GOODYEAR, Ariz. – About the time Sunday afternoon that the clock and the desert sun simultaneously reminded the ballplayers, coaches, family members, friends and dozens of college recruiters it was time to find some shade, the Southern California Bombers 2016 Black and California Baseball Academy (CBA) Marucci 2016 decided to put in a little bit of overtime.
And, really, when it comes right down to what was at stake, who could blame them? The two teams with rosters stocked almost entirely with high school sophomores from Southern California, had spent the morning winning first-round playoff games at the Perfect Game/EvoShield National Championship (Underclass) and now were battling for a spot in Monday morning’s final four.
This was not just playoff baseball. This was quarterfinal-round playoff baseball where the whole concept of risk and reward takes control of tired, 15-year-old bodies simply because, well, the risk is worth the reward. Every single one of the 64 teams that began play at this PG national championship event Friday did so with the objective of reaching Monday morning’s semifinal round.
“We always hope to play on Monday,” SC Bombers 2016 Black co-coach Tom Acuna said. “If we don’t step on the field with the mentality to win, I’d rather not step on the field at all. We always go out there with the mentality that we can take this thing.”
But, man, it was hot – and getting hotter by the minute. Out on the field, CBA Marucci 2016 was cruising behind the spot-on pitching of 2017 right-hander Charles Nies out of Coto de Caza, Calif., and for most of the game it looked as if a very workman-like result was inevitable.
Thanks to an RBI single off the bat of Blake Sabol from Aliso Viejo, Calif. – the No. 16-ranked national prospect in the 2016 class – in the bottom of the first and a sacrifice fly from Dominic Fletcher (2016, Cyrpress, Calif., No. 87) in the bottom of the fourth, CBA led 2-0 at the end of five innings of play.
Things were getting interesting at the Cincinnati Reds spring training practice fields at the Goodyear Ballpark Complex. Three other quarterfinal games were being played simultaneously, one other on the Reds’ side of the complex and two over at the Cleveland Indians’ side. And, man, it was getting hot.
THE FIRST DAY OF PLAYOFF ACTION at the PG/EvoShield National Championship (Underclass) began with a the 16-team bracket featuring 12 teams from California, and one each based in Illinois, Utah, Florida and Colorado. The Golden State’s dominance was more an argument for strength in numbers than a case of total dominance, as 33 of the 64 teams in the field from the outset were from California, and most of those from Southern California.
Of those 12 teams, the Los Angeles-based Garciaparra Baseball Group (GBG), La Puente-based Southern California Bombers and San Bernardino/Chino-based California Baseball Academy (CBA) each had two qualifiers.
Hope springs eternal in the hour or so before the first pitches are thrown in the first-round of the playoffs, and that was certainly the case in the Cincinnati Reds’ quad at the Goodyear Ballpark Complex Sunday morning. Mike Garciaparra from GBG and Scott Reed from the SC Bombers were found anticipating the day ahead while looking back at the events of the past two days.
GBG Marucci Navy and GBG Marucci White both won their pools with 3-0 records and advanced to the playoffs (GBG Marucci Blue just missed at 2-1). Navy outscored its three pool-play foes, 29-2, while White was an improbable 3-0 after winning by a combined score of 6-3.
“I’ve been really pleased with these guys,” Garciaparra said after filling out the Navy lineup for its playoff opener. “The White team came in here and won three 2-1 ballgames … and they pulled it out going 3-0; only giving up three runs is extremely impressive. This Navy team kind of did what I expected them to do being our 2015 team. Our Blue team came up short but that team is a star-studded 2016-2017 group that I think is going to be very good for a long time.”
The Southern California Bombers 2015 Black won its pool with a 3-0 record (30-9 combined score) and the Southern California Bombers 2016 Black won its pool with a 2-0-1 mark (15-11). The Bombers 2015 Red finished 1-2 in pool-play.
“It’s been a good start, but obviously the playoffs are a whole different thing – it’s kind of a second season once you get out here,” said Reed, who serves at the SC Bombers’ general manager. “But our junior Black team and our sophomore Black team both won their pools and advanced, so we’re hoping for big things from them today.
