High School | General | 3/6/2021

3 reign supreme at PGHS Showdown

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Buford HS Wolves (Perfect Game)

HOOVER, Ala. – Three champions were crowned at the Perfect Game High School Showdown on Saturday, with all three championship games played in cool, clear and cloudless conditions at sun-soaked Hoover Met Complex Stadium.

Buford holds on to top Spanish Fort in Blue Bracket championship

Do-everything junior sensation Dylan Lesko is used to helping the Buford (Ga.) High School Wolves win big games by working his magic on the mound and effectively taking the bat out of opposing hitter’s hands with the precision of a surgeon. Saturday afternoon, Lesko helped the Wolves win a championship by wielding a pretty impressive bat of his own.

Assuming the role as designated hitter and batting in the 5-hole in the lineup, Lesko – the No. 2-ranked overall national prospect in the class of 2022 and the No. 1 right-handed pitcher – singled three times, drove in a pair of runs and scored a third to help nationally No. 4-ranked Buford outlast Spanish Fort (Ala.) HS, 7-6, in the PGHS Showdown Blue Bracket championship game.

“I get emotional talking about him because he’s such a good person...and there’s not anything I don’t think that he couldn’t do athletics-wise, ” Buford Head Coach Stuart Chester said speaking of Lesko after the Wolves had withstood a furious comeback attempt by the Toros.

“I know what he can do as a person and that’s impact people and impact lives. I don’t think the game ever gets too big for him and I don’t think the situation gets too big for him and I don’t think he gets too big for anything else.”

Buford claimed the Showdown Bracket championship almost a year to the day after it had been forced to settle for a runner-up finish to Mountain Brook (Ala.) in the 2020 Blue Bracket championship game. Lesko certainly figured prominently in Saturday’s championship victory but this was a total team effort, as most championship runs almost always are.

But it was precarious, as well. Buford scored two runs in the bottom of the third, added a single tally in the fourth and seemed to blow it open with a four-run fifth to take a 7-1 lead, only to watch a determined Spanish Fort push across five in the top of the sixth to bring it within one; they’d get no closer.

“I hate to really go in this direction, I guess, but I think we’ll get a lot more out of getting tested than it going ahead and being 8-1 or anything like that,” Chester said. “Of course, it would have been nice to finish it off that way but we need to struggle.

“When it’s a (Georgia) non-region game, we tell our guys, listen, we want you in the most adverse situation, we want everything you throw to get hit and everything you swing at missing.”

The Wolves scored their two runs in the third on the strength of an RBI single from Riley Stanford and a sac fly from Lesko. A leadoff single from Jackson Gaspard, a perfectly executed sacrifice bunt from Stan Zagrodnik and an RBI single from Jake Pope produced the run in the fourth.

The four-run fifth came courtesy of a Lesko RBI single, a one-out, two-run single from Zagrodnik and two-out RBI double off the bat of Treyton Rank.

Then it was time for the Toros to produce some fireworks of their own after they had first gotten on the board behind a two-out RBI single from Thomas Hoover, which followed a one-out single from Caleb Hayles.

The big blows in the five-run sixth were a two-out, two-run single from Reese King, a two-out RBI single from Jackson Ray and a sac fly delivered by Trey Fenderson.

“Hats off to Spanish Fort – they’ve got a good ballclub,” Buford’s Chester said. “They swing the bats; they play from A to B and they did what they had to do to get themselves back in the game...We talk about it every day, play it like it’s your last because honestly when we walked off this field last year we never stepped back on it. That’s huge for us to come out and live for today.”

Zagrodnik finished with the two singles and two RBI to complement Lesko’s totals at the plate in leading Buford; senior right-hander Connor Sampers was the Wolves most consistent pitcher on this day, allowing one run on four hits with two strikeouts and two walks over the game’s first five innings.

Pierce Dutton doubled and singled and scored a run and Hayles singled twice and scored a pair to pace Spanish Fork offensively.

The junior Lesko, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound Vanderbilt commit, was named the MV Pitcher for the second straight year at this event and for the seventh time in his already illustrious PG career. He made only one start here this week pitching six shutout innings but allowed only two hits while striking out 13 without issuing a walk. The kid really is something else.

