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High School | General | 3/9/2019

3 leave with Showdown crowns

Jeff Dahn     
Photo: IMG Academy PGHS Showdown (Perfect Game)

IMG tops Blessed Trinity in prospect-rich HS Showdown Blue Division final

HOOVER, Ala. – The star power emanating from the playing field at the Hoover Met Stadium on Saturday resonated through the surrounding pine-covered hills and its waves may have been felt as far as downtown Birmingham, some 17 miles to the north.

That was the sense observers most likely felt when PG national preseason No. 2 IMG Academy out of Bradenton, Fla., and No. 5 Blessed Trinity Catholic from Roswell, Ga., squared off for the championship in the Blue Division at the 7th annual Perfect Game High School Showdown. And, most assuredly, the play on the field didn’t disappoint.

The IMG Academy Ascenders, the playoffs’ No. 1 seed, pushed across a single run in the bottom of the first inning which, as it turned out, would have been enough, and added four more in the bottom of the sixth on their way to a 5-0 blanking of the No. 2-seeded Blessed Trinity Titans on a warm and mostly cloudy March day in north-central Alabama.

IMG went 4-0 at the tournament and is now 6-0 on the young season. Blessed Trinity finished 3-1 at the event and dropped to 11-3 overall.

“Everything’s coming together. When everybody does their part and plays together, we have a really good team,” first-year IMG head coach Kason Gabbard told PG postgame. “The first night when we had that double-header (a pair of wins) we were a little off hitting but our pitching and defense made up for it and kept us in the games. We have a tremendous amount of talent on this team and I’m proud of each and every one of them.”

The Ascenders jumped to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first when senior Kyle Westfall (Texas Tech recruit) stroked a lead-off triple and senior Rece Hinds – a Perfect Game All-American and LSU recruit ranked No. 8 nationally in the class of 2019 – delivered a sac fly; the two hitters saw a total of four pitches.

It remained 1-0 until the bottom of the sixth when Westfall singled, Hinds came through with an RBI double, and Tucker Mitchell (Florida Atlantic) and Tripp McKinlay (Washington) each delivered RBI singles. A fourth run scored when Joshua Rivera (Florida) reached on an error – Rivera also doubled as part of IMG’s nine-hit attack – and the 5-0 final held to the end.

The scoring aside, the real story of the game was the pitching. IMG senior right-hander Jimmy Starnes made the start but gave up three hits and a walk (but no runs) in the first inning before leaving with an injury.

Enter the junior right-hander Brandon Llewellyn, who was nothing short of brilliant. Llewellyn worked six innings of one-hit ball – the hit he surrendered came with two-out in the seventh – without allowing a run; he struck-out five and didn’t issue a walk.

“Like we all said, it was tough that Jimmy had to be taken out so early with an injury,” Llewellyn said postgame. “Jimmy’s my brother – he’s (every teammate’s) brother – so I just decided to come in, step on the mound and (do) what I had to do. It was all under his name because he would have come out and done the same thing if he had (stayed) on the mound.”

Gabbard knew what to expect from his junior righty: “He’s been great for us all spring coming out of the pen in tight situations; he’s done a great job,” the head coach said of Llewellyn. “This was his longest outing so far this year – we stretched him out a little bit – so we’ll go from there.”

Llewellyn is a 6-foot-1 , 150-pound, top-500 prospect and a Notre Dame commit from Colleyville, Texas, who was making his second appearance at the Showdown on Saturday. He ended up working eight shutout innings over the weekend, allowing just the one hit while striking out nine without a walk; he was named the Most Valuable Pitcher.

“I (feel like) we have the best team in the country, the best talent, the best brotherhood,” Llewellyn said. “We all know how to play and it’s a great group of guys, young and old, and it’s just a fun time.”

IMG junior left-hander/outfielder Billy Underwood singled and stole a base in the championship game to cap off an outstanding tournament. A 6-foot-1, 180-pound, top-500 Coastal Carolina recruit from St. Louis, Underwood finished 6-for-9 (.667) with a pair of doubles, four RBI and three runs scored, and was named the MV Player.

“I think as a team we all bonded together really well,” Underwood said of the weekend’s results. “We kind of took the mentality … of really working well together, putting together some really good at-bats instead of working for your own statistics. … This was amazing; I think everybody enjoyed it.”

Blessed Trinity Catholic, one of the Showdown’s defending champions, managed only the four hits in the game, and all of them were singles. Three came from the top of the order with lead-off hitter and PG All-American CJ Abrams, Steele Chambers and Ryan Davis doing what they could.

