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Tournaments | Story | 9/19/2014

Back in the CBA saddle

Jeff Dahn     
Photo: Perfect Game

PEORIA, Ariz. – Ask elite 2015 third base prospect Tyler Nevin what it means to be back on the field with his California Baseball Academy (CBA) Marucci teammates after a nearly two-year absence and lean-in to listen at your own risk.

The excitement and enthusiasm the impressive 6-foot-3, 200-pound senior at Poway (Calif.) High School exudes when talking about the pure joy he feels being able to rejoin the team is about enough to knock a nosy questioner right off his feet.

“This is a great group, just a great bunch of guys and great teammates – we also play some pretty decent baseball,” Nevin said Friday. “It’s just an overall great combination when you’re winning with guys that you love playing with, too; it just makes it all the better. Usually what it comes down to is if you win, you have fun.

“That’s really what it comes down to,” he repeated, picking up steam as the words flowed. “It’s a good, fun group to play with that also competes and plays baseball. … You feed off each other and you grow off of each other and you get better by playing with one another. That’s just how it goes and it’s just a great environment to play in, all-around.”

The personable and well-spoken Nevin made his comments late Friday afternoon from one of the San Diego Padres’ spring training practice fields at the Peoria Sports Complex about an hour before the ultra-talented CBA Marucci squad played its tournament-opener at the 6th annual Perfect Game/EvoShield Upperclass National Championship.

The Temecula, Calif.-based CBA Marucci roster boasts 11 class-of-2015 prospects that have committed to prominent NCAA Division-I college programs, including Nevin, who is ranked 364th nationally and has committed to UCLA.

Other highly ranked 2015 CBA prospects with D-I commitments include 160th-ranked national prospect and infielder Niko Navarro from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. (San Diego State); No. 257-ranked first baseman Kyle Hatton from Norco, Calif. (UC Santa Barbara); No. 272 middle-infielder David Maldonado from Winchester, Calif. (San Diego State) and No. 310 infielder/right-hander Ross Dodds from Clovis, Calif. (Fresno State).

All that firepower adds up to CBA Marucci being one of the favorites to win its second Perfect Game tournament championship in 2014 – it won the 16u PG MLK Championship in January – and top its runner-up finish at the non-PG Metropolitan Baseball Classic played in New York City in late August (Georgia-based Team Elite won that event for the second straight year).

“I excited about the group that we have out here; they’re a hungry group of players,” CBA Marucci director and head coach Jon Paino said Friday. “We had a handful of kids make the 18u (USA Baseball) National Team so we’re without some names that we’ve had in the past, but we’re excited to come out here again and put our guys up against the best and see what happens.”

The pursuit of PG national championship rings started with a bang Friday as CBA Marucci decked the Team Avenue Aces out of Fresno, Calif., by a 13-1 count in a game halted by the run-rule after five innings.

 CBA had 10 hits, with Maldonado contributing a single, four RBI and a run scored; Navarro was 1-for-3 with an RBI and three runs; Nevin was 1-for-2 with a double and two runs; Trevor Beard from San Clemente was 3-for-3 with a triple and two runs, and Luke Williams from Laguna Niguel, Calif., was 2-for-3 with an RBI and three runs.

2015 right-handers Tim Holdgrafer, a St. Mary’s (Calif.) recruit from San Diego, and Henry Martinez (South Gate, Calif.) combined on a seven-inning three-hitter with eight strikeouts and two walks.

“What I like about this group is they’re more of a blue-collar version of what we’ve had (previously),” Paino said. “There are a lot of kids – obviously, the majority of them are committed (to colleges) – that are hungry and they want to win. … With this group, I like our pitching; I think we’re pretty deep with good arms.”

This is the first Perfect Game tournament Nevin has played with CBA Marucci since he was named to the all-tournament team at the 2012 PG/EvoShield National Championship (Underclass) in September of that year. He started experiencing pain in his right (throwing) elbow in the spring of 2013, an ailment that cost him the entire summer of 2013, and he opted to have Tommy John surgery in October of 2013.

He saw his first action back with CBA Marucci at the Metropolitan Baseball Classic and now is looking forward to contributing at this tournament; at the inaugural Perfect Game California World Series Oct. 3-5 in Los Angeles, and finally at the PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., Oct. 23-27.

“I’m glad to be out here; I had a great time in New York when we were out there,” said Nevin, who Paino used as a designated hitter at the Metropolitan Classic and will DH again this weekend. “The guys are great and I’m doing great – I haven’t had one setback as far as the elbow goes.

“I’m right on schedule to be playing in the field and in Jupiter I’ll actually be playing in the field, most likely over at first (base); once this winter rolls around and the high school season rolls around, I’ll be back over there at third.”

In Friday’s game, Williams led off, Navarro hit in the No. 2 spot, Maldonado was in the 3-hole and Nevin batted cleanup. It just might be about the most formidable top of the order at this tournament, although there are a handful of other lineups that could make a claim.

“I think Niko Navarro is just a pure competitor,” Paino said of one of his top guys. “Now we’ve got Tyler Nevin back, who I would say is probably one of the best hitters in the class (2015) but was down with Tommy John (surgery) and is finally making his way back. We’re excited to see him back out there and I think (Perfect Game) will be really pleased with him as a player.”

The entire team seems energized by Nevin’s return.

“It’s going to be a great experience getting to play with all guys,” Navarro said. “With the team we have out here we’ve got pretty good shot of winning this thing, hopefully, so it’s going to be a fun experience.

“We have 11 … D-I commits and all of them play the game right and play the game hard so it’s going to be fun playing with them,” he said. “We normally put on a good show for a lot of people so it’s fun watching us play and we’ll have fun doing it.”

The 84-team field wraps up pool-play on Saturday with games at the Peoria Sports Complex and the Goodyear (Ariz.) Ballpark Recreational Complex. Only the 21 pool champions advance to the playoffs, which begin on Sunday. The semifinals and championship game are slated for Monday at 9 a.m. and 11:30 a.m., respectively, in Goodyear.

“This looks like a very competitive field,” Paino said. Perfect Game always attracts the best teams and the best players, especially this time of year.”

Nevin and Navarro, two of the top guns on a roster loaded with leaders, are counting on playing into Monday.

“We always expect to play good competition but we also expect to win because we know we’re (regarded) as up there with the best teams in the country,” Nevin said. “We like to come in with a confident attitude that we’re one of the best teams out here and we’re going to prove it.”

And they’ll do with the help of every teammate on the roster.

“We push each other a lot, definitely,” Navarro said. “If someone is not as focused as you should be, we’ll get on each other, for sure; it’s not like we just go out there play for the heck of it and play the game at a high level. We push each other and have fun playing with each other; it’s just a great team and a fun experience.

“We’re looking forward to winning this tournament; that’s our goal,” he concluded. “We’re definitely going to try to reach that goal.”

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