GLENDALE, Ariz. – The first Perfect Game Super25 17u National Championship tournament kicked off on Wednesday under a searing desert sun at the Camelback Ranch Complex with 10 teams from six states looking to put their name in the PG Super25 record book.
Each team plays four pool-play games through Friday leading into Saturday’s eight team playoffs – all games on Friday and Saturday will be begin at 7 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. in an effort to beat the worst of the heat with highs of more than 110 degrees in the forecast– with the semifinal games and championship game scheduled for 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m., respectively, on Sunday.
The entire PG Super25 tournament series is an intriguing concept – one that emphasizes regional play before finishing in a national setting – and on Thursday morning the teams involved seemed eager to get after it, including Marucci Elite from Baton Rouge, La.
“This is the inaugural Super25 (National Championship) and we’re honored to be a part of it,” Marucci Elite head coach Shane Trosclair said before his team took the field on the Los Angeles Dodgers’ side of the Camelback Ranch Complex. “Perfect Game is a great organization and to do something manicured to specific regions is pretty special to us.”
There are four teams from Arizona, two from New Jersey and one each from California, Illinois, Indiana and Louisiana at this national tournament, and all of them earned their place in the field by winning PG Super25 regional or super regional tournaments this summer.
Marucci Elite qualified by winning the PG Super25 17u Deep South Super Regional in Nashville, Tenn., June 19-22. The Elite rolled through pool-play and bracket-play with a 6-0 record in the 12-team field and beat the Knoxville Stars, 8-0, in the championship game.
“(The team is) getting to travel across the country and play baseball against different teams in different locations and at different venues,” Trosclair said. “They’re becoming close, and with six of our guys going off to play college baseball together, playing together early while they’re still in high school –when they have that special bond – gives that good ‘team’ concept. That’s what we try to do at Marucci is emphasize that ‘team’ concept.”
The PG Super25 tournament series does promote regional play with the idea of keeping rosters intact at every step along the way. Marucci Elite high school national team director and head coach Chad Raley has changed the focus of his program to one with more of a regional approach and the PG Super25 fits right into what he wants his program to become.
“It matches perfect with what we’re trying to do with our teams – trying to create that team atmosphere and get the guys to play the game the right way and not feel entitled,” Raley told PG’s Matt Rodriguez in March. “We’re trying to revamp the culture of the game and focus more on winning and playing hard; it’s going to be a perfect marriage for what we’re trying to accomplish as an organization.”
That is music to the ears of PG Super25 organizers but not nearly as sweet as the vibes they feel when the players themselves seem to embrace the concept.
“Being able to play for a (national) championship is always a fun time,” 2015 Marucci Elite outfielder/left-hander Brennan Breaux said Thursday. “Anytime you get to play competitive ball with a group of guys that you really enjoy playing with, it’s always a great time – especially in Arizona.”
Simply in terms of roster strength, it is not likely there is a more talented team in the field than Marucci Elite. Eleven roster spots are filled with class of 2015 prospects that have already committed to NCAA Division I schools, and with at least three others almost certain to do so.
The top prospect is Lafayette, La., left-hander and recently anointed Perfect Game All-American Hogan Harris, the No. 20-ranked national prospect (No. 1 in Louisiana) who has committed to Louisiana-Lafayette in his hometown. Harris pitched three no-hit, shutout innings with eight strikeouts and two walks in the Elite’s 11-1 tournament-opening win over the AZ Wildfire on Wednesday.
What is especially interesting about the roster, however, is that six of the 2015 prospects have committed to Southeastern Conference and national power Louisiana State in Baton Rouge. They include: Breaux (ranked No. 381 nationally/No. 7 Louisiana); outfielder Antoine Duplantis (high-follow/27); third baseman Lenni Kunert (top-500/14); shortstop O’Neal Lochridge (162/3); shortstop Dylon Poncho (276/5) and first baseman Christopher Reid (481/10).
“This is building chemistry for maybe a couple of years down the road,” Breaux said. “We all liked LSU because it’s close to home and it has a lot of good things going for it. It leads the nation in attendance and they always compete for a championship every year, so we’re giving ourselves a chance to play for one of the best programs in the country.”
One other Louisiana kid, outfielder/right-hander Zachary Rider (ranked No. 20 in the state), has committed to McNeese State in his home state, and catcher Bryant Decker (ranked No. 320 nationally/No. 6 Louisiana) is uncommitted.
Three of the top six-ranked prospects from Arkansas and two highly ranked guys from Georgia are also on the roster.
Right-hander Andy Pagnozzi (No. 121/No. 2 Arkansas), a Mississippi commit; right-hander Ty Harpenau (No. 81/No. 4 Arkansas), uncommitted, and shortstop Drew Tyler (No. 344/No. 6 Arkansas) make up the Arkansas contingent. Right-hander Al Pesto (No. 76/No. 11 Georgia), Duke, and left-hander Brett Decker (No. 320/No. 36 Georgia), uncommitted, are the pair from Georgia.
“Marucci is about playing the game right way and giving the kids the opportunity to earn a scholarship,” Trosclair said. “When you come here you’re not promised or guaranteed you’re going to get a scholarship, but we promise them the opportunity to play in front of scouts and with the name that we wear across our chests, it attracts scouts to come watch us play.
“Year in and year out, kids go play college baseball that played for Marucci –or they get drafted in the major league draft – so just the name across our chests gives them the opportunity to play in front of people.”
Marucci Elite suffered through a pair of humbling, one-sided losses to Tri-State Arsenal 17u Showcase and the Indiana Landsharks on Thursday but with eight of the 10 teams advancing to Saturday’s bracket-play, a win in their final pool-play game Friday will be more than enough for the Elite to advance; they certainly won’t back down.
“This is a very unified team,” Breaux said. “We might not have the real big star but we all come together and work real hard as a team. We’re real scrappy and we use that scrappy mentality to (help us win games).”
“This is really a fun group,” Trosclair concluded. “They love each other and they play the game the right way, but they have fun. They enjoy each other’s company and it’s a special group that bonded well this summer and became a good family.”