Recap: 2023 Palm Beach Open (Pool Play) image

Recap: 2023 Palm Beach Open (Pool Play)

Although weather conditions were not ideal, the 2024 Original Florida Pokers cruised through pool play over the first four days of the Prospect Select Palm Beach Open tournament over the weekend.

The Pokers swept the four guaranteed games in the tournament without giving up a run and earned the top seed heading into a one-day playoff. The schedule originally called for pool play to be completed on Sunday, with teams playing two games on one day over the weekend, but Mother Nature had other plans.

Friday went as planned, with the Pokers beating the New Jersey Marlins 17U Graziano club, 7-0, in a seven-inning game. The doubleheader planned for Saturday is when the rain started to play a factor. A six-inning, 5-0, win over TKR Reds National reached the 2-hour time limit, but game No. 2 never got started. Rains came down as players walked from one side of the complex to the other.

The Pokers beat the other New Jersey Marlins 17U club (Ammerman) Sunday afternoon, 10-0, in four innings, leaving the field just as lightning suspended the other games in play.

Finally, pool play concluded on Monday, with a 7-0 Pokers win over the IBAHS National team. Up 7-0 after three innings, the Pokers won the game via forfeit after the rain washed out the day.

A 29-0 run differential doesn’t happen on accident. The Pokers’ arms were once again dominant, giving up just four hits over 19 innings of shutout ball. Left-hander Breylynn Courtney’s (Stoneman Douglas, ‘25) six innings in the opener set the tone for the staff, and nearly every arm followed suit.

Offensively, a patient approach at the plate paid off as the Pokers walked 24 times to just 19 strikeouts over four games. Bennett Gary’s (Stoneman Douglas, ‘25) five hits led the team, and he didn’t even play on Monday. Niko Benestad’s (Stoneman Douglas, USF ‘24 commit) four RBIs also paced the team in pool play.

The Palm Beach Open 17U playoffs will commence on Tuesday. The Pokers enter as the top seed, set to play a semifinal game against Canes New England 17U at 11:40 a.m. A win moves them into the championship game, which will be played after both semifinals wrap up.

Recaps from each pool game can be found below.

Breylynn Courtney

Game 1: Pokers 7, NJ Marlins 17U Graziano 0

As mentioned above, this one was all Breylynn Courtney. He threw six shutout innings and gave up just one hit on a bunt to third base. At 71 pitches, Courtney wanted to close out the win, but Christian Milliken (Stoneman Douglas, ‘24) came in for the seventh instead. Milliken loaded the bases before recording three-straight outs, including a pickoff at third base.

The offense took a little while to get going, but the Pokers finally broke out in the fourth inning, scoring a pair of runs to take the lead. Rylan Lujo (Stoneman Douglas, Dayton ‘24 commit) broke things open with a home run, and Benestad scored on a sacrifice fly off the bat off EJ Burns (Taravella, FGCU ‘24 commit).

Benestad drove in a pair on a single to right field in the fifth, making it 4-0, and Andrew Raucci (Coral Springs Charter, ‘24) walked with the bases loaded to add another in the sixth. With the bases still loaded, Gary put a double in the gap to bring the Pokers’ lead up to seven runs.

The Pokers outhit the Marlins (Graziano), 9-2, with Gavin Gargiulo (Stoneman Douglas, UCF ‘24 commit) and Gary finishing with two hits apiece.

Dane Rossi threw three no-hit inning on Saturday, as the Pokers defeated TKR Reds National, 5-0

Game 2 (F/6): Pokers 5, TKR Reds National 0

The offense scored early and often on Saturday. Burns drove in Anthony Quigley (Taravella, USF ‘24 commit) in the second, Gary scored on a Lujo single in the third after tripling off the right field wall and Ethan Askin (Stoneman Douglas, ‘24) doubled in Burns in the fourth.

Another pair of runs crossed in the bottom of the sixth, but the time limit expired before the Pokers could add any more. Gary and Lujo each had two hits, and Quigley reached safely three times (two walks and a single).

The pitching staff was once again excellent. Left-hander Dane Rossi (American Heritage-Delray, ‘24) got the start, throwing three no-hit innings. Four walks elevated his pitch count enough to keep him from throwing a fourth. James Smith (Stoneman Douglas, ‘24) threw two innings in relief before Jayden Dubanewicz (Stoneman Douglas, Florida ‘24 commit) closed things out. Smith was perfect, facing the minimum of six batters, and Dubanewicz struck out two of the four batters he saw.

Niko Benestad driving in a run for the Pokers against NJ Marlins 17U Ammerman

Game 3 (F/4): Pokers 10, NJ Marlins 17U Ammerman 0

This one didn’t make it to the 2-hour time limit…

The Pokers put up nine runs in the third inning against the Ammerman-led NJ Marlins 17U club. Six walks helped facilitate the big inning, but Benestad and Gargiulo both doubled in runs, Gary singled in another and AJ Perry (uncommitted, FL ‘24) added one more with a sacrifice fly. Quigley tripled in the only run of the game that came outside the third inning.

On the mound, Javi Miranda (Taravella, ‘24) touched 90 mph with his fastball but struggled with command early. Six walks ended up being harmless, though, as he fanned three and induced a crucial double play in the third. Milliken came in to get the final out of the frame and pitched the closed things out in the fourth. 1-2-3.

It’s a good thing that this game ended when it did because lightning strikes were visible beyond right field just after.

Andrew Raucci on the mound for the Pokers against IBAHS National 17U

Game 4 (F/3): Pokers 7, IBAHS National 17U 0

The rain stopped this game in the middle of the third inning, but IBAHS was already on a third pitcher and down 7-0. Both teams wanted to get the game in, but field conditions wouldn’t allow it.

Walks once again played a big role here. The Pokers collected six free bases through 19 plate appearances and scored two runs on a wild pitch. A Quigley double got the scoring started in the first, followed by a Perry single and bases-loaded walk to Askin. After a quiet second inning, Burns made it 5-0 with a sacrifice fly, and the final runs came on the wild pitch mentioned earlier.

Raucci got the start but only pitched two innings thanks to the rain. He was efficient, facing eight batters thanks to a pair of errors. He recovered with a double play and recorded all six outs on contact.

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