“The kids came out ready to play and they hit the ball hard and took advantage of the opportunities the other team gave them,” said South Charlotte head coach Mike Jerzembeck. “It was nice to jump out on someone early so we could relax a little bit. We look to finish strong and see where we end up in the pool.”
Wednesday’s games carry much weight for both the South Charlotte Americans and the Georgia Jackets, who both sit on top of their pool at 5-1. However, the Jackets’ victory over the South Charlotte Americans on Saturday could prove to be the crucial tiebreaker. If both teams finish 6-1 or 5-2 after tomorrow, the Georgia Jackets would get the nod for the playoffs.
The Americans have outscored its opponents 41-12 through six games, including back-to-back 12-1 poundings. At the helm of the ship is 2017 Stanley, N.C. native Alec Burleson. Listed as a left-handed pitcher only, Burleson has been getting it done with the bat, excelling at the plate with a .600 batting average (9-for-15) with four doubles, six RBI, and six runs.
“Alec is a good prospect,” Jerzembeck said. “The biggest thing I like about Alec is he competes. At this age, that’s something that you can’t teach.”
He is listed as a primary pitcher for good reason, though. He threw a five inning complete game in the 12-1 win Tuesday, giving up just a hit and an unearned run while tallying six strikeouts.
“He can throw the ball well. He’s got three plus-pitches and good velocity on his fastball,” said Jerzembeck. “He’s got an excellent changeup, an excellent curveball, and he throws all three of his pitches for strikes. He’s not afraid to throw any pitch in any count and you know he’s gonna go out there and compete.”
Jerzembeck thinks highly of Burleson, but insists the team is strongest because of their defense.
“We field the ball and rarely make errors,” Jerzembeck said. “We’re very strong up the middle with our catcher, shortstop, second baseman, and center fielder. When you look at all strong teams, defensively they’re gonna be very strong up the middle, and we’re very strong up the middle. We’re not a power hitting team, but we’ve got a bunch of guys who hit the ball in the gaps and we’ve got good team speed.”
Jerzembeck said it also helps a lot that several of the players on this South Charlotte Americans team have played together since they were nine-year-olds.
“The camaraderie, the chemistry, and the unselfishness of this team makes it unique,” said Jerzembeck. “We don’t have one star. We have a bunch of guys who are, no doubt, Division I prospects, but none of them think they’re a star. They know their roles and they know what it takes to be successful.”
Based out of the major North Carolina city of Charlotte, the Americans are affiliated with the reputable South Charlotte Panthers, who finished the 2013 campaign with three teams ranked in Perfect Game’s final travel team rankings. The 15u team finished ranked 22nd, the 16u team 10th, and the 17u team 29th.
“It’s a team that I’ve had for quite a while and I’ve affiliated this team with the Panthers to give these kids the opportunity to be a part of the organization next year,” Jerzembeck said. “It’s a very strong organization. They’ve sent a lot of guys to major Division I programs and pro ball. I’m able to put these kids in a position where they’ll have that opportunity.”
The organization was started in 1998 by Don Hutchins as the Pineville Panthers before becoming the South Charlotte Panthers. Notable alumni include Richie Shaffer, taken in the first round of the 2012 MLB Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays, and catcher Brett Austin, who was taken in the fourth round of this year’s draft by the Chicago White Sox, where he will continue a strong battery with NC State star Carlos Rodon.
Jerzembeck hopes his players will get the chance to play for the affiliated Panthers team next summer.
“We’re a small program,” said Jerzembeck. “We’re here to give a group of kids who want the opportunity and are willing to work hard that opportunity to play at the next level. We try to make our teams really unique in the fact that we’re picky about what type of kid, what type of players, and what type of student we look for.”
The South Charlotte program doesn’t need to do too much talent searching. With a reputation for winning at big tournaments, including Perfect Game tournaments, the kids are drawn to the opportunity to play baseball at an elite level in front of college coaches.
“Coaches know the type of teams that South Charlotte puts out so the kids know they’re gonna get looks and opportunities to be seen,” said Jerzembeck. “It’s rewarding to see the kids develop and see them have the opportunities to fulfill their dreams of playing college and maybe pro ball, but also to see them put in the hard work and achieve the goals they have set out to achieve.”
The team’s most immediate goal is to win Wednesday’s game against Palm Beach Select and hope that will be enough to push them into the playoffs. Despite what happens, they’ve been one of the most impressive teams at the 15u WWBA National Championship and continue to represent North Carolina as a baseball state.