SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – The EDH Vipers entered last year’s inaugural Perfect Game/EvoShield National Championship (Upperclass) not highly ranked and perhaps not even highly regarded.
Then, of course, all they did was win the darn thing.
The Vipers, based in Sacramento-area city of El Dorado Hills, Calif., are back in sunny and sometimes tortuously hot Arizona for the 2nd annual PG/EvoShield National Championship this weekend hoping for a repeat performance. It could be a tall order, considering there is not a single player on this year’s roster that was also a member of that magical 2010 championship team and the level of competition in the 52-team field.
“That was a lot of fun last year,” Vipers head coach Dan Sozzi said Friday morning in the moments after his team won this year’s tournament opener, 10-2 in five innings, against the So Cal Mavericks at one of the Arizona Diamondbacks spring training practice fields at the Salt River Fields at Talking Stick complex.
A year ago, the Vipers scored 38 runs in their last four games to win the championship with a 6-0-1 record.
“The guys came here and played good, fundamental baseball,” Sozzi said of the 2010 group."We came down here with a light roster … and they just came and they played good hard baseball, and it’s the same thing here again (in 2011). We have, again, a small roster of players, and the kids just came out and played well. We only made one error in the game, and they threw strikes and pitched ahead in the count.”
The Vipers tied the AZ Athletics, 7-7, in their second pool-play game Friday afternoon and conclude pool-play Saturday morning.
Sozzi brought a relatively young team to the upperclass tournament, with four 2013s and two 2014s listed on his roster. Many of the players he included for this tournament play their summer ball with another Sacramento-area team, the Danville Hoots.
Vipers’ right-hander Sam Nathan, shortstop Austin Piscotty, shortstop Andrew Hobson and catcher DJ Jackson are all Hoots regulars.
“We and the Hoots are on really good terms and I always bring a few of their players to this tournament and to the fall classics,” Sozzi said.
In Friday’s tournament-opening win, Piscotty (class of 2014) smacked a two-run single and Nathan teamed with righty Andrew Lucio to pitch a five inning six-hitter. The other hitting stars in the win were Justin Jordan with a three-run triple and Alec Kazanjian with a two-run double.
Most of the players on the roster are hometown boys. Eight list their hometown as El Dorado Hills, although those eight attend four different high schools.
The EDH Vipers started as an organization in 2001 when travel ball was really starting to take root. Sozzi, by the way, is quick to point out that he doesn’t like the terms travel ball or travel club, preferring instead “college development baseball.” The reason, he said, is “because the whole focus is trying to get these kids to play college baseball.”
Sozzi said more than 90 prospects that have played for the Vipers have gone on to play college or pro ball.
“We just kind of accidentally – there was no grand plan – evolved into that and we’re averaging about 10 kids a year who are going on to play college ball,” he said. “That’s kind of what it’s become all about; trying to help these kids get to college. We’re doing PSA tutoring and SAT tutoring to try to get their scores up higher so they can be eligible to more colleges. It’s so much more than just playing baseball.”
EDH Vipers has fielded as many as four age-groups teams in the past, but is cutting back to two teams next year. The Vipers’ 18u team plays in a Connie Mack League and the organization previously had separate 17u and 16u teams. It is going to consolidate those two teams into one underclass team.
That younger team, which will no longer be called the Vipers, will be coached by the staff at Sacramento State.
“Their coaches have helped me out from time-to-time when I’ve been short on help, and they’ve gone and coached some tournaments for me,” Sozzi said. “They’re going to run my 16- and 17-year-old team and then I and a couple of our existing coaches will coach the Connie Mack team.
“It’s going to be kind of a nice change,” he continued. “For the younger kids to be able to get that kind of coaching is fantastic.”
Sozzi explained that the EDH Vipers aren’t like a lot of other travel team organizations in that they don’t play in nearly as many tournaments as the others. They play from Memorial Day through mid-August and then come to the PG/EvoShield National Championship.
“There is very good competition here and I’ve talked to five college coaches that I know who were here this morning watching us play and that’s why we come,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for these kids to play in front of a lot of college coaches. Otherwise we wouldn’t do it at all outside of the summer.”
And the players always like the thought of taking a championship trophy with them when they return to California from what they hope is a four-day stay in the desert.
“Believe me, every players has looked at (the Perfect Game) website and seen our picture from last year,” Sozzi said. “They all know the goal is to be playing on Monday, so we’ll see what happens.”