Tournaments : : Story
Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Shining bright under the lights

Matt Rodriguez        
EMERSON, Ga. – For the third time in just five of BPA DeMarini Elite’s WWBA 16u National Championship games they put up a double-digit number in the runs column. However, it wasn’t the team’s offensive output late Monday night that grabbed the attention of the scouts and college recruiting coordinators. That attention was reserved for the right-handed Hagen Danner, who, at just 15-years-old, is already all too familiar with the spotlight.

With several radar guns pointing in his direction, Danner was electrifying off the mound. He lit up the guns with 90 mph fastballs and sat between 87-89 mph for most of his short outing.

Although command was somewhat of an issue in the opening frame, Danner came back out filling up the strike zone, striking out the side in order on just 12 pitches and wasting no time between each pitch.

“He has great stuff, but he didn’t have his command early,” said head coach Jared Sandler. “He battled and after we got the lead he struck out the side in the second and kept up the momentum and then we put up a big number.”

The young power pitcher finished his two innings performance having given up just a lone base hit and a walk, while allowing two unearned runs to score, but getting five of his six outs via the strikeout.

“The first inning was a little shaky, but I came back and felt really good when I came back out,” Danner said. “I was feeling focused and throwing strikes and it felt good. My curveball was working for strikeouts in the first inning. The second inning, my fastball was in there and I had a changeup that was pretty good.”

He didn’t need to do much more at all with such a lethal lineup supporting him. The BPA DeMarini Elite hitters provided him with 17 runs to work off of, including an 11-run second inning en route to a 17-2 run-rule win over the Knoxville Heat 16u.

“It was an important game for us,” said Sandler. “They hadn’t lost any games yet and we felt like this was a game we had to save one of our better guys for. It didn’t start out the way we wanted it to, but we responded great down a couple of runs and the guys got it going.”

When BPA DeMarini Elite starts to get it going at the plate, good luck to you. They are hitting an absolutely incredible .407 (48-for-118) through five games while sporting an equally impressive .510 on-base percentage. Don’t forget, these youngsters are doing it all with wood bats. Through five pool play wins, they have outscored their opponents 52-6.

At the center of it all is Danner, who looks to be just as good swinging the lumber as he is toeing the rubber. He owns a .364 batting average with the team’s only home run and is tied for the teams lead in RBI with six.

“In my opinion, Hagen’s the best 2017 player in the country,” Sandler said. “I think, unfortunately for him, he’s gonna be a pitcher just because his arm is so good, but he’s an unbelievable catcher and he can hit and he does a lot of things.”

Danner’s been doing a lot of things on the diamond for quite some time now. In fact, you might recognize the name from his huge 2011 Little League World Series performances when he represented Huntington Beach, Calif. If you Google his name, you will find YouTube videos of his memorable 12-strikeout performance against Pennsylvania in the semifinals, a game in which he also hit a home run. He is one of the five players named by Bleacher Report in a ‘5 Players You’ll Remember from the 2011 Little League World Series’ article. His Huntington Beach team went on to beat Japan in the championship.

“It was probably the best experience of my life,” said Danner. “It’s helped me with my confidence. It’s made me better as a person because I met a lot of people and I had to be confident with myself and make sure I said the right things to people and be a good teammate. It was just a great time.”

Winning the championship is a memory Danner said he would hold onto forever, besides the fact that he playing in an ESPN-televised game for the whole world to see.

“I didn’t really notice it while I was playing until after because I didn’t really wanna think about that, but it was cool,” Danner said. “There were a lot of people in the crowd. It was a good feeling.”

Becoming a known name on the amateur baseball circuit may be a lot of pressure for some, but Danner sees the benefits of getting his name out there early.

“I’ve committed already, so that’s off my back and it’s a good feeling,” said Danner about his verbal commitment to UCLA, which he made as an eighth-grader. “It’s a school I’ve been wanting to go to my whole life. I visited twice and I’ve watched a couple of games and got to go on the field, in the dugout, and clubhouse, so that was cool.”

The Huntington Beach native still has a few years before he graduates high school, so in the meantime, he will continue to model his pitching game after Justin Verlander and his position player game after his all-time favorite player, Grady Sizemore, before he becomes either a pitcher-only or a position player at the next level.

That’s not even something that crosses his mind yet. For now, the young star’s immediate goal is to help his BPA DeMarini Elite team continue their incredible tournament run and possibly become this year’s WWBA 16u National Championship winners. That would be another great title Danner can claim stake to.

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