The Ocala Elite Baseball Club came home with another championship under its belt last week. Now the players will disperse for a few months until the next season begins.
Though the team is based out of Ocala, it pulls from around the region. Five players come from Citrus County, three from Palatka and two from Leesburg, with the rest hailing from Marion County.
"We wanted to build something that could grow and be there for the kids who want to play competitive baseball at the highest level," said head coach T.J. Watts. "They’ve really, really worked hard as far as what we’re doing and what we’re trying to accomplish. When we go to tournaments they play at a higher level and people know who they are."
Most recently, Watts’ 14U squad captured the team title at the USSSA’s Independence Day Global World Series held July 2-7 in Sarasota. Ocala Elite permitted just 11 runs in seven games.
"It’s a very, very big tournament. It’s nationwide. Teams have to qualify. It’s some of the top-level teams from around the nation," Watts said. "It’s pretty big to represent a small county area and come out on top."
It’s the sixth major USSSA tournament this group has won, and they’ve placed first in three others events while also reaching the final of the Perfect Game 14U Florida Elite Invitational in March. At one point Ocala Elite ranked first in the state for USSSA and second in the nation.
"You can see the maturity and see the development," Watts said. "We have outstanding pitchers. The kids go out and get the job done. That’s been our key, pitching. (Pitching coach) Shane (Walley) has done an outstanding job taking that over and getting the job done."
Cris Walley, among the five from Citrus County, has been one of the top arms along with Mekai Griffin. Aside from Cris Wally, Nick Gonzalez, Bryce Pixley, Wyatt Pochis and Cason Williamson are all Citrus residents.
Connor Tundis has shined as both a leadoff hitter and center fielder, bringing speed that makes him a "game-changer," according to Watts.
"When he gets on, he scores, and he holds the glue down in the outfield," Watts said of Tundis.
Watts also points to the leadership provided by Cris Walley, Gonzalez and Williamson, who won a state championship with the Inverness Little League.
Though this has been something of a breakthrough year, this group has been together for some time. Originally the team was called the Ocala Thoroughbreds, and when the owner of the team moved away Watts kept it intact and changed the name.
Ocala Elite also has an 11U team and a 13U AAA crew. The current 14U club will become a 15U showcase team next season, starting up again in September.
"Everything our program does is geared toward the kids getting to show their talents and put them in a position to be better student-athletes," Watts said. "The main goal is to get into college and continue their baseball careers."