AMES, Iowa – It would not be a stretch at all to view the championship game at the inaugural Perfect Game Central Labor Day Classic (Upperclass) as one of those tired, proverbial David vs. Goliath affairs. This one, however, has the storyline taking a decided detour from Biblical mythology in that Goliath rallied at the last minute to slay the upstart David.
In this corner, please welcome the powerful Reds Midwest Scout Team with a roster full of top prospects from Illinois that happens to call Milwaukee, Wis., its base of operation and without question the Goliath figure in this Central Iowa baseball stage production.
In the other corner sat home-state favorite PG Iowa Steel from about 100 miles down the road in Cedar Rapids, one of those David-like teams that wasn’t expected to be here. It now has in its possession a sling or a shot or a sling-shot that had already taken down heavily favored Iowa Select Black and Force Elite Baseball in games Sunday and Monday morning.
David slung stone after stone, made early contact and seemed to have Goliath on his heels very late into the contest. But Goliath hadn’t earned a reputation as a world-beater by cowering before anyone.
PG Iowa Steel opted to intentionally walk standout Joshua Showers to load the bases with one out in the bottom of the sixth in a 1-0 game to face 2015 Kansas State recruit Ethan Skender, and Skender made the Steel pay with a one-strike double that scored a pair of runs.
That enabled the Reds Midwest Scout Team to escape PG Iowa Steel, 2-1, in the PG Central Labor Day Classic (Upperclass) championship game played Monday afternoon at the tidy and nicely groomed Ames High School field at Brookside Park.
The victory in the title game left the Reds with a perfect 6-0 record while the upstart Steel finished its three-day run at 4-1-1. The Reds Midwest Scout Team stated from the get-go that it was treating the Central Labor Day Upper as a sort of meet-and-greet for its players, giving them the opportunity to get to know one another while also chasing a Perfect Game tournament championship.
“I feel like that over these (three) days we came together really well,” Skender said. “Some of us actually play together in the summer so that helps a little bit, and we all just goof around, we love playing the game and we play it fun and loose; that’s how we do it out there.”
PG Iowa Steel scored an unearned run in the top of the third inning to jump to a 1-0 lead and over the next three innings it looked like that was going to be enough for 2016 Walford, Iowa, right-hander Nicholas Moulin.
The junior at Cedar Rapids Prairie High School was cruising, throwing 49 curveballs and changeups among his 64 pitches to keep the big, bad Reds off-balance and give his team a fighting chance. That changed in the sixth when Skender delivered his game-changing blow.
“I think we have some things to clean up defensively when we get into some of these bigger tournaments when the competition is going to be a little tighter,” Reds Midwest Scout Team head coach Andy Stack said. “In most of these games we made some mistakes on the bases and playing defense but we’ll get it cleaned up; we have some weeks here to figure some things out.
“But overall I’m very pleased with how they played together. We swung the bats really well … and the guys stepped up when we needed them to.”
There are only a handful of players on this Reds Midwest Scout Team that were around a year ago and were able to experience the euphoria that accompanied the Reds’ advancement to the semifinals at the PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., the second time in four years the Reds accomplished that feat.
Skender, a 5-foot-11, 170-pound middle-infielder from Metamora, Ill., ranked No. 281 nationally, is one of the players back from that special 2013 team.
“Coming back for a second year with this team, it’s just an unbelievable experience,” he said. “Last year was an unbelievable run going to Jupiter and getting third place. That’s something that we’ve set a goal to (achieve) but we want to try to get first (place) this year.”
Skender’s game-winning two-run double was his only hit in the championship game but he had already accomplished plenty leading into the tournament finale. He finished 7-for-17 (.412) with four doubles, a triple, 12 RBI, five runs scored and a 1.238 OPS. Those numbers earned him the tournament Most Valuable Player award. He said the key was playing relaxed.