“Probably the best compliment you can have is so-and-so was a great teammate,” Chester said. “Well, there’s 28 guys on that team right there that will make the statement that Dylan Lesko is the best teammate they’ve ever been with.”

Spanish Fork’s Hayles was named the MV Player after finishing 7-for-14 (.500) with two doubles, three RBI and seven runs scored.

Having reached their bracket’s title game, both teams will now return home and carry on with their regular seasons having gained valuable confidence as they chase state championships in Georgia (Buford) and Alabama (Spanish Fort).

“It’s a long season and we want to be prepared,” Chester said. “We really want to be healthy and game-ready come May, and this tournament is the best in the country. It prepares you for the ups and downs of baseball

Oxford rallies to down Loganville for White Bracket title

Oftentimes in the game of baseball it can take a few innings for a team to piece things together, find the right combinations and take advantage of what’s laid out in front of them. Such was the case for Oxford (Ala.) High in the PGHS Showdown White Bracket championship game Saturday morning.

Trailing by a 2-1 count at the end of a laborious first inning, the Yellow Jackets rallied for single runs in both of the sixth and seventh innings, and escaped the Loganville (Ga.) Red Devils, 3-2, to take home their first Showdown title. Loganville, on the other hand, was denied a second straight bracket championship at the event after winning in 2020.

The result also flipped the outcome of a pool-play game won by the Red Devils by the same 3-2 score on Thursday. Oxford had made it into the playoffs as the division’s only wild card.

The Yellow Jackets totaled just four hits in the win and didn’t even pick up its first safety until Chance Griner stroked a two-out single in the top of the fifth. By contrast, the Red Devils collected nine hits and looked ready to take off when they pushed across a pair of runs in the bottom of the first.

But they left two runners on base in each of the fourth, fifth and sixth innings which proved to be their demise at days end.

“I thought we had a lot of two-strike discipline with our hitters,” Oxford Head Coach Wes Brooks said postgame. “We didn’t have many hits but we kind of put the ball in play when we needed to. The intensity was there the entire game; our guys played with relentless effort...

“Everybody achieves more if you have total effort of all members and there’s not a guy in that dugout that didn’t contribute to this victory today.”

Oxford actually jumped to a 1-0 in the top of the first without the benefit of a base hit. It instead used two walks, two stolen bases from leadoff hitter Sam Robertson, and a balk to plate the run.

The Jackets also scored a run in the sixth after freshman Rj Brooks advanced all the way to third when an errant throw from the Loganville infield rolled all the way into right field; he then scored on a fielder’s choice groundout from Revy "Trey" Higgins.

Brooks was also the most efficient of the three pitchers Oxford used. He picked up the win after working the final three shutout innings, allowing four hits; Griner accounted for two of the Yellow Jackets’ four hits.

“I just told our guys to focus on winning pitches, winning that moment,” Brooks said. “We just focus on winning a championship on that pitch and you don’t think about tomorrow or the next game, and you just win a championship on that pitch.”

Loganville loaded the bases with two hit batsmen and a walk in the bottom of the first before Chandler Haulk delivered a one-out, two-run, ground ball single into left to give the Red Devils the 2-1 lead they would enjoy until the sixth.

Joseph Johnson doubled and singled and Ryan Grayson singled twice to lead Loganville offensively; the Red Devils used four pitchers who combined on the four-hitter while striking out five and walking three.

Oxford senior right-hander/corner infielder Trey Mooney was named the White Bracket MV Player, mostly for what he did on the mound. He threw five two-hit, five-strikeout shutout innings in his only appearance and also went 2-for-4 with a double at the plate.

Loganville junior left-hander Riley Cruce picked-up MV Pitcher honors after throwing six shutout innings, allowing three hits and striking out six.

“I can’t say enough about the first class way that Perfect Game runs this tournament,” Brooks said. “From the national directors to the local directors to the city of Birmingham and the city of Hoover, it’s just an awesome honor to be able to play and give our guys an opportunity to compete for a championship early in the year.”

