BA/Perfect Game Wood Bat Championship
By Allan Simpson
JUPITER, Fla.--The Miami-Dade Sluggers didn't impress the hundreds of scouts and college recruiters the way some teams did at this weekend's Baseball America/Perfect Game World Wood Bat championship, but they had the magic formula when it came to winning.
"We weren't the most talented team," Sluggers head coach Javier Perez admitted, "but we played the hardest. We put the ball in play, we put a lot of pressure on the other teams' defense and we bunted a lot. We played a lot of small ball, and we got the job done."
The Sluggers won five straight games in bracket play to win the 64-team tournament. They beat Team Florida USA '03 7-6 in the championship game Monday afternoon, scoring three runs in the top of the seventh to pull it out.
The Sluggers manufactured all three runs in their game-winning rally without the benefit of a hit.
With righthander Jeff Allison (Peabody, Mass., High), one of the top juniors in the country, on to close for Team Florida in the seventh, the first two Sluggers reached on a hit batter and walk. Johnny Ruiz (Southwest High, Miami) then dropped down a bunt to move the runners up but both scored on the play when the ball was thrown over the first baseman's head. Ruiz came around to score the tie-breaking run on a second error.
"That rally was typical of the way we played in the whole tournament," Perez said. "We just kept the pressure on."
The Sluggers played eight games in three days to win the title. After being rained out of their scheduled Friday opener, they played two games on Saturday, three on Sunday and three more on Monday.
Oddly, in every one of their seven wins, they were the visiting team. In their only loss--in pool play to Team California Combined--they were the home team.
Sluggers center fielder Yahmed Yema was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player. A senior at Hialeah High, he was a member of Florida's 6-A state championship team last spring.
"He was our leadoff hitter and go-to guy whenever we needed a big hit in the tournament," Perez said. Yema had five doubles among his hits.
Five-foot-9 lefthander Hugo Blanco (Miami High) was the Sluggers top pitcher. He beat the Austin (Texas) Baseball Club 2-1 in the Sluggers first game on Saturday and worked the first four innings of Monday's final. He left with a two-run lead before a double and home run by David Winfree (First Colonial High, Virginia Beach, Va.) helped Team Florida take a short-lived 6-4 lead to the seventh.
Experience Beats Youth
The Sluggers' entire roster came from Miami-area high schools. They were assembled in September essentially as a scout team to play in tournaments this fall. The BA/PG tournament was their fourth event--and their first win.
With two exceptions all players on the roster were seniors, including seven of the top 50 prospects in the state (as ranked by Prospects Plus). One of the two juniors, righthander Danny Ramos (Gulliver Prep, Miami) pitched a pivotal game in the semifinals as the Sluggers beat the Seminole (Fla.) Scout Team 3-1.
Team Florida '03, on the other hand, had only one senior on its roster. But it had 10 of the top 50-rated juniors nationally, and two of the top 10 sophomores. The team was coached by Tampa Jesuit High's John Crumbley, who led that school to a No. 1 ranking in Baseball America's national high school poll in 1997.
Typical of many of the high-profile teams at this weekend's tournament, Team Florida '03 recruited players from all over the country. It also had 12 players from Florida.
Despite being one of the tournament's youngest teams, Team Florida won its first seven games before falling in the final. It beat Team Florida USA '02, the pre-tournament favorite, 5-3 in a stirring semifinal game. All four teams that advanced to the final four were from Florida.
Lefthander Scott Kazmir (Cy Falls High, Houston) helped Team Florida '02 reach the semifinals by pitching three scoreless innings to nail down a 2-0 win over the previously-unbeaten Bill Hood (La.) Broncos. Kazmir, who was clocked as high as 95 mph, also hit close to .600 in the tournament and solidified his status as the top senior prospect in the nation.
The defending champion Baseball America team failed to qualify for the 32-team championship bracket, but managed to win three straight games on Sunday and Monday to win the consolation bracket.
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