When Bloomingdale and Durant take the field Tuesday night in a matchup between two of the top Hillsborough County teams, it won’t just be for positioning in Class 8A, District 7, the area’s toughest grouping.
For seven players across both teams, it will be for personal bragging rights.
Bloomingdale’s Austin Wilson, Justin Ambrosino and Nolan Schrenker, along with Durant’s Brett Ducker, John Coglianese, Ryan Dawkins and Tyler Danish grew up playing together in the South Brandon Little League circuit. And when most in the bunch were 9 years old, their parents brought them together to form one of the area’s first travel teams, the Brandon Blazers.
“Our main thing was to prepare the kids so hopefully they could make their high school teams,” said Don Schrenker, one of the Blazers’ original coaches. “Anything that happened from there was just icing on the cake.”
With 10 of the 12 sticking with baseball through high school, and three committed to play collegiately, the team more than fulfilled its original intention. The parent-coaches, though, probably could have guessed that after one July 2006 week in Cooperstown, N.Y., when the boys dominated their competition to go undefeated in a national Cooperstown Baseball World tournament.
“We kept winning and winning, and we got more and more pumped, and just took care of business,” said Coglianese, who caught for the Blazers then and catches for Durant now. “It was one of the most fun times I’ve had playing baseball.”
It was the only time the Blazers left Florida. After a season’s worth of fundraisers — car washes, sponsorships from local businesses and collecting donations in front of a WalMart — most of the group flew from Tampa to New York City (though Danish and his father, the late Michael Danish, took two days to drive the 24 hours) and rode a train to Cooperstown. While there, the boys stayed in State University of New York-Oneonta dorms and took advantage of their newfound freedom.
“Our curfew was 11, but we kind of violated that,” said Danish, a Florida commit who pitches and plays shortstop for Durant, the same positions he played back then. “We’d be up until about 1 in the morning, we’d have dance contests, just dance contests.”
Don Schrenker, Michael Danish and fellow coach Brian Wilson came early in the morning armed with flashlights to pry the boys’ eyes open, and there were no signs of sluggishness on the field. For the week, the Blazers scored 94 runs and allowed only 16. Nolan Schrenker led all players with nine home runs and tied with teammate Emilio Ogando (a 2011 Durant grad and current pitcher at St.
Thomas University in Miami Gardens) for 13 hits, and Danish was tops with 10 stolen bases.
In the championship game, the Bakersfield Heat from California hit a two-run home run in the top of the first. But the Blazers scored nine in the bottom of the inning en route to a 16-2 victory.
“I still have my ring,” said Ducker. “I keep it on my lanyard with my keys.”
Not bad for a Florida team that was generally looked down upon by its Northern counterparts — when the elder Schrenker and Wilson were walking in the stairwell of the dorm, coaches from the New England Navigators told them they had come a long way to lose. The Blazers beat the Navigators 15-4 that Monday.
“It was pretty special,” said Nolan Schrenker. “If you look at the roster, most of the players start for their high school teams now so it just shows how good we were.”
The team dissolved once the boys hit high school. Since then, Bloomingdale has had the bragging rights, with a 4-2 record against Durant the past four years, including two 3-2 wins this season.
“It brings out things where you just don’t want to lose, and if you do, it’s like the worst loss,” said Danish. “These 3-2 losses both times are just killing me. I’m sure it is Ducker and JC, too, losing to their best friends.”
Danish, Schrenker, Ambrosino and Wilson, an Eastern Michigan signee, play on the same summer team now. And all still reminisce about that first out-of-state tournament.
“We always talk about that game up in Cooperstown,” Danish said. “It was just a fun experience, and something I’ll never forget.”