GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Everyone knew they would hit the ball; of that there was never really any doubt. And most observers believed their defensive play would be stellar, because outstanding play in the field is just one of the things their coaches demand.
But not too many people probably looked into their crystal balls and predicted the manner in which two young pitchers for the Garciaparra Baseball Group (GBG) squad playing at this weekend's 16u Perfect Game MLK Championship at the Camelback Ranch Complex would throw the ball in GBG's first two games at the four-day event.
Perhaps not even head coach Michael Garciaparra or his father and assistant coach, Ramon Garciaparra, saw it coming.
"Our pitching, the guys throw strikes," Michael Garciaparra said Saturday morning. "We had a couple of walks (in the first two games) which is uncharacteristic, but just like our teams have done in the past, they'll play defense and they'll play good baseball; I think that will get us through these tournaments."
The GBG guys did, indeed, hit the ball well in their first two games Friday and Saturday. They fielded it pretty well, too. But it was right-handers Drake Pingel (2015, Rolling Hills, Calif.) on Friday and Eli Morgan (2014, Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.) on Saturday that grabbed the headlines.
Pingel started things off with a five-inning, three-strikeout, three-walk no-hitter in a 10-0 tournament-opening win over Tucson Baseball on Friday. Morgan came back Saturday morning with a complete game, seven-inning, 12-strikeout, three-walk no-hitter in a 3-0 victory over the Illinois Indians TRIBE.
In 12 innings of play against a very strong 16u PG MLK Championship field, GBG out-hit its two opponents 14-0 and outscored them 13-0.
"They're going to play good defense and they're going to have a lot of good at-bats," Garciaparra said of his talented 16u squad. "I think 1-through-9, or even if we hit 10, there's not really a drop-off in our lineup and that's really how we like to have it. We like to start strong and finish strong and that's kind of how we set our lineup."
GBG 16u boasts a batting order that features three players ranked in the top-18 of the 2015 national prospect class: catcher Michael Hickman from Fountain Valley, Calif., (ranked No. 11); outfielder Kyle Dean from Poway, Calif., (No. 18); and shortstop Brandon Perez from Ladera Ranch, Calif., (No. 38). Third baseman Brendon Davis from Lakewood, Calif., is ranked No. 118.
Hickman has committed to the U. of Oklahoma, Dean to the U. of San Diego and Perez to the U. of Oregon.
"That's a good group to start with," Garciaparra said. "There are a lot of kids who actually weren't able to come out here due to their high school commitments and things like that, but I think even though we're missing some guys we still were able to put a pretty good group together."
Hickman is an intriguing prospect. A 6-foot-1, 195-pound sophomore at Fountain Valley High School, he is participating in his fourth PG event and his first with Garciaparra Baseball Group. He played in the 2012 PG/EvoShield National Championship (Upper class) with the OC Red Sox Scout Team and the 2012 PG/EvoShield National Championship (Underclass) with the Hard 9, and also participated in the 2012 PG National Games, an underclass showcase event in San Diego.
"I just wanted to come out here and play some baseball, have some fun," Hickman said Saturday morning. "This is my new team and this my first time playing with these guys. It's really nice to get out here and play against some better competition. These (PG tournaments) are way beneficial because they make you play harder and they just get you going."
Garciaparra is hoping the core of this team he has here will provide the core of the 16u team he fields this summer. This weekend marks the first time most of them have played together, although there are a handful of high school teammates.
"That first inning (on Friday) we got off to a slow start and there was an obvious lag in our play, but the kids started getting a little more comfortable with each other in the dugout," Garciaparra said. "Most of our guys just came in that morning driving over from California and not knowing each other, but they had played against each other and some had played with each other, so after a couple of innings they got rolling and did real well."
Davis and Perez did a lot of damage at the plate in GBG's first two games: Davis was 3-for-6 (.500) with two doubles, two RBI and two runs scored, and Perez was 3-for-6 (.500) with two doubles two RBI and one run. Nyles Nygaard (2014, Torrance, Calif.) was 2-5 (.400) with three RBI.
"I thought we meshed real well," said Hickman, who struggled to a 1-for-6 start in the batter's box but was also behind the plate for the two no-hitters. "Everybody played good, got along, and we played well."
Garciaparra noted that with most of these guys being from Southern California, they are pretty much able to play baseball outdoors the year-around. Some of them took a break in December but now are getting geared-up for their high school seasons which begin in early February.
Garciaparra Baseball Group also has a talented team playing in this weekend's 18u PG MLK Championship at Camelback Ranch. GBG 18u also got off to a 2-0 start and features four prospects who have signed with NCAA Division I universities, including Arizona recruits Bobby Dalbec (2013, Parker, Colo.) and Elijah Skipps (2014, Cypress, Calif.).
Garciaparra arrived in the Valley of the Sun intent on taking home a pair of championships.
"Any event that we go into, our expectation is go in there and win," he said. "We're going to have fun, but we want to have fun while we're winning in the process. But our expectation is to hopefully win both (the 16u and 18u MLK Championship) and go home with some hardware."