FORT MYERS, Fla. – This time, this year, the “co” isn’t needed in front of that glorious word “champion”.
Midwest Elite Baseball, a two-year, two-hit wonder out of Michigan that decided to make two trips south to participate in a couple of Perfect Game BCS Finals national championships, wrapped up the experiment by winning the 18u PG BCS Finals title late Friday afternoon at City of Palms Park.
The championship came one year after Midwest Elite ventured here to participate in the 17u PG BCS Finals and finished as co-champion at the tournament with the East Cobb Astros 16u, one of the most elite programs to ever lace up its spikes at a PG BCS Finals competition.
Not unlike a year ago when Midwest Elite had to win four games on the final day of the tournament to earn even a co-championship (the title game was called due to darkness with the game tied in the ninth inning), the Michigan boys again had to hop on their horse and ride it hard to earn this championship.
On Friday, they went head-to-head with Next Level Upperclass out of Tallahassee, Fla., and made sure the outcome was never in question in a 5-2 victory. Midwest Elite jumped to a 2-0 lead in the top of first, led 4-1 after four and skated to the three-run win.
Randy Righter, 6-foot-3, 225-pound 2014 first baseman/right-handed pitcher from Bloomfield Hills, Mich., ranked as a “high follow” and uncommitted to a college, was a one-man wrecking crew in the championship game. He was 3-for-4 with a double at the plate and started on the mound, working 5 1/3 innings and allowing only one earned run on five hits while striking out three.
Over the course of Midwest Elite’s 10 games – it finished 8-2 – Righter may have earned himself a college scholarship. He hit .559 (19-for-34) with seven doubles, two home runs, 16 RBI and eight runs scored and on the bump, he was 2-0 with a 0.68 ERA after allowing seven hits, striking out 10 and walking one in 10 1/3 innings; he was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
The entire week was very reminiscent of year ago when Midwest Elite went on its co-championship run. This year, it won its tournament opener but then dropped its next two pool-play games before righting the ship and winning seven straight to claim the PG national championship.
“These guys have played for me for a couple of years and we’ve had a core group and I think they kind of took care of it themselves,” head coach Brian Kalczynski said of the turn-around after the two early losses. “Sometimes there are pitching matchups that aren’t quite right and sometimes you just don’t play that well; I think it was a little bit of both.
“After that first round of pool-play we wanted to get the best (playoff seed) that we could get, and with that second round (of pool-play) it’s a fresh start, too,” he continued. “Our kids felt like it’s a fresh start, a new pool and it doesn’t matter what we had done in (the first pool).
“If we win our second pool we’re in the playoffs and coming down here that was our goal – you want to advance and make a run but you can’t make a run if you don’t make the playoffs.”
Midwest Elite finished the tournament with a .351 team batting average (99-for-282) with 26 extra base hits, including 17 doubles and six home runs. Jordyn Muffley hit .393 (11-for-28) and matched Righter’s two home runs. Other top run-producers included Freddy Jehle (eight RBI, 10 runs), Jackson Overlund (10 RBI, six runs) and Ryan Mergener (nine RBI, 13 runs).
“I think this is a gritty team,” Mergener told PG earlier in the tournament. “We play hard, we can scratch out wins when we have to and we’re always in the game, always playing hard. We have good communication and we get along well, and we know each other pretty well.
“And his is our favorite tournament,” he continued. “From the fields and complexes where we play to the teams that we play to just being in Florida, it’s the most fun week of baseball that you could ask for.”
Next Level Upperclass (9-1-0) got a fine tournament at the plate from Blake Reese, who went 13-for-24 (.542) with two doubles, six RBI and eight runs. Jared Padgett pitched eight innings over two games, posted a 2.62 ERA on 10 hits with seven strikeouts and two walks; he hit .571 (8-for-14) with a triple, three RBI and six runs.
After escaping the Jacksonville Warriors 18u (7-1-0) in a 3-2 nail-biter in Friday morning’s quarterfinal round, Midwest Elite Baseball moved into its semifinal game against Powermill 18u with its guys blazing.
Overlund got things started with a two-run home run in the top of the fourth inning and Righter followed suit with a three-run bomb in the top of the fifth, and Midwest Elite rolled to an 8-3 victory.
Righter finished 3-for-4 with four RBI and two runs scored and Overlund 2-for-4 with the two RBI; left-handers Tanner Allison and Nick Holt combined on a five-strikeout six-hitter. Ross Goforth was 2-for-3 with an RBI and a run for Powermill 18u (8-1-0).
“Baseball is funny,” Kalczynski said. “If you get hot on the last day or on the last couple days during the playoffs, all of a sudden you start winning games and you have a little more of a cushion for your pitchers and it becomes contagious. The same thing happened again offensively where we got on a little bit of a roll and hit a couple of home runs that put us up, and that’s pretty much what happened.”
Next Level Upperclass slipped by Elev8 Baseball Academy (5-3-0) by a 4-3 count in a Friday morning quarterfinal before moving into the semifinal round to face the powerful East Cobb Astros 18u.
The Astros 18u took a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the fourth where Next Level’s Jared Padgett ripped an RBI triple and Jose Ciccarello and Casey Wehrhahn delivered run-scoring triples for a 3-2 lead. The Astros 18u tied it in the top of the fifth on an RBI single from Alonzo Jones before Next Level scored what proved to be the winning run on an Astros 18u fielding error in the bottom of the fifth.
Next Level 2015 lefty Tyler Holton scatter seven hits over seven innings of work, allowing two earned runs and striking out five. Jones was 2-for-3 with a double and three RBI to lead the Astros 18u (7-1-1) and Chase Smartt collected a pair of hits, including a double.
As special as this two-year run has been for Midwest Elite Baseball, it’s over. There are no younger age-group teams to replace this one – this was the epitome of a two-year fling with Perfect Game national championships and now it’s come to an end. It was certainly ride to be remembered.
“This year we had a lot of the (opposing coaches) come up and say, ‘You guys play good baseball and good luck’ and that kind of thing so I definitely feel like we earned the respect of the coaches and the umpires as far as playing the right way,” Kalczynski said.“I know everyone always says it’s ‘surreal’ and right now I can’t comprehend winning (PG national championships) twice in a row.
“I don’t think we have the best talent but the best talent doesn’t always win,” he concluded. “The one thing that was pretty consistent from last year to this year with our players was them accepting their roles within our team. … Unless you can just blow everybody out with your talent, kids have to accept roles and our kids really accepted their roles both years.”