EMERSON, Ga. – Knights Baseball 18u National shocked the WWBA 18u National Championship field by not only making it out of pool play for the first time in the program’s young history, but by winning the championship game after coming into the playoffs as the top seed.
“We came out every game and played our hardest and it obviously showed,” said tournament Most Valuable Player Kyle Wright. “We finished this tournament and it feels pretty great.”
“This is something we’ve been dreaming about since we were 14-years-old,” said Knights Baseball 18u National head coach Jason Anderegg. “These guys have been together since then. Just getting over the hump and getting out of pool play, while still having all our pitching left, it was awesome because everything worked out.”
It was a nail-biting Friday morning at Perfect Game Park South at LakePoint for Knights Baseball 18u National. After taking an assumingly commanding lead in the bottom of the fourth with a seven run inning, nerves began to take over as the Knights’ lead quickly began to deteriorate.
"It seemed like once we put that seven spot up our guys relaxed a little too much,” Anderegg said. “We started playing not to lose instead of to win, but we had good enough pitching to come in and get the ‘W’.”
With two outs in the bottom of the fourth, the Knights were able to put together three consecutive base hits, followed by a pair of walks. Collin Dupree delivered the big blow when he connected for a bases-clearing triple that hit about a foot below the top of the fence. The triple made it 7-0.
“I was just trying to see a fastball and hit it as far as I could and see how far it would go,” Dupree simply stated. “It was a good feeling seeing it come off the bat like that. Coming around first base I thought it was gonna be gone, but it still did the job.”
The Roadrunners threatened with a three spot in the top of the fifth and added another three runs in the sixth to make it a one-run ballgame. They managed to get the tying run on base, but couldn’t capitalize and fell, 7-6.
“It was a little crazy,” Wright said. “These guys, they just fought the whole way. We were up 7-0 and they came back and made it 7-6 and almost won that game.”
“I’ve been playing with these guys since we started the organization at 14-years-old,” said Dupree. “This is the first year we made the playoffs and to finally get all the way here is a great feeling.”
It was anything but easy for the Knights, who cruised through pool play only to be challenged once bracket play began on Thursday.
After outscoring its opponents 66-5 in seven pool play games and recording five shutout, including four straight, the Knights were challenged right off the bat in their first playoff game against Mizuno Team GA Baseball Academy 17u Blue.
Nothing could really compare to Friday’s action, however. The Knights met Next Level Upperclass, another dominant pool play team, in the semifinals.
Despite exceptional starts from Next Level’s Tyler Holton (7 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 10 K) and Knights Baseball’s Will Gardner (6.1 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 4 BB, 4 K) it took extra innings to settle a scoreless ballgame.
The Knights walked off winners in the bottom of the eighth inning when Gregory Lambert beat out the throw to the plate with a bases loaded infield single by Chase Slone.
Primary pitcher and Vanderbilt University commit Kyle Wright took home the MVP trophy not just for his performance on the mound, but for his performance at the plate.
The Hunstville, Ala. native went 11-for-26 (.423 avg.) at the dish with seven extra-base hits, eight RBI, and nine runs. He also posted an impressive .500 on-base percentage.
“Greg [Lambert] and Chase [Chambers] are the two guys that really get things going, I just tried to help them out,” Wright said. “They come through for our team a lot.”
“He was unbelievable at the plate,” said Anderegg. “He swung it well.”
Wright said Vanderbilt would give him a chance to show them what he can do with the lumber when he arrives on campus in the fall.
He also proved a force to be reckoned with on the mound. The 6-foot-3 righty threw 12 innings over the week, giving up just six hits and one earned run (0.58 ERA), while collecting 14 strikeouts and two wins. He displayed an electric fastball that topped out at 92 mph (miles per hour).
“Kyle was amazing, especially on the mound,” Dupree said. “It was an impressive performance and then he did it with the bat as well. He was a really good player this week. He deserves it.”
“I just had all my pitches working and was able to throw a lot of strikes,” said Wright. “Collin called a really good game and it just paid off.”
Teammate and recent Perfect Game National Showcase attendee Will Neely took home the Most Valuable Pitcher honors for Knights Baseball 18u National with an impressive stat line: 12 IP, 2 W, 4 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 17 K. The right-hander, ranked No. 84 in the 2015 high school class, topped out at 91 mph despite his generous 5-foot-11, 160 lbs. frame.
“Seeing that small of a kid have that much explosiveness off the mound, that was special catching him and seeing what he could do,” said Dupree. “[University of] Tennessee’s got a good one.”
Neely pitched in the crucial final pool play game they had to win in order to make the bracket round and he was nearly flawless. He threw a complete game shutout with 10 strikes to propel his team to the playoffs for the first time ever.
“Will was good,” Anderegg said. “He had to pitch the game to get us into the playoffs, and he did well. Obviously, we wish he was here with us to celebrate, but I know he’s celebrating back home.”
The Knights combined to go 82-for-251 (.327 avg.) at the plate through 11 games, with 32 extra-base hits. The pitching staff surrendered just an average one earned run per game through 63 innings of work, striking out 65 hitters. Excellent defense backed up stellar pitching, as the team put together a .970 fielding percentage (just 8 errors in 11 games).
“I don’t know too many teams that have gone through this whole tournament not giving up more than 10-15 runs in 11 games,” said Anderegg. “All our guys did great. I’d name every one of them if I could because every one of them did something to help us win this championship.”
“I’m just happy to be here and in this moment,” said Dupree.
2014 18u WWBA National Championship runner-up: Georgia Roadrunners 17u
2014 18u WWBA National Championship MVP: Kyle Wright, Knights Baseball 18u National