Tournaments | Story | 11/6/2014

One for the thumb

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

At the conclusion of the championship game at last month’s Perfect Game WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., team members from the repeat champion EvoShield Canes excitedly gathered around a PG official to get fitted for their Perfect Game national championship rings.

Many of the players had been through this drill before. This was the fifth PG national championship tournament title won by the Virginia-based EvoShield Canes organization and head coach and general manager Jeff Petty in the past 15 months and some of the players had been fitted for championship rings before. But only one of those top prospects had just won one for the thumb.

Logan Allen, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound, 17-year-old, left-handed pitcher from Fletcher, N.C., and a senior at prestigious IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., was the only player wearing a Canes’ uniform during all five of those runs to PG national championship gold.

The titles came at the 2013 16u PG WWBA National Championship; 2013 17u Perfect Game World Series; 2013 PG WWBA World Championship; 2014 17u PG WWBA National Championship and the 2014 PG WWBA World Championship.

“It’s been an unreal experience,” Allen said during a telephone conversation early this week. “Coach Petty and the rest of the guys have just been a world-class organization and being given the chance to be a part of that team is something I’ll never forget. Being together with such great guys has really helped with my success.”

Success isn’t new to the Canes’ organization but it arrived in torrents in the 2013 and 2014 summer and fall seasons. Petty builds his teams with elite top 200-type prospects and the upperclass roster invariably includes a sprinkling of Perfect Game All-Americans. First and foremost, however, it is a roster built top-to-bottom with winners, and Allen has done more winning than just about anyone else in the program.

“He’s one of the most unselfish kids that I’ve ever coached; he just has that team-first mentality,” Petty told PG this week during a separate telephone conversation. “When he gets out on the mound he’s just so competitive, he competes in the zone with three pitches and he competes with that bulldog mentality.

“He’s definitely had a lot of success and been a huge part of all those championships … and we might have some guys that care as much as (he does) but I know we don’t have anybody that cares more than him about our team.”

While still attending high school in North Carolina before transferring to IMG for his junior year, Allen pitched at both the 2012 PG WWBA Underclass World Championship and the 2012 PG WWBA World Championship for the Dirtbags organization.

He joined the Canes for the first time at the 2013 17u PG WWBA National Championship where he was named to the all-tournament team. Seven more all-tournament team selections followed, five while pitching for the Canes and two while pitching for IMG Academy at the 2013 PG WWBA Florida Qualifier and the 2014 PG High School Showdown.

PETTY WAS IN ATLANTA IN MID-JULY 2013 WHEN ALLEN was earning Most Valuable Pitcher honors helping the Canes 16u to the PG WWBA 16u National Championship. Petty wasn’t coaching the Canes 16u but was instead preparing to meet his upperclass EvoShield Canes team out in Phoenix for the 17u Perfect Game World Series scheduled for the following week.

Just hanging out in the dugout with the Canes 16u players during their 12-0 run to the PG national championship – coincidentally, they beat their brother team the EvoShield Canes North 16u in the championship game – Petty took mental notes on how his program’s young players interacted with one another and how they performed on the field.

Logan Allen stood out among the rest of the elite underclass prospects. He came across as well-liked and well-respected by his teammates and in two appearances that covered 10 innings, he didn’t allow a hit or a run while striking out 21 and walking two. Those are MV Pitcher numbers.

Petty immediately asked him to join his older group out in Phoenix and Allen became the only class of 2015 prospect on an EvoShield Canes roster otherwise exclusively filled with elite 2014 prospects like 2013 PG All-American Grant Holmes.

And the real winning was just beginning for the Canes, at least winning in the context of PG national championships. Three of the Canes’ first four games at the 17u PGWS ended in ties but their 4-0-3 pool-play record was good enough for a berth in the final four. 
A win in the semifinal round over CCB Elite led to a 2-0 win over South Florida Elite Squad-Louisville Slugger in the championship game and gave the organization – and Allen – its second PG national championship of the summer.

Allen was far from a bit player, either. Petty handed him the ball to make the start in the championship game against the Elite Squad, and the only high school junior on the Canes' roster responded with six, one-hit innings of shutout ball, striking out one and walking five. He was named to the all-tournament team.

“Thank God I asked him to come because he was somebody that two days before we were leaving wasn’t even on our roster,” Petty said. “Spending that week with him was when I really got to know him; he’s just a great kid to be around.”

