PHOENIX -- Call it "small ball", call it "old school", call it just about anything you'd like. It was with an emphasis on bunting the ball beautifully, running out infield hits and an emphasis on sound defensive play up the middle that led Moorpark (Calif.) High School to the championship in Division AAA of the Perfect Game-sponsored Coach Bob National Invitational. Division AAA was one of nine divisions contested at the Coach Bob National Invitational.
Moorpark beat host North Canyon High School (Phoenix, Ariz.), 6-2, in the championship game played late Thursday afternoon at North Canyon. The title game was a real treat to watch for those rapidly disappearing, old-school purists who just like to see the game played with sound fundamentals.
From his seat in the bleachers right behind home plate, a Perfect Game note-taker heard North Canyon parents and, yes, even students repeatedly compliment the solid play of the visitors from southern California.
The Musketeers (13-4 overall and 5-0 in games played at the Coach Bob, including one outside of Division AAA), scored single runs in each of the first four innings, thanks in large part to combinations of four bunt or infield singles, and a sacrifice bunt. There were line-drive singles as well, but seldom did any of the Musketeers' hits go for extra bases.
"We play in a very large field at home with a wind that blows straight in from left," Moorpark head coach Scott Fullerton said. "We've done it forever ... and with the BBCOR (bats), we were a little ahead of the game on that and we work very hard on bunting. That is the game we play right there."
Junior first baseman Ryan Swanson was especially effective on Thursday, recording RBI singles in each of the first and fourth innings and delivering an RBI sacrifice fly in the top of the sixth. Junior Sherman Brawner had an infield RBI single in the second and a run-scoring double in the seventh and sophomore Patrick Valdez came through with a line-drive RBI single in the third.
As good, clutch, timely and perfectly executed as Moorpark's offensive attack was, two other aspects of its game really shined through. Junior 6-foot-5, 180-pound right-hander Chase Fredrick threw his first complete game of the season, giving up two runs on five hits with five strikeouts over seven innings. He gave up both runs in the bottom of the sixth on an RBI single from North Canyon sophomore Logan Ehnes and on a fielders' choice when Kyle Lewis grounded into a 4-6-3 double-play.
Moorpark's best pitcher is Sean Barry, a 6-foot-2, 170-pound right-hander who has committed to High Point University that Fullerton said is capable of pitching a one-hitter or no-hitter with 13 to 15 strikeouts every time he steps on the mound. Fullerton decided to use Barry against Air Academy (Colo.) on Wednesday (a 5-0 Moorpark win) and turn Fredrick loose in the championship game on Thursday.
"We thought our No. 2 guy needed to throw a game like this, where there is a little emotion and it's a big game," Fullerton said. "We need our No. 2 guy to win big games and we decided as a staff to roll him out there (Thursday) and make him win a big game. Sending him out there in the seventh inning was all about getting him to grow. And all of the things we needed to happen to that kid today, happened."
"I felt great," Fredrick said. "Getting ahead (in the count) was probably the thing I wanted to do the most; throw my breaking pitches for strikes. (Fullerton) asked me if I wanted to go (in the seventh) and I said yes. Obviously I wanted to close it out."
One of the prettiest parts of this game was watching Moorpark shortstop Brawner and second baseman Tony Conway -- both juniors -- work their seamless magic up the middle of the infield. They turned a couple of double-plays and also produced some sure-handed outs without the help of the other. Brawner was especially impressive.
"They are as fundamentally sound as they come," Fullerton said of the middle-infield duo. "They have that old-school middle-field mentality; they'll wear balls off the face and make a play. They are so good at turning two that they are almost happy when there's one out and somebody gets on, and they will tell that pitcher, 'Right here, baby.' They live for that and they've probably turned 15 double-plays already this season, just those two guys."
Moorpark advanced to the championship game by beating Southridge (Ore) High School, Desert Ridge High School (Ariz.) and Air Academy (Colo.). North Canyon beat Prescott High School (Ariz.), Highlands Ranch High School (Colo.) and Westview High School (Ore.) in its way to the title game.
The Coach Bob National Invitational is certainly popular among the players, parents and coaches.
"It's early in our season and it's an opportunity for high school kids to get to travel together and to have a college baseball experience," Fullerton said. "It's a road-trip with their buddies and a chance to play teams from different states; programs that we would never play against (otherwise). We came here last year only because it was the only tournament that fit our spring break, and it was awesome. Our kids had a great time ... and we played all these powerhouses from different states and it just jells your team."
Fullerton admits that it takes a lot of work from parents and boosters in terms of fund-raising and figuring out the travel logistics, but in the end the entire process pays dividends.
"The net result is that our team comes together and the chemistry is way better than when you left, and you come back a better team," he said.