FORT MYERS, Fla. – Perfect Game’s historical archives will show that Marucci Elite won back-to-back WWBA Underclass World Championship titles in 2010-11. It will be there on the PG website for posterity’s sake, an uncontested fact of a recognized dominance.
But what often isn’t recognized is that when one organization wins an event such as the WWBA Underclass World Championship two years in a row, it’s an organizational triumph. The age-group championships are usually won with entirely different teams.
“It says a lot about our organization. I think we’re getting the right mix of players for events like this,” Marucci Elite head coach Chad Raley said after the Elite outlasted a determined Chet Lemon’s Juice squad, 9-6, in the WWBA Underclass World Championship title game Monday at Terry Park.
“We had to catch some lucky breaks along the way, and like I said at the beginning of the tournament, I wanted the team to jell quickly, and they did,” he said. “We had a couple of character-building wins – we actually got no-hit and won a game in pool-play – but we figured out how to win some close games.”
Marucci Elite, based in Baton Rouge, La., but armed with a roster loaded with top prospects from Louisiana, Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kentucky, New Jersey, Alabama, Tennessee and even Illinois, looked on paper like the most talented team when the tournament began last Friday. The Elite didn’t disappoint.
Elite catcher Andrew Dunlap, a senior at Westbury Christian High School in Houston who is ranked the nations’ 93rd top prospect overall (No. 11 at his position) in the class of 2013, was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player despite hitting a paltry .235 (4-for-17).
It only mattered that three of Dunlap’s four hits were game-winners, including a solo home run that broke a 3-3 tie with the highly regarded Dirtbags in a second-round playoff game on Sunday, and a fifth-inning grand slam that lifted the Elite from a 7-5 deficit to a 9-7 victory over FTB Mizuno Royal in Monday morning’s semifinal round. He finished with nine RBI.
“This is definitely one of the best tournaments I’ve played in,” Dunlap said. “The competition, especially later in the tournament, was a lot better than a lot of tournaments I’ve competed in. We had a great team; it seemed like we had unlimited pitching so that really helped us out.”
The tournament’s Most Valuable Pitcher Award went to Juice right-hander Tyler Danish, from Durant High School in Mount Dora, Fla., whose primary position is listed as third base . He was phenomenal on the mound over the past four days, compiling a 3-0 record with one save while working 14 innings in four appearances and allowing just three hits while walking one and striking out 15.
Raley told Perfect Game on Friday he liked his team’s chances of repeating as the tournament champion. It was an attitude that rubbed off on his players.
“I think we did,” MVP Dunlap said when asked if the team started the tournament with the idea it would still be playing Monday afternoon. “Chad (Raley) called me earlier this month and he told me how they won it last year and it sounded like we had a pretty good squad, so we were all expecting to be here on Monday.”
“This one wasn’t near as easy as last year’s,” Raley admitted. “Last year’s pitching was so dominant and this year our offense carried us and we got some really good pitching performances out of some guys.”
The championship game Monday afternoon at Terry Park’s main stadium was a dandy. The Elite jumped to an early 6-0 lead after 3½ innings only to see the Juice rally to come within 6-5 after five. The Elite put three “assurance” runs on the board in the top of the seventh to take a 9-5 lead, then watched the Juice load the bases and push one more run across before settling for the 9-6 win.
Both teams relied on their offense in this one.
The Elite rapped-out 12 hits, including two hits apiece from Oscar Mercado, highly ranked Spencer Trayner and Dylan Manwaring, a young prospect from Horseheads, N.Y. Manwaring also drove in a pair of runs.
The Juice’s Josh Greene, a real sparkplug out of Ocala, Fla., enjoyed a terrific day at the plate with three triples – one in the Juice’s semifinal game and two more in the championship game. He was 2-for-4 with the two triples, two RBI and two runs scored in the title game.
The Juice’s class of 2014 top prospect Nicholas Gordon was 2-for-3 with two RBI and a run in the championship game.
“That one was a little nerve-racking; that was exciting,” Raley said of the title tilt. “That took a total team effort that last game and everybody contributed and we ended up using all of our arms. It came down to the end.
“Chet Lemon’s Juice did a great job,” he continued. “They could have packed it in earlier in the game when we jumped on them and they showed a lot of fight to come back, and it was impressive the way they handled themselves.”
Marucci Elite rolled through pool play undefeated on Friday and Saturday and entered the playoffs as the tournament’s No. 6 seed. It beat the St. Louis Pirates and the highly regarded Dirtbags in the playoff’s first two rounds, then opened play Monday morning with a 6-1 win over Hitters Baseball in the quarterfinals. That led to its 9-7 win over No. 2-seed FTB Mizuno Royal in the semifinals.
Henry Hernandez was 2-for-3 with a home run and two runs knocked in the semifinal win. Right-hander Spencer Trayner worked the final three innings from the hill and pitched flawlessly, allowing no hits, runs or walks while striking out five.
Chet Lemon’s Juice also went 3-0 in pool play and came into the playoffs as the No. 4 seed. The Juice won their first two playoff games by shutout over Central Florida Element and Orlando Scorpions 2013 Black, and then beat No. 5 seed Palm Beach County PAL, 5-3, in the quarters.
That led to a 6-0 upset of the top-seeded East Cobb Braves. Left-hander Danny Miller and the righty throwing Danish combined on a three-hitter with eight strikeouts.
Both teams had to deal with the challenge of playing five games in 24 hours due to Saturday afternoon’s rain postponements, but everybody seemed to make the best of it.
“The rain had us all on kind of late notice, so we didn’t know when we were going to play, obviously, but we were all just waiting to hear and then we were all just ready to go,” Dunlap said. “It was the same for everybody.”
“The biggest thing was just the mental fact that we were ready to play at 8:30 (Sunday morning) and then it kept getting backed up and we kept not knowing when we were going to play,” he said. “Perfect Game did a good job of not having it too disorganized … and they did a good job of keeping the (website) posted. We were able to stay relaxed and we were ready to play last night.”