EMERSON, Ga. – It’s bracket play time in the WWBA 15u National Championship and that means one thing for all the remaining teams: survive and advance. Teams can throw out runs allowed and run differential, and they can simply focus on winning the game. From now until the end of the tournament, it’s all about winning no matter how pretty it is.
Every team still playing has played well all week to get to this point, and in baseball, anyone has a chance to beat anyone else on any given day. So, anything can happen.
The Academy Select Sun Devils-Ingram quietly made their way into bracket play, taking care of business in their pool and not receiving too much hype. This may be because they dropped their opening game of the tournament. But, they rebounded with six consecutive wins, most of which came by run rule and finished with a 6-1 record. Having dropped a game, they received the No. 17 seed and were matched up against the 16th seeded team, the Ironmen Baseball Club.
For most of the game, Academy Select got runners on base, but were unable to capitalize and get them in. After sneaking a run across in the second inning, their offense stalled. But, they turned to starting pitcher Preston Minor to make sure their lead was held intact.
Minor was extremely impressive. He threw six scoreless innings, keeping the Ironmen hitters off balance by changing speeds well, and it was not until the bottom of the seventh inning that he surrendered any runs. He allowed only three hits and his three strikeouts were a testament to his pitch-to-contact approach on the mound. Throwing against a great hitting team like Ironmen, Minor was not phased by them until the last inning when he was taken out to let his teammate finish the game.
In the end, Academy Select won the game 5-2 thanks to the performance put on by Minor. His head coach, Linty Ingram, spoke highly of his pitcher and the quality start he put in against a quality opponent.
“Preston, he was awesome,” Ingram said. “He went out there and got ahead of hitters, and he was getting three pitches over. Then we got a couple of runs there, and we just kind of went at them. He spotted his fastball well, but I think he ran out of gas there at the end. Those guys can hit the ball pretty well, and he kept them off balance and got his secondary pitches over when it counted.”
The key inning in the game came in the fifth with Academy Select winning 1-0. They scored two runs to pad the lead, all led by their standout player Tristen Lutz. Lutz started off the inning with a single and came around to score on a triple by Jared Martin. Lutz also connected on an RBI double in the seventh inning leading to a 5-0 Academy Select advantage. He finished the game 3-for-4, and he showed off some impressive skills offensively and on the bases that further explained why he is a 2017 high follow.
Lutz’s productive offensive day was in part due to his recognition of the opposing pitcher’s tendencies that he picked up on.
“[I wanted to] take advantage of the first pitch,” explained Lutz. “They were trying to get the first pitch over. I think every single at-bat I had they threw a first pitch curveball, so I was looking for that. I was just trying to be aggressive with my approach and go up the middle.”
Academy Select, based in the Dallas area, is a relatively new organization, and Ingram serves as one of three directors for the program. Ingram has an impressive baseball background starting with his college playing days at Arizona State University. After receiving All-American honors and competing in the College World Series with the team as a pitcher, the Detroit Tigers selected him in the 1988 Major League Draft. He spent five years in the minor leagues with the Tigers and the San Diego Padres organizations.
His coaching career is also an impressive one. He spent twelve years as vice president and coach for the Dallas Tigers, an organization that historically has produced top talent, including the likes of Clayton Kershaw, before coming on as a partner at Academy Select. A berth to the second round of bracket play is already an impressive showing for this Sun Devils team, but a championship in this tournament would be great for an organization that is trying to build up their name.
“It would mean a lot,” Linty said of winning the WWBA crown. “We’re three or four years old now. We’ve got a few good teams throughout the different age groups. So, it would mean a lot.”
The team is set to face the No. 1 seeded Team Elite Prime Thursday afternoon. Team Elite was nearly perfect in their seven pool games, going 7-0 and allowing a miniscule 10 total runs. They received a bye in the first round of the playoffs and should be rested and ready to go, but Academy Select is hoping their win this morning got them warmed up for round two. Linty tried not to overhype the situation and the team they are playing next.
“Well, I’m trying not to focus too much on the number one seed, and it’s just a baseball game,” Linty said calmly. “I think we have a pretty good pitcher going, and I’m sure they’ll have a good pitcher going. I’d like to clean up our defense a little bit. We made four or five errors that we usually don’t make, so, that kind of gets on your mind.
“Them being the one seed, they earned it, and we’re just going to have to battle. Our approach won’t change, just try to go up there, release the bat head, and score runs when we get a chance.”
Linty was also quick to specify that the team’s approach has not and will not change in bracket play as opposed to pool play. They are focused on throwing strikes and playing the game the right way.
Although Linty’s words about his team not doing anything different in bracket play compared to pool play are modest, the intensity of the games in bracket play is much higher than those in the early days of the tournament. Academy Select has passed test No. 1, and they are looking to knock off the top team in their next test.
Survive and advance. That’s what is on their minds.
For this team to continue to play on, they will look to their pitchers and the offensive leadership of Lutz to pull them through. It’s anyone’s tournament to win now. For Academy Select, they are now a mere four wins away from a program-changing title.