Allen stayed with the older Canes’ team for the 2013 PG WWBA World Championship, again as the only 2015 on an otherwise all-2014 roster. He made three relief appearances that covered five innings without giving up a run on one hit as the Canes rolled to the championship with a 7-0-1 record. Allen had firmly established himself as a player to be recognized on the big stage.

“He’s just been a mainstay in everything we’ve done. It seems like every time he has the ball it’s in critical situations and he always seems to come through,” Petty said.

“I learned so much from that older group,” Allen said. “I roomed with Grant Holmes, and with Grant Hockin, Junior (Jeff) Harding, Justin Morris and so many of those other guys, I learned a lot from their leadership. I learned to respect the game even more with the high level they’re at, especially Grant Holmes; he’s such a humble guy to be around and I learned so much from him.

“I don’t really know what this feels like, but it almost felt like a big-league organization showing up every day,” he continued. “The guys, they were very laid back, but as soon as the game switched on they were very professional and businesslike about it.”

BASED ON HIS EXPERIENCES PLAYING “UP” WITH THE OLDER CANES’ team in 2013, Allen, who has committed to the University of South Carolina, came into the 2014 season ready to accept more of a leadership role.

Players with leadership qualities were not in short supply on the roster, starting with 2014 Perfect Game All-American Classic pitchers Ashe Russell and Beau Burrows. Allen also pointed to standout shortstop prospect and fellow South Carolina commit L.T. Tolbert as someone with outstanding leadership skills.

 “Everybody cared about everybody (else) and no one got upset when someone was getting on somebody’s butt,” Allen said. “There were times that I got on somebody, there were times when L.T. got on somebody and there were times when some people got on me, but it was very professional and it felt good to feel like one of those leaders and one of the guys that people looked up to.”

The Canes aced their first real test of the summer season when they went 12-0 en route to the PG national championship title at the 17u PG WWBA National Championship at Perfect Game South at LakePoint in Emerson, Ga.

Logan was again named to the all-tournament team after throwing seven innings in two appearances, allowing one earned run (1.00 ERA) on four hits with 16 strikeouts and four walks. The Canes took a deep breath after that impressive championship run and jumped on a plane for Phoenix where they were intent to defend their title at the 17u Perfect Game World Series.

History didn’t repeat itself. The Canes went 3-1 in pool-play and seemed to have had to work especially hard just to return to the championship game, where they were pounded by the Houston Banditos, 10-4. Allen pitched 2 2/3 innings of relief of Russell in that game, giving up two runs (one earned) on five hits, with five strikeout and a walk. He threw 5 2/3 innings at the event, allowing the two runs on nine hits with eight strikeouts and was, again, named to the all-tournament team.

It was time to reboot, refocus and recalibrate. The next stop on the Canes’ itinerary was Jupiter, Fla.

“Our mindset, honestly, was just to have fun and play hard,” Allen said of the focus heading into its title defense at the PG WWBA World Championship. “We knew that we had a bulls-eye on our back and we knew that each and every game we played could be our last game as a team.

“We were seeing everybody’s best arm and we were going to see everybody’s ace and we just didn’t want the same thing to happen like in Phoenix; we left Phoenix with a bad taste in our mouth.”

ALLEN ADMITS TO MAYBE NOT BEING THE MOST ATHLETIC PITCHER who could pop up on June’s MLB draft boards, but feels like he more than makes up for it with his knowledge of and passion for the game, a byproduct of his upbringing. He credits his parents, father Norman and mother Dale, with helping him every step of the way, along with family friendships with the likes of Pete Rose and Cameron Maybin.

“They have definitely had a big impact on me,” he said of his folks. “My parents have always been very supportive and always wanted to do the best things for me and I’ve really appreciated everything they’ve done for me. I know it’s not easy (with the travel) but they’ve been great.”

Allen has also drawn inspiration from his 27-year-old brother, Phillip, who is severely physically handicapped and requires 24-hour, in-home nursing care.

“He’s been a very big motivational part in my baseball career,” Allen said of Phillip. “I go home and I get to watch videos with him because he used to come to my games. I make an effort to talk to him and make sure he knows I’m playing each and every game like I’m playing for him because there are kids who can’t be playing baseball, like my handicapped brother.”

Allen also has two older sisters, Lisa and Cathy, and a 13-year-old younger brother, Bryson. While Logan feels comfortable saying he comes from a very baseball-oriented family, his father and a grandfather actually played professional hockey and Bryson enjoys hunting more than playing ball.

Logan’s strong commitment to baseball became all the more evident when he decided to leave North Carolina and move to Florida to take advantage of the specialized educational and athletic opportunities offered at IMG Academy.

