our pitching, and when you’re going into a tournament-style thing when you’ve got several games in a short period of time, pitching is something that you’ve got to have,” Monaghan said. “We don’t go to just one, two or three guys that we think can win, we feel like we’re deeper than that. We have some prospects, so to speak, the guys that are committed, but a lot of the other guys are right there and super competitive and give us a tremendous amount of depth.
“We feel real good about being able to take care of business on the mound and try to score one more than the other team.”
DeSoto County is in northwest Mississippi and Southaven is basically a suburb of Memphis, Tenn. DeSoto Central is one of eight large high schools in the county.
“Over the last few years, it’s just been kind of a talent-rich area,” Monaghan said. “Several of the other high schools are highly talented as well, with some top prospects. The area in general is one reason why these guys are so talented – they played a lot of baseball coming up and it’s just kind of one of those deals where they’ve all kind of fallen into it.”
Any of the six Florida teams in the field are capable of capturing the 2014 PG HS Showdown title, but Sarasota High and long-time head coach Clyde Metcalf – the head coach of the East Team at the 2012 Perfect Game All-American Classic in San Diego – seem to be sitting the prettiest. The nationally No. 9-ranked Sailors are 15-1 coming into the event and look to be arriving with a head of steam.
“We’re playing real good ball to this point,” Metcalf said. “Our team is kind of built around pitching and defense; our team ERA is under one (1.00) and we’re averaging less than an error a game. We’ve been playing excellent defense and we’ve gotten excellent pitching … and we’re built around the defense and the pitching staff.”
Metcalf announced this week that his starting pitchers at the PG HS Showdown will be senior right-hander Evan Mendoza (North Carolina State) in Thursday night’s opener against Allattona (Ga.); senior righty Joe Cavallaro (South Florida); senior left-hander Zachary McMullen (South Alabama) and junior right-hander Jordan Gubelman. All of those prospects helped pitch Sarasota to the championship at last October’s PG WWBA Florida Qualifier, also played in Fort Myers.
“Those guys have just been stellar; they’ve been really good,” Metcalf said of his starters. “They stay in the strike zone, they keep the ball down. They’re really fast workers and they keep our defense in the game, and they roll a lot of ground balls. Each of them average over a strikeout an inning and they’re really what I would consider ground ball pitchers.”
Nine of the Sailors’ 18 roster spots are filled by seniors and eight others by juniors (one sophomore, righty/shortstop Nick Long, is on the varsity).
“Five of our seniors are three-year lettermen,” Metcalf said. “They’ve been on the varsity and have been contributors for three years and that’s always a big thing. It’s a really good group of young men and they provide us with tremendous leadership. They’ve done a great job of helping our younger players with the process of maturing and teaching them the work ethic that we expect on a daily basis.
“Our junior class is strong as well, and I think this is a (season) we’ve kind of been looking forward to for a couple of years, really.”
Yet another Florida team coming into the tournament with some momentum on its side is hometown favorite Bishop Verot from right here in Fort Myers. Like Sarasota, the Vikings and third-year head coach David Nelson are 15-1 after finishing 3-1 at last week’s prestigious USA Baseball National High School Invitational tournament in Cary, N.C.
Bishop Verot has 12 seniors on its roster that have experienced a lot of winning. Three of those seniors played on the 2011 state championship team as freshmen – with first- and second-round draft picks Hudson Boyd and Daniel Vogelbach, now in the Twins’ and Cubs’ organizations, respectively – six of them were on the 2012 state runner-up team and 10 were on last year’s state final-four team.
“Just the amount of experience, the amount of games that these guys have played, just the amount of competition and the ups and downs that they’ve went through, that’s what makes them special,” Nelson said. “That’s what makes them a very good team – they’ve done so much together … day-in and day-out. They’re constantly together, talking and laughing and joking.”
And like DeSoto Central and Sarasota, Nelson will march a lot of D-I level talent out to the mound over the course of the PG HS Showdown.
He’ll start with junior right-hander Thaddeus Ward (Central Florida) on Thursday afternoon against Montverde (Fla.) Academy at JetBlue Park, and follow up with senior right-hander Jeffrey Passantino (Lipscomb), senior righty Dominick Stefanacci (Tusculum) and senior left-hander Jonah Owenby (South Florida).
“This is (a tournament) where we’re judging ourselves as a team, figuring out where we are as a team,” Nelson said. “To be able to go up to Cary and come out 3-and-1, we’re feeling pretty good. To come into the Perfect Game tournament, obviously we want to go 4-and-0; if we can’t go 4-and-0, we want to go 3-and-1. We want to be able to go out and compete with some very, very good teams and come out on top.
“This is definitely a challenge for us and this is a mountain for us to be able to climb and to see where we are as a program and where we are as a team.”