“The first time I played with Coach Stack I really, really played tight; I was really nervous,” Skender said. “But he’s a great guy; he’s easy to get along with, he’s a great coach and if you play the game loose with him you’ll do fine. He loves energetic players and that’s what we all are, and we’re going to play hard for him because that’s how much we respect the guy.”
Stack sent 2016 right-hander Cal Coughlin from Lake Forest, Ill., out to start the championship game, and despite having already thrown four innings on Saturday, the class of 2016’s No. 133-ranked national prospect proved again he thrives on the biggest stages.
The 6-foot-1, 205-pound uncommitted righty threw a fastball that topped out at 86 mph, and didn’t allow an earned run on six hits over six innings while striking out five and walking two. He was 2-0 at the tournament, pitching 10 innings and giving up two earned runs (1.20 ERA) on nine hits with seven K’s and four walks and was named the Most Valuable Pitcher.
“I just wanted to throw strikes; I trust my stuff to get guys out and it did,” Coughlin said of his championship game performance. “I wanted to throw strikes and help my team – put them in a position to win.”
From a broader perspective, Coughlin is simply devouring everything that is coming his way from his first experience with the Reds Midwest Scout Team.
“It’s been really nice to get to know the guys like I wanted to do and build chemistry with all these guys,” he said. “We want to make good progress toward the end goal, which is Jupiter, and this a good first step and I think we all got better as the weekend went on. This was a tough last game – we faced a pitcher who threw a lot of off-speed stuff – but we hung with it and finally got some runs in.”
Coughlin has a huge fan in his teammate and fellow MVP Skender.
“Cal, our two-thousand-sixteen, he just pitched a heck of a game. You can’t take anything away from him, he’s a stud out there,” Skender said. “We never gave up the whole way and that’s how we play the game and I was really proud of our team for coming together and getting the win.”
The Reds’ Chris Botsoe, a 2015 from Hinsdale, Ill., and a Louisville commit, enjoyed a fine tournament at the plate, batting 6-for-17 (.353) with a double, triple, home run, five RBI and seven runs. Peyton Isaacson, a Coastal Carolina recruit from Galesburg, Ill., played in four games and counted two home runs among his three hits with six RBI and four runs.
Most of PG Iowa Steel’s starpower came from its young and impressive pitching staff, all of whom attend high school in Eastern Iowa. 2016 right-handers Jacob Henry (Cedar Rapids), Austin Miller (North Liberty) and Nicholas Mougin (Walford); 2017 righty Anthony Alepra (Cedar Rapids) and 2018 rghty Connor Van Scoyoc (Cedar Rapids) were terrific by any measure.
Ninth-grader Connor Van Scoyoc was particularly stellar, pitching seven, one-hit, shutout innings with five strikeouts and four walks in a 1-0, playoff berth-clinching win over favored Iowa Select Black in the final game of pool-play Sunday night.
The Reds Midwest Scout Team out-ran its four pool-play opponents by a combined scored 36-9 before stopping Iowa Select Black, 8-2, in a semifinal game played here Monday morning. PG Iowa Steel opened the event with a 7-5 victory over PoundTown Baseball and then reluctantly settled for a 5-5 tie with Prodigy Baseball Academy 2015.
The Steel won its final two pool-play games by shutout before eliminating Force Elite Baseball from West Chicago, Ill., with a 4-3 win in the semifinals.
“This was a great tournament to start off with,” the Reds’ Couglin said. “Ten teams – that’s the Perfect amount of teams – six games. It worked out great over the Labor Day weekend and it’s a good day for me, getting the pitcher thing, so I’ve really enjoyed this weekend.”
“This is awesome and I’m glad Perfect Game put it together and it was a great experience,” Stack said. “It was a tremendous experience and I would love to do it again; we’ll definitely be back.”
2014 Central Labor Day Classic (Upperclass) runner-up: PG Iowa Steel
2014 Central Labor Day Classic (Upperclass) MVP: Ethan Skender, Reds Midwest Scout Team
2014 Central Labor Day Classic (Upperclass) MV-Pitcher: Cal Coughlin, Reds Midwest Scout Team