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Marlins reeling off wins

Tournaments : : Story
Nick Kappel        
Published: Thursday, July 05, 2012

MARIETTA, Ga. — Winning in the PG/WWBA 18u National Championship is no easy feat, and doing it with a team that’s never played together is almost unheard of. But that’s what the Marlins Scout Team has accomplished over the last seven days in the sweltering Georgia heat.

The majority of the team is from California, but they have players from 10 different states, including New York, Florida, Georgia, Arizona and Texas.

Led on offense by left-handed first baseman Vincent Jackson (2012, Luella HS, Ga.) and outfielder Grant Diede (2012, Acalanes HS, Calif.), the Marlins Scout Team is on an incredible tournament run. They went 6-1 in pool play and have won their first two playoff games by a combined score of 13-1. For the tournament, they’ve outscored opponents 60-19.

The first couple games we struggled to get them on the same page as they were getting to know each other,” Coach Charlie Barbieri said. “But it’s a credit to them, they’ve come together really quickly. We’ve guided them a little bit here and there but for the most part, it’s been them.”

Jackson stands out on the field in his 6-foot-4, 195-pound body. He was drafted in the 23
rd round by the Yankees last month. Although he says negotiations with the team are ongoing, he’s looking forward to his commitment with Tennessee.

I’m excited about the opportunity,” Jackson said. “They have a really great coaching staff and I’ve always wanted to play in the SEC. Also, the recruiting class we have will make us College World Series contenders in the next few years. I’d like to be a part of that.”

For now, he’s a part of one of the hottest travel teams in the country. In 19 tournament at-bats, he has nine hits (.391) with nine runs scored and two stolen bases. This is his fourth year at the National Championship tournament, and he’s eager to make his last one count.

I’m from Georgia, so I’ve wanted to win this tournament for forever,” Jackson said. “This is the farthest I’ve ever made it. This is a once in a lifetime chance, especially with this team.”

Win or lose, Jackson has a bright future. After seeing him play earlier in the tournament, one PG scout said Jackson reminded him of Fred McGriff, also a left-handed first basemen, who batted .284 and hit 493 home runs in 19 major league seasons.

Coach Barbieri offered an even greater compliment. While there are hundreds of good players at this tournament, Jackson’s baseball skills are only part of what makes him special.

He’s very polished, a team-guy and very unselfish,” he said. “He’s well-spoken and well-educated. He’s a great individual on an off the field, and a pleasure to have on the team.”

While Jackson has been important to the Marlins Scout Team’s success in their first tournament together, it’s been a true team effort.

Grant Diede — a California commit — is leading the universe in batting over the last seven days, going 12-for-19 (.632) with two doubles, three home runs, 14 runs scored, nine RBI and three stolen bases. He’s also walked nine times, giving him an out-of-this-world .750 on-base percentage.

He’s a Beast,” Coach Barbieri said of Diede. “He’s been our driving force offensively. He’s kind of our sparkplug on offense.”

Kevin Brantley (2012, Wekiva HS, Fla.), Ruben (RJ) Ybarra (2012, Riverside Poly HS, Calif.) and Terrence Connelly (2012, Chaminade HS, N.Y.) have made significant offensive contributions in this tournament as well. Brantley leads the team with six stolen bases while going 9-for-26 (.346) with a double; Ybarra is 9-for-24 (.333) with four doubles, two homers and nine RBI; Connelly has eight hits in 22 at-bats (.363) with two steals and eight RBI.

The Marlins Scout Team certainly has the bats to compete, but most coaches will tell you it takes strong pitching and defense to advance in this tournament. Fortunately for the Marlins, they have that too.

In nine tournament games (57 innings), their pitching staff has allowed 16 earned runs (2.53), striking out 70. They’ve held opponents to two runs or less six times, including their last four games.

In the team’s first game last Friday, Seth Martinez (2013, Sunrise Mountain HS, Ariz.) pitched 5.2 no-hit innings, striking out 12. He followed that up with seven innings of one-hit ball (eight strikeouts) in their first playoff game Wednesday night. Left-hander Evan Challenger (2012, Mt. Dora HS, Fla.) has been dominant in his two starts as well, yielding a total of four hits and one earned run in 11 innings.

The Marlins Scout Team is in the midst of a 37-day road trip that also includes the 18u BCS Finals in Ft. Meyers, Fla., and the WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla.

For now they’re focused on the task at hand: A win against Big Stix Gamers Thursday afternoon would advance them to the semifinals, and one step closer to winning a tournament Jackson has been dreaming about for years.

This is one of the best tournaments I’ve been to, I love it,” Jackson said. “I love the Perfect Game atmosphere.”

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