“It’s unreal; it’s almost like a college atmosphere,” Allen said of the experience. “The weather, first and foremost, is great for baseball all year around, and the facilities, the coaching staff, the college preparatory school – I go to school from 9 (a.m.) to 11:45 and I’m out on the baseball field at 1 o’clock. It’s great; I’ve improved so much physically and mentally.”

In addition to all the PG tournament play with the EvoShield Canes over the past two years, Allen also attended the 2013 PG Underclass All-American Games showcase in San Diego and the 2014 PG National Showcase in Fort Myers, Fla.; he was put on both the Top Prospect List and Top Prospect Team at the All-American Games and the Top Prospect Team at the PG National.

In between the 17u PG World Series and the PG WWBA World Championship, he participated in both the East Coast Professional Showcase in New York and the Area Code Games in California.

He is looking forward to signing with head coach Chad Holbrook and the South Carolina Gamecocks when the NCAA’s early signing period begins Nov. 12. He said when he first started looking at schools he wanted to explore every option without any restrictions. His dad was a Florida Gator and as a youngster Logan felt that was where he would more than like end up, but he kept an open mind.

“I visited the University of South Carolina and they had one of the highest number of guys moving on to pro ball,” he said. “I met Coach Holbrook and Coach (Sammy) Esposito and I even went to camps back when Ray Tanner was there, and it just felt right. The coaching staff was very professional, very caring and very straight-forward and honest … and it was a very easy decision when it came down to it.”

THE CANES’ JEFF PETTY HAS AN INTERESTING WAY OF DESCRIBING Allen’s demeanor when he takes the ball and heads out to the bump.

“When he gets on the mound he’s extremely arrogant,” Petty said. “His approach to a game is, ‘I’m better than you, I’m going to throw three pitches for strikes, I’m going to compete in the zone.’ He doesn’t nibble with hitters – he goes right after people with all three pitches – and he’s not scared of anybody, which reaps success when you’re a pitcher.”

Allen agrees with that assessment: “I don’t want to go out there and looked scared or act as if something (bad) is going to happen. If I go out there and act like no one is going to hit my stuff or that I have the best stuff in the country the results are going to be good, and it’s been successful so far.”

The EvoShield Canes went into last month’s PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., as the favorite to win a second straight title and didn’t disappoint. They pitched – the Canes allowed one or zero runs in five games – hit and fielded their way to an 8-0-0 mark, which included a surprisingly comfortable 8-2 win over the Orlando Scorpions/Mets Scout Team in the championship game.

Allen was named to his eighth career PG all-tournament team after pitching seven, five-hit, 12-strikeout shutout innings in two appearances, using things he had learned from having pitched in the Jupiter environment a year earlier.

“My mindset last year was to just go out there and throw, just try to throw strikes; I had a much faster tempo last year,” he said. “This year I just went out there and just tried to slow things down and take it one pitch at a time, and that helped me better this year with the positions I was put in.”

Canes’ pitchers Burrows, Russell, Nic Enright and Dakota Chalmers joined Allen on the all-tournament team, as did seven position players, including Tolbert.

Allen was ranked the No. 82 overall prospect in the high school class of 2015 heading into Jupiter and there is no reason to believe he won’t make a jump when the next rankings are released this month. Perfect Game’s updated 2015 MLB Draft prospect rankings will also be released sometime in the coming weeks and the possibility of being drafted has become very real for Allen.

“I can’t help but think about it because it’s there in my mind,” he said. “I’ve been getting a lot of attention from scouts and things like that but the way I see it is it’s a win-win situation for me. I’d be happy playing professional baseball out of high school and I’d be even happier playing it out of college. It’s a win-win situation for me: I can get drafted or I can go play at the University of South Carolina; it’s awesome.”

It has, indeed, been an awesome ride for Allen and his assorted EvoShield Canes’ teammates over the past 15 months. The numbers Allen posted in the Canes’ five PG national championship tournament titles are otherworldly: 35 innings pitched, 11 hits, 1 earned run (0.03 ERA), 52 strikeouts and 15 walks.

After earning a fifth PG national championship ring – one for the thumb, if you will – under a bright blue, late October South Florida sky, Allen was ready to reflect on a high school-age group career that has been more rewarding than most.

“Immediately when I started playing with Perfect Game I realized that they were bringing scouts to the game and it was a good environment to be playing in,” he concluded. “Just playing in a tournament with the best competition around is how I felt I needed to get better and how I needed to get exposed. It all worked out great; it was awesome.”

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