The East Boynton Beach Blaze travel baseball program has enjoyed success during the fall and spring while playing at a high level in the South Florida Travel Baseball League and during tournaments throughout the state.
The Blaze 11U recently finished as the runner-up at the East Coast State Championship tournament at the USSSA Space Coast Florida Complex in Viera. The 11U AAA division featured six teams from the state. The Blaze finished 1-0-1 in pool play to secure a first-round bye for the elimination stage of the tournament. After winning the semifinal contest against the Space Coast Rockets to advance to the championship game, the team fell 5-4 to Lakewood Ranch Legacy.
The East Coast State Championship helped prepare the group for its upcoming tournament at the Ripken Experience in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina in July. The players also were able to gain experience playing on turf fields at the complex in Viera.
After the Blaze 10U had a strong start at 7-2 last spring, the season was stopped due to COVID-19. The group has excelled after returning to the field. The Blaze 11U finished 14-5 during the spring and reached the championship game in the South Florida Travel Baseball League. It fell 7-5 to the West Boynton Cobras Blue in the finals. It also went 15-9 in the fall while winning the Winter Bash Tournament as the team stepped up against local travel baseball teams in Palm Beach County. The Blaze 11U also earned runner-up honors in the South Florida Travel Baseball League.
The Blaze 11U group, under the direction of coach Luke Evans, includes Marcus Stracke, Hunter Cenkar, Evans Zajc, Gabriel Dietrick, Tyler Johnson, Jace Hughes, Jackson Evans, Devin Brooks, Matthew Shapiro and Jacoby Fernandez.
“Being in the championship the last two seasons has been a tremendous accomplishment for these kids,” Evans said. “They work hard and have a bright future.”
The Blaze travel baseball program took off after the East Boynton Beach Little League 8U All-Stars defeated West Boynton to capture the District 7 Championship.
“I just felt it was a good group of kids who love to play baseball and so we formed the East Boynton Beach Blaze 8U,” Evans said. “We played some games together that summer and then joined the South Florida Travel Baseball League here in Palm Beach County in the fall to begin our 9U season. We spent the next few seasons learning how to play baseball and also be a team. This team has core players who have stayed together since the inaugural season and only had a few changes in players.”
The Blaze 11U still has eight members who participated on the East Boynton Beach Little League 8U All-Star squad.
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“Most of our kids also play at East Boynton Beach Little League,” Evans said. “I have noticed since starting this team, kids would leave our little league in search of travel teams. Therefore, over the last couple of years, I have worked to establish a travel program for East Boynton Beach. I realized if you do not offer travel baseball adjacent with your local rec league, kids will leave looking for more baseball. Therefore, I have worked to create more Blaze teams with the help of many people.”
The Blaze 8U, led by coach Jeremy Weiss, has been successful with a 20-12 record. The Blaze 9U and 10U teams are led by Ryan Lamb, who has helped players improve through training with the XLB organization. The Blaze 9U also finished as the runner-up in the South Florida Travel Baseball League during the spring. The Blaze is expected to add another 8U squad for the upcoming fall season and hold teams from the 8U-12U age groups.
Evans is a current board member and coach at East Boynton Beach Little League. He joined in the fall of 2015.
“My two boys both play there and have many friendships through baseball,” he said. “I wanted to create a place kids are proud to be from and they get to keep playing baseball with all their friends. That was my motivation for helping create this East Boynton Blaze group of travel teams that are filled with East Boynton Little League kids. With the growth of our league and increased demand for use of Little League Park, I have also rekindled our relationship with the city of Boynton, who has been extremely helpful in revitalizing our fields and community baseball park.”
Evans also enjoys the friendly cross-town rivalry between the East Boynton and West Boynton teams. Evans was college baseball teammates with Dax Rankine, who is the coach of the West Boynton Cobras Blue 11U. They both have children the same age and have been able to compete against each other.
“It’s been a great experience with baseball the last few years at East Boynton,” Evans said. “I played college baseball at Palm Beach Atlantic University and have been fortunate enough to be able to continue to be involved through youth sports.”