FORT MYERS, Fla. – There were certainly moments – too numerous to tally, actually – during the 17u Perfect Game BCS Finals’ six-day run that the rain and lightning delays were trying the patience of everyone involved with the PG national championship tournament.
The most elite of the elite teams that find themselves in such a situation are the ones that almost always come out on top. They stay focused on the task at hand and only concern themselves with matters they can reasonably enjoy a certain amount of jurisdiction over.
“We can’t control the weather, we can’t control the other team, we can’t control what’s going on – all we can control is if we show up when we’re suppose to play,” Texas Sun Devils head coach Chad Hebert said late Friday afternoon. “That’s all we worried about. We checked the schedule and when it was the Texas Sun Devils’ time to show up and play that’s what we did, and we walked out of here undefeated.”
The Texas Sun Devils (11-0-0) showed up at the championship game of the 17u PG BCS Finals Friday afternoon more than ready to play, and left venerable Hammond Stadium with a decisive 4-1 win over the perennial powerful East Cobb Astros 16u (10-1-0). The PG national championship was the first for the Sun Devils’ organization since it won this same tournament in 2011.
In a well-played championship game on both sides, the Devils’ Ford Proctor, a 2015 left-handed swinging middle-infielder from Beaumont, Texas, did the most damage at the plate, collecting three hits in four trips with a pair of doubles and three RBI.
A trio of right-handers – 2015 Chase Shugart, 2015 Grant Anderson and 2016 Kyle Bergeron – combined on a one-run five-hitter, quite an accomplishment against a star-studded East Cobb Astros 16u team that averaged eight runs on 10 hits in each of its first 10 games – all wins.
“These guys have been into it the whole time,” Hebert said. “We just told them it’s going to be a grind and toughness is going to overtake talent in the end and I feel like that’s what we did. … I really feel like at the end of the day toughness is what won it for us.”
What likely won it for the Sun Devils was a perfect combination of all the things that lead to winning baseball – timely hitting, excellent pitching and stellar play defensively. The Devils won their 11 games by an average score of 6-1 while compiling a .337 team batting average and a 0.56 team ERA.
Procter enjoyed an MVP-caliber tournament, hitting .519 (14-for-27) with four doubles, a triple, eight RBI and nine runs scored. Austin Nelson was 12-for-28 (.429) with two doubles, a triple, a home run, eight RBI and eight runs; Shane Selman was 10-for-26 (.385) with a double, home run, 11 RBI and six runs.
The pitching staff was anchored by Kale Breaux, a 6-foot, 160-pound 2015 left-hander from Sulpher, La. Breaux made a pair of starts and finished 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA after allowing five hits, striking out 21 and walking one in 12 especially sparkling innings. He was the tournament’s Most Valuable Pitcher.
“It’s been a grind for us,” Breaux said after accepting his award. “With the rain delays and all the other stuff we just stayed mentally focused and played it by inning, trying to win as many innings as we could in one game and build off that. This is an awesome feeling; these guys, we’re just so close together. We’re not the biggest group of guys here but we all connect together and grind out games.”
As good as the Sun Devils’ hitters were all week, nobody was better than the Astros 16u’s Reggie Pruitt. A 6-foot-1, 170-pound outfielder from Kennesaw, Ga., and a Vanderbilt commit ranked No. 84 nationally in the class of 2015, there just wasn’t much Pruitt didn’t do.
He hit .609 (14-for-23) with two doubles, three triples, 11 walks, eight RBI, 14 runs scored and 10 stolen bases while compiling a 1.667 on-base-plus-slugging percentage and was named the tournament Most Valuable Player. He was also the MVP at the 2012 14u Perfect Game World Series.
While understandably disappointed with a runner-up finish, the Astros 16u’s performance here this week solidified their standing as one of the country’s top programs. The Astros 16u won outright national championships at this event in 2007, 2009 and 2010, was co-champion a year ago, and has now finished as runner-up in 2008, 2012 and 2014.
The Sun Devils rolled past the Florida Burn 2015 Pennant (7-2-0) by an 8-3 count in a quarterfinal round game Friday morning and then moved into the championship game with a 4-0 win over the Scorpions Orlando 2015 Purple (9-1-0) in an early afternoon semifinal game.
Breaux was superb in this outing, throwing a complete game, four-hit shutout with 11 strikeouts and just one walk.
“I felt really comfortable because I knew I had eight guys behind me that can run anything down,” Breaux said. “All I had to do was throw pitches.”
Addison Armand provided all the support Breaux would need by going 3-for-3 with a pair of doubles and two runs driven in. Antonio Vega doubled and had two of the Purple’s four hits.
The Astros 16u continued their mastery of the 17u PG BCS Finals field with a 10-4 win over the Scorpions South Upperclass (7-2-0) in a quarterfinal Friday morning and then got all they could handle from fellow unbeaten SWFL 17u in the semifinal round.
With five runs in the top of the first and one more in the top of the second, the Astros 16u jumped to a 6-0 lead, only to see SWFL 16u rally for one in the bottom of the second and four in the bottom of the fourth. Alex Goebel slugged a three-run home run to power SWFL 17u in that fourth frame.
The Astros 16u came back with two of their own in fifth for an 8-5 lead, and although SWFL 17u was able to push two runs across in the bottom of the sixth, it wasn’t quite enough.
Pruitt was 2-for-3 with a triple and two runs scored and Malique Foreman was 2-for-4 with a double, an RBI and a runs scored for the Astros 16u. Chris Berry was 2-for-3 with an RBI and two runs and Troy Bacon 1-for-3 with two RBI to pace SWFL 17u (9-1-0).
When the day finally ended and rain drops (appropriately, perhaps) began to fall at Hammond Stadium, there was no question that it was certainly the Sun Devils’ time to play.
“They’re all friends and they’re all from the same general region, southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana area,” Hebert said. “It’s a real good mix of great friends that have a lot of fun together, and that’s really what matters – they just have fun doing this.”