GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Stetson Hills Stealth, a top-notch 14u team from Phoenix making its first appearance at the 14u PG WWBA West Memorial Day Classic, walked out onto Field 6 on the Los Angeles Dodgers side of the Camelback Ranch Complex Sunday morning looking downright dapper.
Decked out in crisp white uniforms with black pinstripes and with many of the young players wearing black socks or stirrups stretched up to their knees, the Stealth looked like they belonged on a beautifully manicured Major League Baseball spring training practice field.
Dodgers Field 6 is one of seven Camelback Ranch fields made available for 14u, 16u and 18u PG WWBA West Memorial Day Classic games – three on the Dodgers side and four more on the Chicago White Sox side. The big-league Dodgers and White Sox share the facility during spring training and Cactus League play in February and March.
“The kids like getting out on these fields but we’re spoiled. We’re from Phoenix,” Stetson Hills Stealth founder and head coach Kurt Vesecky said Sunday. “We play at Goodyear and we play at Peoria … but it’s a great experience to be out here on the same ball field that the Dodgers play on. You can see by our uniforms that we’re White Sox fans and we’d prefer to be over on the other side, but this is OK. So, yeah, everything is good.”
The Stetson Hills Stealth won all three of their pool-play games Friday, Saturday and Sunday to capture their pool championship and advance to Monday’s quarterfinal round of the 14u West Memorial Day. If they win twice and get to Monday afternoon’s championship game, it will be played in the main stadium at Camelback Ranch.
“This has been a lot of fun. The fields are really nice and you don’t get bad hops; it’s just a real good tournament.
Nolan Gorman, Stetson Hills Stealth 2018 MIF, Phoenix
Vesecky and fellow coach Brian Gorman were coaching their sons, Jacob and Nolan, in Little League five or six years ago when they decided they wanted to move up to club baseball. They brought this team together when most of the kids were 9 or 10 years old, and there is a core of six young players that have been together the entire time: class of 2017 prospects Jason Nelson and Mason Millett, and 2018s Nolan Gorman, Jonathan Ornelas, Jacob Vesecky and Matthew Liberatore.
The team has traveled all over the country the past few years – playing in Cooperstown, N.Y., and over in California on several occasions – and has enjoyed a lot of success. The organization grew to six teams in 2013 but Vesecky narrowed it back down to three this year, with squads at the 14u, 12u and 11u levels.
“It’s funny because we’ve certainly had our share of ups and downs, but we’ve got some really great kids and we’ve got great parents,” Coach Vesecky said. “When you have a group that’s stayed together that long – and up until this year I had 10 core guys – you have to have something special.”
“I’ve been playing with these guys since I was 10 years old. We’re all friends and we’re all relaxed with each other and it’s fun when we come out and play. All of our families are close together and everybody is friends.”
Mason Millett, Stetson Hills Stealth 2017 3B/SS, Anthem, Ariz.
The Stealth opened the tournament Friday with an impressive 11-2 win over the Washington Select, a highly regarded program based in Seattle. Gorman came out carrying a hot bat – it would not cool off all weekend – and went 2-for-4 with a double, triple and five RBI.
Ornelas singled, drove in two runs and scored two others, and 2019 outfielder/first baseman/left-hander Ryan Cowdrey from Phoenix smacked a two-run home run and teamed with the right-handed Millett on a five-hitter; they didn’t allow an earned run and struck out eight.
“This weekend has been fun and we’ve played a lot of good teams, and so far we’ve done well. These teams are coming from California, Washington; it’s good competition and it’s good to see someone new.”
Jason Nelson, Stetson Hills Stealth 2017 OF, Phoenix
On Saturday, the Stetson Hills went head-to-head with Team Phenom Red – one of two Moreno Valley, Calif.-based Team Phenom teams in the field – and emerged with a tightly contested 2-1 victory. Gorman and 2018 catcher/shortstop Eddie Nieman from Scottsdale each had a pair of singles, and the left-handed Liberatore threw five innings of two-hit, one-run ball.
“It was a great game,” Coach Vesecky said of the dual with the Phenom Red. “I’m friends with the owner of that organization, Joe Keller, and we talk all the time. It’s a friendly rivalry and it’s a lot of fun.”
“It’s very high-level competition. The pitchers hit their spots and the batters don’t miss the mistake pitches at all. We expect that we’re going to have to play well against these teams.”
Matthew Liberatore, Stetson Hills Stealth 2018 LHP/1B/OF, Peoria, Ariz.
Finally, on Sunday morning, the Stealth wrapped up pool-play by holding off the MVP Red Sox from Newbury Park, Calif., 5-4, giving them a 3-0 record against teams from outside of Arizona. Gorman had two more singles and drove in two more runs and Nieman was 2-for-2 with a double and two RBI. Six Stealth pitchers combined on a five-hitter and allowed just one earned run.
“This has been fun so far. We’ve been playing well all weekend, and I just feel like we have to continue to play really well and try not to make any mistakes. It’s fun playing against better competition from other states.”
Jacob Vesecky, Stetson Hills Stealth 2018 C/2B/RHP/3B, Phoenix
This is the second Perfect Game tournament this Stetson Hills Stealth team has participated in, coming on the heels of an appearance at the 14u PG MLK Championship right here at Camelback Ranch in January. The Stealth didn’t make it out of pool-play in that event but did much better this time around.
The plan is to keep this group together in the coming years, although Vesecky plans to shut the season down in a couple of weeks after a USA Baseball event. To this point in time, it’s been a pretty rewarding experience for everyone involved.
“I wouldn’t change it for the world,” Vesecky said, “wouldn’t change it for the world.”
“It’s always fun to come out and play baseball and just get another chance to play. We just strive on effort and attitude. If you have good effort and good attitude the result doesn’t matter; everything will take care of itself.”
Jonathan Ornelas, Stetson Hills Stealth 2018 2B, Peoria, Ariz.