FORT MYERS, Fla. – It’s been a year already since Marucci Elite manager Chad Raley brought one of the best underclass teams he had ever assembled to challenge for the championship at the Perfect Game 2010 WWBA Underclass World Championship.
That team’s roster, loaded with 19 top prospects in the classes of 2012 or 2013 who had already committed to NCAA Division I colleges, didn’t disappoint. It rolled through its pool with a 3-0 record, then used terrific pitching to complete a 5-0 sweep in the playoffs and left town with the 2010 WWBA Underclass World Championship.
Raley has another talented group back here this weekend for the 2011 WWBA World Championship, a 144-team extravaganza that kicked off Friday morning at 15 venues in the Fort Myers area, most of them in Lee County.
Speaking before his team’s tournament-opener against the BigStixx Gamers 16u at the main stadium at Terry Park, Raley took a moment to look back on that extremely talented team of high school juniors – now seniors – who rolled to last year’s championship.
“The biggest memory that I have is that we ended up having a special group of kids that ended up turning into a team within two games. I’ve never seen a team jell that quickly,” Raley said. “After our first game I had doubts that we were going to win the tournament. I knew we had enough talent but I had doubts we could actually win because we weren’t functioning as a team.”
But the something clicked. Something came together.
“By our second or third game, I started noticing different guys hanging out together and they started jelling as a team,” Raley continued. “That’s when we started getting on a roll and really playing well.”
It was outstanding pitching from top prospects like left-handers Colin Rogers (an Auburn commit), Hunter Devall (LSU) and Kyle Twomey (USC) that led Marucci to the 2010 championship. The Elite pitching staff produced four shutouts in the team’s last six games, including a 2-0 win over the East Cobb Braves in the championship game.
Raley has kept most of that group together on an upper class team he will take to Jupiter, Fla., in two weeks for the WWBA World Championship. The team will include not only Marucci Elite regulars like outfielder Chris Rivera – the nation’s No. 1-ranked prospect in the class of 2013 who almost joined the underclass team here this weekend – but also 2011 Perfect Game All-Americans Steven Golden, Andrew Pullin and Cody Poteet.
“We’ve got a pretty nice squad coming to Jupiter, a lot of Perfect Game All-Americans who we’ll mix in with our other guys,” Raley said.
But before he can turn his attention completely to the WWBA World Championship, there is this small matter of winning the WWBA Underclass World Championship. This year’s roster is once again loaded.
It’s safe to start with MIF/EB/RHP Spencer Trayner, a junior at Jesuit High School in Tampa who was also a member of Marucci Elite’s 2010 WWBA Underclass championship team. Trayner is the nation’s No. 48-ranked top prospect and has committed to North Carolina.
The other D-I recruit on Elite’s roster is outfielder Jerret DeHart, the nation’s No. 60-ranked top prospect out of Medford, N.J., who has committed to LSU.
Uncommitted 2013 highly ranked prospects include shortstop Oscar Marcado, C/3B/RHP Adrian Chacon, LHP/1B/OF John Kilichowksi - all from Tampa - and right-handers Trey Lee Cobb from Broken Arrow, Okla., and Trevor Clifton from Knoxville, Tenn. Dozens of college coaches were in the stands Friday morning watching the right-handed Clifton make his start.
In the class of 2014, Marucci Elite outfielder Gareth Morgan from Toronto is Canada’s No. 3-ranked top national prospect and SS/RHP/OF Blake Hennessey from Ponte Verda, Fla., is ranked 20th nationally.
“Last year’s team was very special but actually, on paper, this team may stack up a little better than last year’s,” Raley said. “I don’t know if we’ll have quite as dominant of pitching but I think our hitters this year are better. We’ve got two games today, so we’ll use (the first) one for kind of relaxing and getting to know each other a little bit and (the second one) we’ll use for team-building things and try to get a little cohesiveness in the group.”
Everything came together in Elite’s 10-0, five-inning win over the BigStixx Gamers in the tournament-opener. Clifton pitched four innings of no-hit ball with nine strikeouts and one walk and right-hander Adrian Chacon struck out all three batters he faced in the fifth. Chacon was also 2-for-3 with a double and three RBI and DeHart was 2-for-2 with a triple and two knocked in.
Marucci will be sending two teams to the WWBA World Championship. There will be its powerhouse Elite squad with mostly 2012s and all the PG All-Americans and also an underclass team. Mercado, Chacon and Hennessey are among the underclassmen here this weekend that will play for the senior Marucci Elite team in Jupiter.
“A lot of these guys will be in Jupiter, but it might be on our underclass team,” Raley said. “I’ve kind of noticed through the years with Jupiter, when the kids go there and it’s the first time they’ve ever seen it, they kind of freak out. I wanted our underclass team to experience Jupiter and see that atmosphere. It’s a nerve-racking atmosphere with hundreds of scouts back there, and I can see where a 16- or 17-year-old kid would get kind of nervous.”
But first comes what Raley anticipates will be a repeat title run at the WWBA Underclass World Championship. There are 143 other teams out to prove him wrong.
“I expect to win it again,” Raley said without the slightest hesitation. “We’ve got enough talent, and I’ve seen some of the other rosters and there are plenty of really talented teams here, but I think we’re very talented and we should do OK. It’s just a matter of the guys relaxing and playing to their capabilities.”