“We’ve been doing pretty well out here for the last few years. It’s one of our trips that we really look forward to with our groups.”
Both GBG Marucci squads advanced out of the first round into the quarterfinals: Navy ripped CBA Victory, 13-1, and White got past the Lakewood, Colo.-based Slammers Holzemer, 6-3. Both were stopped cold in quarters, however, with Navy losing to the powerful SACSN National Team, 7-0, and White falling to the impressive Colton (Calif.) Nighthawks 2015s, 10-1. GBG won the PG/EvoShield Underclass in 2012 but its 2013 run was over.
“They all had good showings and obviously, with all the college scouts out here, that’s the main part of these tournaments,” Garciaparra said. “You also like to win in the process and I couldn’t be more proud of our teams going 8-1 in nine (pool-play) games; that’s pretty cool in a one-year swing and we’re extremely proud of what they’ve done.”
The SC Bombers 2016 Black used a 4-1, eight-inning win over Mountain West to advance to their quarterfinal game against CBA Marucci 2016 which, coincidentally, eliminated the SC Bombers 2015 Black, 1-0 in eight innings, in the first round.
“For us, we’re not really big into the trophies and all that; that’s not really what it’s all about,” Reed said. “Obviously, every extra game you play is more scouting opportunities for the guys. As long as they’re getting the looks and we’re putting them in front of the right people and giving them an opportunity to succeed and play at the next level; that really is what the organization is all about.”
It’s the same thing Garciaparra hopes to accomplish with his growing organization.
“I think they’ve all enjoyed it,” he said of the experience. “This is our first tournament bringing multiple teams in one age group, so it’s been a little different; they wanted to play against each other and it’s pretty cool that sometimes it could work out that way. You’re playing on big-league fields every day against good competition with good umpires and everything, and it’s great exposure for these guys. I think they’re having a great time.”
THE SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA BOMBERS 2016 BLACK came to bat against CBA Marucci 2016 in the top of the sixth with their fate hanging in the balance. Jacob Castillo (2016, Glendora, Calif.) got things started with a leadoff double, and thanks to a couple of walks, a single and a couple of CBA errors, the Bombers held a 3-2 lead by the time the game moved to the top of the bottom of the sixth.
It didn’t last. Fletcher delivered his second sac fly of the game – both scored Sabol – to tie the game at three, and after a scoreless seventh, the game moved into the eighth and the PG tie-breaker rule kicked in (each half-inning starts with the bases loaded and one out). And, it should be added, it was getting even warmer as the closer the clock ticked toward 3 p.m.
“We tell them to make sure you get enough rest, take care of yourself, get a good night’s sleep, eat right and make sure you stay hydrated and be mentally prepared,” Acuna said. “It’s a team effort, the boys never give up; it’s a total team effort. We don’t have any superstars, we just chip away and chip away and hope that we get a break every now and then.”
After the bases were loaded per the tie-breaker rule, the Bombers sent Shane Mittleman (2016, Murrieta, Calif.) to the plate. A right-handed hitter, Mittleman laid down a beauty of a sacrifice bunt that scored Alex Orellana (2016, La Puente, Calif.) with what turned out to be the winning run. Diminutive (5-foot-6, 130-pounds) but high-kicking right-hander Kevin Lopez (2016, La Puente) shut the door on CBA in the bottom of the eighth.
It was the perfect culmination to a long hot day for the SC Bombers 2016 Black.
“We just try to get through pool-play and when we get to the championship rounds we just try to put our best nine out there and play hard baseball,” co-coach Andrew Takayoshi said. “We talk to the boys a lot – we’ve mostly been together for the last four or five years now – and they’re really starting to jell.”
The Bombers 2016 Black (4-0-1) will face the SACSN National Team (5-0) in one semifinal Monday morning at the Indians’ quad; the Colton Nighthawks 2016 (5-0) face the So Cal National Travel Team (4-1) in the other semifinal, also at the Indians’ quad. The championship game is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. at Goodyear Ballpark.