SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – The sturdy young lads from 520 Elite 18u became the first team to clinch a pool championship when they won an early morning game Saturday at the Perfect Game/EvoShield National Championship (Upperclass) to improve to 3-0.
The 16-team playoffs at both the PG/EvoShield National Championship (Upperclass) and PG/EvoShield National Championship (Underclass) begin first thing Sunday morning. With his team’s day already done at 10 a.m. Saturday, 520 Elite 18u head coach Victor Acuna had already formulated a pan for a pretty laid-back rest of the day for his troops.
“We’ll get back to the hotel and we’ll have a team dinner tonight,” Acuna said after his squad rallied from a 3-2 fifth-inning deficit to beat the St. Louis Sting, 4-3, on one of the Arizona Diamondbacks’ practice fields at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.
“A lot of these kids have homework, so we’ll have a study table for them this afternoon and make sure they’re hitting the books for a while,” he said. “Otherwise, they’ll stay in the pool the whole time.”
A little time in the pool, a team dinner and homework. Such are the spoils for a team that takes care of its business early and then can relax in an attempt to make a run at another Perfect Game championship.
520 Elite 18u – based in Tucson – won the PG 18u WWBA West Labor Day Classic, which was held at Salt River Fields earlier this month. 520 Elite 16u was the champion of the PG 16u WWBA West Labor Day Classic.
“We’ve got a good group. These kids have been together since they were 12,” Acuna said of his 18u team. “They’re all juniors now and they’re all getting bigger and stronger and that’s our expectation, to come out and win.”
It’s interesting that he points out the 18u roster is filled primarily with high school juniors (class of 2013). There are only two 2012s on the slim 12-man roster and there is one 2014, which means this team would almost qualify age-wise to compete in the PG/EvoShield National Championship (Underclass) being played just up the road in Peoria, Ariz.
520 Baseball – the number represents the Tucson area code – draws its players from six Tucson high schools, with the blessing of the coaches from all six of those schools.
“They want to get their elite players this type of competition and exposure to scouts and whatnot,” Acuna said. “We’re big fans of Perfect Game in that regard, because we want to get our kids out here and get them seen, and the competition is always good.”
520 Elite 18u won its three pool-play games by a combined score of 14-8 – not exactly a dominating performance. But it did what it needed to do and got gutty performances for its top players, a trademark of a championship team.
In the win over the St. Louis Spirit, right-hander/middle infielder Manny Lopez not only smacked the game-winning RBI single in the bottom of the seventh but also pitched the game’s final three innings, allowing three hits and one earned run while striking out four. He came-in in relief of righty Edder Eribes, who pitched four innings and gave up four hits and one earned run while striking out eight.
In its two previous games, 520 Elite 18u got an outstanding outing from left-hander Treyton Stander, who pitched a seven inning complete game four-hitter with no earned runs and five strikeouts in a tournament-opening 4-2 win over the Trombly Braves. Catcher Kurt Bailey was 4-for-6 with a double and two RBI in 520’s first two games but was held hitless against the Sting.
Acuna likes the timing of the PG/EvoShield National Championship, although he admits there are some scheduling hassles.
“There some conflicts with school, obviously. One of the biggest things in our program is these kids getting their grades up and doing well on their ACTs and all that good stuff, so it’s a little tough,” he said. “But it’s a good time; the weather’s good, or, it’s suppose to be good. It was 109 (degrees on Friday), but we like coming up here and being in Phoenix.
“Perfect Game does a great job with everything they do, so we enjoy being a part of it.”
The temperature climbed to an unofficial 106 on Saturday, but there were few complaints. The teams playing here that are based in Arizona know the proper protocol.
“As part of our program, we have our trainers talk to them about hydration and how all that stuff works. What they need to do pre-game, day before, day after and all that type of stuff,” Acuna said. “We’re pretty cognizant of educating them on hydration and what it’s supposed to be. These guys are pretty used to the heat, I would say, or as much as you can be out here.”