IMG Academy rolls to Red Bracket championship

It’s safe to say that the Cullman (Ala.) High School Bearcats were very much aware of the monumental task that lay before them when they walked into Hoover Met Stadium Saturday afternoon.

But they walked in with purpose and confidence, and with the overwhelming desire to prove all the doubters wrong as they readied themselves to face the PG High School preseason No. 1 IMG Academy Ascenders out of Bradenton, Fla., a team with D-I and even professional-ready prospects.

Just how talented is this IMGA roster? Well, you can start with 2020 PG All-Americans James Wood, Mason Albright, Drew Gray and Tommy White, all seniors ranked within the top-36 nationally in the class of 2021.

Add to that top juniors (2022s) like Elijah Green (No. 1, by the way) and Jackson Ferris (No. 15) and there’s really not much more to say.

Undeterred, the kids from Cullman, Ala., came out fighting. With one out in the top of the first, senior infielder Brennan Norton, a 5-foot-9, 185-pound switch-hitting Jacksonville State signee, hit a 90 mph Drew Gray fastball clean out of the yard to give the Bearcats a 1-0 lead and, perhaps, a feeling of invincibility.

And that was it. There just wasn’t anything more to give. It turned out to be the only hit Gray would surrender in his five innings of work and the Ascenders rolled to an 11-1, five-inning victory over the Bearcats in the PGHS Showdown Red Bracket championship game.

IMG Academy had beaten its previous three opponents at the Showdown by a combined score of 22-3 so no one had any reason to be surprised. The only dent in their armor coming into this event was a 6-5 loss to Flower Mound (Texas) Marcus High at the Glove Life Field High School Baseball Showcase last week in Arlington, Texas, and they now stand 9-1 on the young season.

“We’ve been playing great,” IMGA Head Coach Kason Gabbard said in brief postgame comments Saturday. “We went to Texas and we had a scuffle out there and lost a game but we rebounded pretty well. You know, we don’t get to play for a state championship so all these tournaments we come to and we try to win them all. I’m very happy with everybody and the way they performed.”

What’s not to be happy with? The Ascenders’ 11-hit attack was led by Wood (home run, single, 4 RBI, 3 runs), Green (double, single, 2 runs), White (double, single, RBI, 2 runs), sophomore Stone Russell (double, single, 2 RBI) and senior Sam Hunt (double, 3 RBI, 2 runs).

Gray, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound left-hander from Illinois, was magnificent, allowing just the Norton home run in his five innings of work while striking out 13 and walking two. Can it really get much better than that?

Well, a little bit better, maybe. Gray’s teammate, junior left-hander Jackson Ferris, the No. 15-ranked national prospect in the class of 2022, was named the MV Pitcher in the Red Bracket after throwing a seven-inning, one-hit shutout on Friday, and he matched Ferris’ 13 Ks while not walking a batter.

The fact that the Bearcats even made it to the championship game shouldn’t be discarded without comment. They opened play here with a 2-1 win over Bob Jones (Ala.) HS in what was largely considered an upset but then were beaten by Florida’s Montverde Academy, 5-0, which cost them the pool championship.

But they got into the playoffs as a wild card and crushed Carrollton (Ga.) HS, 12-3, in Friday’s semifinal round. Norton hit a pair of doubles and a triple, drove in three runs and scored two others, and also threw a complete-game seven-hitter, giving up the three runs while striking out seven without a walk.

Junior Kaleb Heatherly tripled, singled, recorded two RBI and scored twice; senior Max Dueland tripled, drove in four runs and scored another. Norton finished the tournament at 4-for-10 (.400) with the two doubles, a triple, a home run, four RBI and three runs scored and was named the MV Player.

IMGA will now get back after it playing as an independent in Florida, and they’ll continue to go out and show they have a lot to prove as the No. 1 team in the country chasing a PG High School national championship.

“It’s great, but honestly I wish we could play more than 25 games,” Gabbard said. “Some of these other states get to but we just take every game day-by-day and go from there and try to win all of them.”

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