The 6-2 win Tuesday afternoon over BigStix Gamers 16u at the East Cobb Complex, the Knights sit atop of their 18u WWBA National Championship pool but must win Wednesday’s game against MVP Baseball Blue. Lucky for the Knights, they plan on throwing recent Perfect Game National Showcase standout Will Neely, who tops out at 92 mph (miles per hour) off the mound. Combine that with the big bats in the lineup and you’re asking for a lot from MVP baseball.
“So far we’ve been pretty good,” said head coach Jason Anderegg. “Our pitching’s been great. It’s easy to win a ballgame when you only have to score three or four runs. The hitters have been doing a good job too, coming up with clutch hits with runners in scoring position.”
‘Pretty good’ is an understatement when looking at this team’s performance from a statistical standpoint. The team is hitting .336 (51-for-152) with 22 of their 51 base hits being extra-base hits. A big part of the offensive explosion has been the bats of Chase Chambers and Gregory Lambert, who are credited with exactly half of the team’s extra-base hits.
“Our 3-4-5-6 hitters can all hit the ball out of the ballpark at any time, and that’s awesome because the first two guys get on and steal bases to get in scoring position, while the rest of them sit back and try to drive the ball,” Anderegg said.
Lambert got the offense going Tuesday with a solo home run off the East Cobb Baseball hitting facility beyond the left field fence on Field 3 at East Cobb to leadoff the top of the second inning.
“He started me off with a changeup and then a fastball to make it 1-1 and I knew he was coming at me with the fastball again,” said Lambert. “It was right where I expected it to be and I just hit it.”
Lambert is now 6-for-18 (.333 avg.) with three doubles, two home runs, and nine RBI through six pool play games.
“I’m being aggressive early, like Chase [Chambers],” Lambert said. “I feel like I know some of the pitches that have been thrown at me in certain counts I’ve been getting in. I just look to stay back and drive the ball.”
Chambers connected for the second blast of the game with a three-run home run in the top of the third. He sent the baseball well over the right field fence and into the trees, putting the Knights up by four, which would be more than enough for the superb efforts of the pitching staff.
“I know he was a pretty hard thrower and he left a changeup up and on the inside part of the plate and I jut turned on it,” said Chambers. “I’ve been seeing pitches up in the zone and have been able to hit them to the right side. With two strike counts I’ve been hitting the ball to the opposite field.”
After today’s game Chambers is 7-for-19 (.368 avg.) with three doubles, three home runs, and 11 RBI.
Kyle Wright, a primary pitcher, and a very good one at that, is showing his future Vanderbilt University coaches why he should get the chance to swing the bat as well. He is leading the team in hits (8), triples (2), batting average (.471), and on-base percentage (.500).
“I’ve actually talked to my coaches some and they’re gonna give me a chance to swing it in the fall and see how that goes,” said Wright. “I’m looking forward to being up there. I was watching the final College World Series game with some friends and I couldn’t believe they [Vanderbilt] won it. I gotta come in ready to play because they’ve got good players returning and I just look forward to being in that environment.”
Wright and Neely anchor a phenomenal pitching rotation, which currently sports a 1.03 earned run average (ERA) through 34 innings pitched. Shane Priest has accounted for two of the six wins on the mound with 11 innings pitched, while Brady Puckett (6 IP), Will Gardner (7 IP), Neely (5 IP), and Wright (4 IP) have accounted for the other four wins without giving up a single earned run.
“It’s a lot of fun because, at least hitting-wise, when we know we’ve got good pitchers on the mound we feel we can relax a little bit and they they’re gonna keep us in the game,” said Wright, who has done both parts exceptionally well.
Neely, a primary pitcher and one of the best in the 2015 class, ranked at No. 84, feels the same way about his team’s offense when he’s on the mound.
“Middle Tennessee is full of such great baseball talent,” said Neely. “It has been great to play with them. There is so much depth on the team. The Knights play unbelievable defense behind me and they hit the ball really well too, so that always makes things easier on a pitcher.”
Puckett, in fact, was a 33rd round MLB Draft selection by the New York Mets this year. Neely has a great chance to follow in his teammate’s footsteps. Neely was a recent attendee of the prestigious invite-only Perfect Game National Showcase, which took place at jetBlue Park a few weeks ago.
“That was a great experience. I had never done anything like that before,” said Neely. “It was awesome to be there with some of the best players in the country. I was kind of star struck. The stadium, the gear; it was all top notch. I think it helped me prepare for the summer. My velocity was also up a little from last fall and I was able to show that.”
Anderegg got Neely two years ago as a 16-year-old and said everything about his game has improved greatly, but that he always had the raw talent.
“As a pitcher, he’s very mature,” said Anderegg. “When he was 16 he was a little erratic here and there, but now he’s purely polished. He’s 90-92 mph, good slider, controls the running game; a very smart and poised kid. He’s got an absolutely electric arm.”
Neely hopes to represent Tennessee in the nationally televised Perfect Game All-American Classic at PETCO Park in San Diego, Calif. this August as fellow Tennessean southpaw Justus Sheffield did just a year ago.
“It would mean a lot because I’m not that 6-foot-5 guy, but I think I have a lot to offer as a pitcher,” Neely said. “To be seen on that stage and play with the caliber of players there would definitely improve my game. I would be thrilled. It would be a dream come true. It would be an honor to represent my school and my state.”
Neely is not very big at all when compared to the typical stature of a highly talented pitcher. The Knoxville, Tenn. Native stands at only 5-foot-11 and weighs in at a buck sixty.
“I’ve been compared to [Oakland A’s pitcher] Sonny Gray because of my height,” said Neely. “When people say stuff about my height I just always think about him and what a great pitcher he is.”
His height sure hasn’t held him back on the mound. The righty has been invited to show off his talents at the Area Code tryouts and the East Coast Pro showcase, adding to an already full summer slate.
While the near future looks to be very promising, Neely will look no further than tomorrow when he takes the bump in the win-and-in matchup against MVP Baseball Blue. They hope to keep the wins coming and believe through plenty of talent and great team chemistry, there is no reason why they shouldn’t.
“We’ve been playing together since we were 14-years-old and we spend the whole summer together,” said Wright.
“We’re not just one of those travel teams that just comes here to play,” added Lambert. “We like to hang out together. We have great chemistry and it’s just awesome.”
Neely had similar feelings about this Knights Baseball 18u National team as his teammates did.
“Everybody is all about the team and trying to play our best for each other. They are a really great bunch of guys. We play like a really close-knit squad. It’s just been a fun summer with these guys.”