All seniors, Abrams is an Alabama recruit ranked No. 2 nationally in the class of 2019, Chambers is a top-500 who is headed to Ohio State to play football and Davis is an uncommitted top-500.

Sophomore right-hander Joseph Chambers wasn’t shabby at all while making the high pressure start for the Titans, giving up only that first inning run on his first four pitches before settling in to complete four innings of four-hit work.

Both of these teams will return home for regular-season play the remainder of this month and then will head to Cary, N.C., for the USA Baseball National High School Invitational in early April. It’s another important event coming on the  heels of this important event.

“We don’t get to play for a state championship so the three tournaments that we enter, we look at those like playing in a state tournament and we do the best we can,” Gabbard said. “We go into every game trying to win and we go from there.”

2019 Perfect Game High School Showdown (Blue Division) champions: IMG Academy

2019 Perfect Game High School Showdown (Blue Division) runner-up: Blessed Trinity Catholic

2019 Perfect Game High School Showdown (Blue Division) MVP: Billy Underwood

2019 Perfect Game High School Showdown (Blue Division) MV-Pitcher: Brandon Llewellyn

Familiar foes named co-champs in Showdown Red Division

HOOVER, Ala. – A pair of Georgia neighbors did what they needed to do to reach the championship game at the PGHS Showdown Red Division and then said, wait a minute, we’d rather not do this.

Defending Georgia Class 5A state champion Loganville and 2018 Class 5A state runner-up Buford won their respective semifinal games Friday night and would have met in the Red Division championship game at Hoover Met Stadium Saturday afternoon.

The problem is, not only do Loganville and Buford compete against each other for 5A state championships, they also play for Region 8-5A championships. They are scheduled to play home-and-away regular-season games next week, on March 13 and 15.

Head coaches Jeff Segars from Loganville and Stuart Chester from Buford got together with PGHS Showdown tournament director Kevin Herlihy after the completion of the semifinals and decided to not play the game.

“It was kind of a mutual thing where neither one of us really wanted to play,” Segars told PG Saturday morning. “We play Wednesday and Friday for our region series, so it was a mutual decision between us and Buford to just kind of put that off and let it play out on Wednesday and Friday.”

The two schools have been in the same region for the last two years and Loganville won Region 8-5A and 5A state championships both years; the Red Devils won all four of their games against the Wolves a year ago.

“You’ve got two good teams going at it and the ball kind of fell our way a little bit and our kids made a few plays,” Segars said. “It’s shaping up to be a good series between the two of us again this year. We’ve got a lot of respect for them and what they do.”

Loganville – winners of four Georgia state championships in the last 11 seasons and the runner-up in 2016 – won its first three games by a combined count of 10-5, topping Montverde Academy (Fla.), Savannah Christian (Ga.) and Denham Springs (La.), the latter a 4-3 win in Friday’s semifinals.

The Red Devils’ hitters didn’t exactly overpower anyone – no player had more than one RBI – but senior Blaine Marchman (top-500 ranked, Georgia State) and sophomore Jackson Daniel showed some good things. The pitching was good with senior right-handers Connor Bruce (top-500, Georgia Southern) and Michael Knight, and junior righty Caleb Garner eating up valuable innings.

Buford won close pool-play games with DeSoto Central (Miss.) and Cullman (Ala.) by counts of 4-3 and 2-1, respectively, then rolled past Parkview (Ga.), 9-4, in the semis.

The offense was led in those in those first three games by senior Christian Griffin (Georgia SW State) and junior Joseph Salvo, while senior right-hander Ramsey David (No. 164, Auburn) and senior lefty Sean Adams (t-500, Georgia Southern) were both strong on the mound.

Miles Garrett, a 5-10, 160-pound junior right-hander from Parkview HS and a Vanderbilt commit ranked No. 104 nationally, was named the event’s Most Valuable Pitcher. Garrett threw a complete-game, two-hit shutout in his only start, striking out 14 without a walk.

Parkview finished third at the event with an 3-1 record and also had the MV Player on its lineup, Jonathan French, a senior catcher/utility for the Panthers, went 7-for-11 (.636) with a double, six RBI, three runs scored and four stolen bases.

All-in-all, it was very much a win-win for everyone involved.

“Perfect Game does a great job putting on the  event,” Segars said. “We saw some real high-level teams and we’ve seen some real good pitching, some real good players. It’s been good for us to come in and compete and play in some tight situations and continue to grow as a team.”

2019 Perfect Game High School Showdown (Red Division) co-champions: Loganville High School

2019 Perfect Game High School Showdown (Red Division) co-champions: Buford High School

2019 Perfect Game High School Showdown (Red Division) MV-Pitcher: Miles Garrett

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