GLENDALE, Ariz. – Many of the challenges facing the teams playing at this week’s inaugural Perfect Game Super25 17u National Championship are both real and totally expected. The level of competition is high and players and coaches alike have had to make adjustments to meet that specific challenge.
But there a couple of other challenges that might have been unexpected, and the players and coaches from Longshots Baseball – an upper level team from the Chicago suburb of Downers Grove, Ill. – are doing their best to deal with them.
On Friday, the Longshots played for the third straight day in a desert heat that would eventually arch upward towards 110 degrees. And for the first time in three days, the Longshots were slated to play in the 7 a.m. time slot, which meant arriving at the Camelback Ranch Complex at 6 a.m.
“This is definitely earlier than we’re used to playing, but we’re (from an area where it’s) two hours later, so it feels like 9 o’clock to these guys,” Longshots head coach Matt Rosenberg said, perhaps optimistically. “There is a little bit of an adjustment … and I have heard a few grumbles, let’s just say that.”
And then there’s the challenge of dealing with the unruly temperatures, and in this case – unlike back home in Illinois – it’s not the humidity, it’s the heat. But with games being played only in the morning, the biggest challenge for the players is finding refuge from the microwave oven-like temps during the afternoon hours.
“I think the kids are trying to hideout in the hotel,” Rosenberg said with a laugh. “They’re spending a lot of time at the pool – we’ve got a nice pool over there – and I know they hit-up the outlets (malls) and stuff like that, so they’re finding time to do certain things and stay cool; it’s a nice area and there’s a lot going on.”
Whatever the Longshots are doing to meet these challenges, they need to keep doing it for the next two days.
Longshot Baseball, one of six teams not from Arizona at the tournament, found itself playing as well as anyone as pool-play at the PG Super25 17u National Championship reached its conclusion Friday morning. It earned the No. 1-seed in the eight-team playoffs – which begin Saturday morning – with a 4-0 record, the only team among the 10 in attendance to go unbeaten and untied.
“It’s awesome being down here in Arizona, just with the talent and the competition,” 2016 left-hander Casey Kempner – the only 2016 on the otherwise all-2015 Longshots’ roster – said Friday morning. “It’s great especially for me because it’s an honor playing ‘up’ with all these 2015s.
“It’s just a great feeling with all the exposure and being a part of Perfect Game,” he continued. “They have a huge history with the (Perfect Game) All-American (Classic), they have a bunch of scouts and it’s always fun to be at one of these events.”
The Longshots opened this event with a 3-2 win over the 9er’s Prime (Hamilton, N.J.) on Wednesday; stung the PB Outlaws (Los Angeles) 9-1 on Thursday, and opened Friday’s play with an 8-3 win over the Cleats Pilots (Surprise, Ariz.).
They wrapped up pool-play with a steely 4-0 win over AZ Pro (Phoenix), game in which 6-foot-8, 210-pound 2015 right-hander Fitz Stadler from Glenview, Ill., threw a complete game, two-hit shutout with six strikeouts and four walks.
The Longshots (4-0-0) have a rematch with the No. 8-seeded Cleats Pilots (1-3-0) in a playoff quarterfinal game Saturday morning at 7 at Field 4 on the Dodgers’ side of the Camelback Ranch Complex.
Stadler is not the only Longshot enjoying a fine tournament, and that includes a couple of other pitchers. Right-hander Jared Liebelt (Aurora, Ill.) allowed no earned runs on two hits over six innings with 11 strikeouts and three walks in his only start; righty Andrew Hill (Gurney, Ill.) allowed one earned run during a seven-inning three-hitter, with four strikeouts, two walks and two hit batsmen in his start.
Shortstop Cody Grosse (Plainfield, Ill.) went 6-for-12 (.500) at the plate with a pair of triples, three RBI, a run scored and four stolen bases in the four games; outfielder/middle-infielder Drew Wiss (Elgin, Ill.) was 5-for-8 (.625) with four runs and catcher/first baseman Will Simoneit went 5-for-11 (.455) with two RBI and three runs
“Being down here with (with my teammates) is just eye-opening and they’re at where I want to be next year, definitely,” said Kempner, who was the starter and winning pitcher in the 8-3 win over the Cleats Pilots. “Just seeing the guys compete and hustle in-and-out, always sprinting, never taking anything for granted, always pushing each other; it’s just great to be a part of it.”
The majority of this Longshots Baseball team has played together for four or five years, according to Rosenberg, with the customary add-ons through the years and the promotion of younger players like Kempner, who has committed to Illinois’ Heartland Community College.
“They’re pretty close and they play good baseball together,” Rosenberg said. “This definitely is a team; it’s not a bunch of ringers.”
The Longshots play in the competitive Chicago Scouts I-94 League during the summer while also taking part in as many Perfect Game events at possible. Most of the prospects on this roster played in the 2013 PG WWBA Underclass World Championship in October in Fort Myers, Fla., where the Longshots finished 4-2-0.
They fielded two teams at the PG WWBA 17u National Championship in Georgia earlier this month with the Teal finishing 3-4-0 and the Navy 2-5-0; Wiss was named to the all-tournament team at both PG WWBA events.
The Longshots have also been regulars at the PG WWBA Kernels Foundation Championship in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, through the years and have sent teams to the prestigious PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., in years past.
“(Perfect Game) is definitely an organization that we love playing in all their events,” Rosenberg said. “The exposure is great, the competition is great and it’s first-class all the way; they do a fabulous job.”
Longshots Baseball – a note on the organization’s website says the name “speaks a lot of who and what we are” – fits nicely into the larger PG dynamic as well as the more specific Super25 concept. Rosenberg said the program produces about a dozen NCAA Division-I prospects annually while managing to keep the organization community-based.
“We get a lot of kids from the ‘burbs in Chicago and we’ve expanded a little bit to where we’re getting guys from different areas in Illinois that we hadn’t gotten in previous years,” he said. “It’s definitely growing and it’s improving on a year-to-year basis.”
The Longshots are no strangers to PG national championship events but the PG Super25 scene is new to them – as it is to the other teams that are here this week. It is an experience Kempner and his teammates won’t soon forget.
“It’s definitely fun being around this and seeing people from different parts of the country and seeing what their region brings being in the Super25,” Kempner said. “Just watching all the regions compete is fun … because everyone wants to be out here playing on the last day (of the tournament).
“There is definitely a lot of competition that goes with it and it’s just really fun battling against people from different parts of the country and just showing your talents.”
Added Rosenberg: “I like it a lot. The idea of winning a regional and then making a run against some good teams to get a national championship, that’s a lot of fun. It’s something I think we will continue to do going forward.”
And as for beating that desert heat?
“Just stay in the air-conditioning and drink a lot of water,” Kempner said.
“This is the first time playing in this area for a lot of these guys,” Rosenberg concluded. “The fields are beautiful and we’re doing well, so everybody is happy at this point and hopefully we continue that trend. It’s been a very good event, though.”