Who throws the nastiest curve on the San Carlos 11-12-year-old Little League All-Stars?
Zach Culvahouse knows, but like any smart, politically correct catcher, he's not telling.
"I'm not going to say," Culvahouse said during practice on Tuesday night as San Carlos prepared for the Section 6 tournament.
North Naples might say it's Chandler Nemitz, who gave up just one hit and struck out three through four innings in San Carlos' District 18 semi-final victory.
It would be no surprise if Golden Gate National answered Ryan Withstandley, who befuddled the Nats' bats with six strikeouts to lead San Carlos to the District crown.
Both pitchers excelled in keeping batters off balance, and off the bases.
"When Ryan's curve ball is on, it just drops off a table. That's hard to hit. Chandler has the curve ball that's more of a slider. It comes in and freezes the batter," said San Carlos manager Troy Withstandley.
There was no mystery as to just how good San Carlos pitched in the district tournament.
Consider Nemitz, Ryan Withstandley, Cole Baxter and Kyle Miller allowed just two runs in the final three games. A pair of shutouts sandwiched around the 7-2 semi-final win put to rest any notion that the team with the fastest pitchers would win. Golden Gate National and LaBelle each featured hurlers with speeds in the 70s. The San Carlos staff maxes out in the mid-60s, proving that it's not always the fastest who covers the 46 feet of real estate between the mound and home plate that wins.
"Location, location, location," said manager Withstandley, who calls the pitches.
"They're hitting their spots. They have good control and good motion. They get their breaking pitches in," added Culvahouse.
It was no accident in the championship that Ryan Withstandley and Miller worked the outside corner like a determined newsboy hawking afternoon papers.
"We knew the umpire liked it outside," said manager Withstandley, Ryan's father.
Golden Gate National batters didn't share the same sentiment, whiffing 10 times, half of whom were caught looking.
Only once did National put two runners on, and it was an unhittable Miller who doused the flame by coming in and fanning the final out in the fourth.
Miller, the team's hardest thrower, struck out the side in order in the fifth, getting all three batters to chase high fastballs. He clinched the championship by retiring the side in order in the sixth.
So much for those teams with the fastest pitchers.
"They had heat, but they had no control," Culvahouse said about the opposition. "We throw it in the zone. They hit it or they don't."
The depth of San Carlos' staff — which will be tested with three games in less than 24 hours at sectionals — goes beyond Nemitz, Withstandley and Miller. Baxter struck out 11 in a one-hit gem against Immokalee. Culvahouse and Collin Martin, both standouts on the mound for the Cardinals during the regular season, possess capable arms that could see action this weekend.
In hope of preventing damaged arms, this season was the first that the league imposed a maximum pitch count. In majors, 70 pitches in a game was the limit. Withstandley likes the rule, noting that in previous seasons some pitchers were surpassing the century mark.
So Withstandley and coach Todd Baxter should have fresh options this weekend at sectionals in Venice.
The team's solid pitching was mirrored by fundamentally sound defense in the district tournament.
"We stress to them that defense wins games," said Withstandley. "I'm so proud of them. Five games and two errors. You can't get much better than that."
At the start of All-Stars, second base was a gnawing question mark for Withstandley and Baxter. After several auditioned, Martin landed the role and has performed impeccably.
"We didn't know who was going to play second," said Withstandley. "I tried everybody in practice. Collin hasn't made any mistakes. He's caught some tough balls."
And made some tough throws. On the day of the district championship, Martin hurt the thumb on his throwing hand while playing football. The injury was put to a test early against National when Martin had to make plays on the first two batters. He did so flawlessly.
"Collin has probably been our biggest surprise so far," said Withstandley.
What kind of surprises remain for San Carlos will be determined this weekend. San Carlos was scheduled to begin the Section 6 tournament last night. They'll conclude today with games at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. All games are at Chuck Reiter Field.
If San Carlos wins, they will be one of eight teams vying for the state championship, which will take place at Three Oaks Community Park.
"We'll be back here one way or another," said Withstandley. "Either we'll be back with the team or Todd and I will be out here with rakes and cooking hamburgers."