Fort Myers, Fla. — Team East was a ballclub operating at peak efficiency Sunday night. Every pitch mattered; every hit counted for something. And when a team of talented players can produce a performance that precise, victory is usually achieved in the end.
Nine pitchers combined on a nine-inning, 14-strikeout one-hitter, their batters turned five hits into five runs, and the East scampered past Team West, 5-1, at the 2nd annual Perfect Game Select Baseball Festival 14u all-star game played in balmy and comfortable conditions at jetBlue Park.
The game was a purist's delight with outstanding pitching and often-times great defensive play displayed on both sides, and in the East's case, anyway, a base hit when it was needed most. This was a game played primarily by high school freshman with a few age-eligible sophomores put into the mix, but they often played with the poise and promise usually seen from prospects a year or two older.
"Both teams were unbelievably enthusiastic about the weekend; they didn't even try to hide it," East head coach Gary White from nearby Estero High School said postgame. "They were excited about being here, they were excited at the (Golisano (Children's) hospital, they were excited at the (Awards) dinner, and they were more than excited tonight for the game. It's nice to see that kids get excited about something, so it was a great time."
With only six hits between the two teams it wouldn't be surprising to learn that no player had more than one, but that wasn't the case. Dynamic 2020 infielder Joel Perez Jr. from Miramar, Fla., singled twice, drove in a run, scored a run and stole a base.
He also made a highlight-reel defensive play while playing third base – Perez Jr. is typically a middle-infielder – in the bottom of the third inning and was named the game's Most Valuable Player.
"You'll get a lot of hits and you'll get a lot of runs if you're having fun playing the game," Perez Jr. said, smiling ear-to-ear. "Because if you don't have fun, you will not win; you will not have a good time."
All nine of the East's pitchers were dominant. 2020 right-hander Alex Edmondson (Simpsonville, S.C.) struck out the side in the bottom of the fourth, the only East pitcher to do so in his inning of work. 2021 right-handers Irving Carter (Boynton Beach, Fla.), Christian Moore (Brooklyn, N.Y.) and Cole Wagner (Lewisberry, Pa.) each struck-out two in their one inning on the bump, as did 2020 righties Carson Montgomery (Windermere, Fla.) and Nicholas Rigaldo (Miami Lakes, Fla.).
The West's only hit was a single off the bat of 2021 shortstop Hunter Teplansky in the bottom of the fourth inning. They scored their only run in the bottom of the ninth on the strength of three walks and a fielder's choice groundout from Rawley Hector (Van Alstyne, Texas).
Nine West pitchers combined on the five-hitter, striking out nine; 2021 right-hander Grant Taylor (Florence, Ala.) struck-out the side in the fourth inning. Both team's pitching staffs were throwing no-hitters through three innings of play before the East finally busted through with two runs on two hits in the top of the fourth.
Perez Jr. reached on a one-out infield single – the first hit of the game – advanced to second on a wild pitch, stole third and eventually scored on a throwing error. Perez Jr.'s offensive display came not long after he had dived to his right to snag a screaming line-drive just inside of fair territory down the third base line.
The East added another run in the frame when Christian Moore delivered a pop-fly double to right field that scored Nicholas Rigaldo, who had reached on a walk.
The East added two more in the top of the seventh after Jayden Melendez led off the frame with a double to left-center and eventually scored when Perez Jr. delivered an RBI single; he was thrown out while aggressively trying to stretch it into a double. They added their fifth run in the eighth on a one-out, RBI single from Erick Pena (Dominican Republic).
“This experience was great,” Perez Jr. said. “I was very happy when they selected me for (the PG Select Baseball Festival) because I usually don't get picked for all this stuff, but now I'm getting (my name) out there. Playing with these boys, it was a great time. And I had a lot of fun going to the hospital and playing with the kids and making their day."
The finals of the 2nd annual PG Select Baseball Festival Home Run Challenge were held about an hour before the game's first pitch and 2021 Southaven, Miss., slugger Blaze Jordan won the even going, going gone away.
Jordan, a 6-foot, 215-pound, 14-year-old, right-handed hitter who just started his freshman year at national baseball DeSoto Central High School, buried the competition by slugging four long bombs over Fenway South's left field Green Monster during the allotted time slot. Swinging a Rawlings Velo BBCOR bat, all four blasts were towering things of beauty.
"That was great; it's the ultimate experience being out here with all these guys and everything," Jordan said before talking about the approach he takes when competing in a home run derby. "I just go up and there and don't really think about anything, I just swing and try to get under the ball. Especially with this Green Monster, you've got to get under it to hit it out."
Jordan, a member of Team West, was opposed in the finals by Team East members Joey Mack (Williamsville, N.Y.), Roismar Quintana (Guatire, VE) and Mario Zabala (San Juan, Puerto Rico). Quintana and Mack each one home run apiece.
Jordan smacked five home runs during Saturday's preliminary round, held on Field 1 at the jetBlue Park Player Development Complex. Quintana dropped three bombs in the prelims and Mack and Zabala two apiece. Field 1 also a fence version of the Green Monster. All four hitters used the Rawlings Velo during the competition.
Both it and the Monster at jetBlue Park are smaller versions of the original Monster inside of Boston's Fenway Park but they can be plenty intimidating for even the best 14- and 15-year-old sluggers.
"It can be a little bit, especially when you get a hold of one and it hits the top of the wall and bounces back," Jordan said. "It's just a little bit tougher than on a normal field."
The Challenge immediately gave way to the game itself, and at its conclusion – when fireworks were bursting over jetBlue Park – it's difficult to believe anyone went home disappointed, even the players on Team West.
“This is the second year that I've been given the opportunity to do this with Perfect Game, and it was easier this year having done it in the past," the East's White said. "(The players) have a routine and having done it in the past it was a little easier this year to deal with.”
Perfect Game’s Jeff Dahn contributed this report