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Tournaments | Story | 1/18/2015

Spot in quarters secured early

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

GLENDALE, Ariz. – When the East Bay Bombers and Team California Baseball arrived at the Camelback Ranch spring training complex at 8 a.m. on Sunday they did so sharing a singular certainty: Regardless of the outcome of each of their third and final pool-play game at the 16u Perfect Game MLK Championship, they would be playing in the quarterfinal round of the eight-team playoffs later in the day.

That was the Bombers’ and Team California Baseball’s reward for having already clinched their respective pool championships by winning their first two games over the first two days of play at the 16u PG MLK, or in Team Cali’s case, having won both of its games on Saturday.

While five of the other eight playoff qualifiers – NorCal Baseball 2017 had also wrapped up a spot in the quarterfinals by the end of the day Saturday – had left themselves with must-win games Sunday morning, the Bombers and TCB could use their final pool-play games as preparation for the afternoon playoff round.

The East Bay Bombers covered a lot of ground during their pool-play victories, beating the Arizona Scorpions Baseball Club out of Scottsdale, 2-0, on Friday before clinching their pool championship by knocking off the MN Blizzard Blue out of Vadnais Heights, Minn., 5-2, on Saturday. They finished things off by beating Showtime Baseball from Battleground, Wash., 9-7, Sunday morning.

“That first game we took care of business, and in the second game we came over and were behind but we came back and got the job done,” Bombers head coach Ray Vasquez said before his team’s game against Showtime. “We knew that the (MN Blizzard Blue) was a tough team and we knew that they had some good hitters.”

Team California Baseball beat NorCal Baseball 2018 from Pleasanton, Calif., and All-Star Baseball Academy 16u out of nearby Peoria, Ariz., but respective counts of 7-0 and 2-1 in its two games Saturday. It reluctantly settled for a 6-6 tie with the Advanced Baseball Academy 16 Prospects who traveled down from Overland Park, Kan., Sunday morning.

“We came out here in those first two games and we pitched well, we went after hitters and we played defense. We also had some timely hits, and those three things are pretty much key to winning at any level,” Team Cali head coach Ricky Guzman told PG before his team’s game against the ABA 16 Prospects.

While the East Bay Bombers and TBC shared the experience of qualifying for the 16u PG MLK playoffs after only two pool-play games and can also both boast of being programs based in California – the Bombers call Castro Valley in the north home while Team Cali is based in Carlsbad in the south – the have very dissimilar PG histories.

The East Bay Bombers organization has been around for about four years and most of the players on this Bombers roster have been together since the winter of 2012-13 and played in the 2013 14u PG WWBA West Memorial Day Classic over in Goodyear. It was the team’s only PG tournament experience before they arrived back in the desert this weekend.

Bombers’ general manager Ed Lopez explained that it was difficult for his small organization to bring teams to Arizona for these tournaments because of conflicts with school and travel costs. He and Vasquez are involved primarily because they are the fathers of two of the players: 2017 outfielder Eddie Lopez and 2017 right-hander Emilio Vasquez.

Most of the players come from the East San Francisco Bay Area specifically and Northern California in general, but Lopez added a couple for this tournament to be a little more competitive.

“We’ve got good depth on our bench and the kids enjoy each other,” Lopez said Sunday. “We welcome players mainly from our area but sometimes you have to grab one or two from outside the box. The hardest thing to work with is the chemistry; you’ve got to make sure they fit well.”

Team California Baseball, which is operated by Mitch Spiers, has enjoyed tremendous success at both the underclass and upperclass levels over the past several years and has established as a Southern California powerhouse. The Team Baseball Warriors, under the direction of Spiers, won last summer’s 15u Perfect Game World Series in Fort Myers, Fla.

“The program has come a long ways since winning the (15u PG) World Series and a lot of these guys played on that team,” Guzman said Sunday. “A lot of them understand the system, and pretty much we tell them to get out there, get after it, compete and let it be what it’s going to be. I feel fortunate coaching this group because they go out there and they compete.”

While several of Team California’s top players were unable to attend the 16u PG MLK this weekend because of school obligations, there are at least four players here that were on that 15u PGWS championship team: 2016 right-hander Carlos Arellano, 2016 right-hander/utility Justin O’Leary, 2017 left-hander/infielder Damien Rinehart – the Most Valuable Player at the 2014 15u PGWS – and 207 outfielder Alekzander De La Cruz.

Arellano threw a complete game, seven-inning two-hitter with 13 strikeouts, four walks and two hit batsmen in the shutout win over NorCal Baseball 2018. 2017 outfielder Dylan Johnson led TCB’s hit parade in its three pool-play games by stroking six singles in nine at-bats (.667) and also collecting a pair of walks for a .727 on-base percentage.

“Their mindset has to be to get out there and compete, but it’s more about quality repetitions and going out there and playing the game inside the game,” Guzman said of the approach he hopes his players take at this event. “At this point, a lot of these kids all have physical skills and it’s going to come down to the mental tenacity and see who’s going to be engaged from pitch-one to the last pitch of the game.”

The Bombers used pretty much the same approach on their march to the quarterfinals. 2018 right-hander Jose Pacheco Palacios set the tone when he threw a complete game, seven-inning, four-hit shutout at the Arizona Scorpions in the tournament opener, striking out seven while walking none.

2016 catcher/first baseman Dawsen Bacho had only two hits in the first three games but they were a double and a home run and he drove in five runs. Emelio Vasquez was 3-for-6 with a double and an RBI and 2016 left-hander/utility Justin Berry was 3-for-6 with a double and two runs scored.

“They’re really family oriented; they’re good kids,” Ray Vasquez said. “We’re not sponsored by any big organization, so the kids come down here and just try to the best we can. They’re just hard-nosed ballplayers; that’s what they are. They come here to play ball and that’s their main thing.”

Team Cali’s Guzman praised the timing of the PG MLK Championships – there are 18u and 14u PG MLKs being contested along with the 16u event – even speaking about how it’s good for his kids from Southern California to experience a little different weather conditions.

He noted that during early morning games here in the desert, the grass is often quite dewy – it was even frosty Saturday morning – and the players have to learn how to handle and throw a wet ball.

“These kids are young and a lot of them play the year around and there are no heroes in January, but we go out there and ask them to give us two or three innings, or whatever it is the team needs, and the rest of the guys are always there to pick up the slack,” Guzman said. “It really is a total team effort … and it kind of shows in the win-loss column.”

They may have different histories with Perfect Game but the coaches – and dads – from the East Bay Bombers and Team California Baseball share a trait in that all they really ask of their young players is that they go out there and play hard. In a word, “compete.”

“It’s always easier to pull kids back then it is to try to push them forward,” Guzman said. “The effort and the attitude is what we always want to be there. Show the effort and the attitude and the rest will help you. Some things they don’t know and that’s what they’re here for, to learn and to carry on for the rest of their life, hopefully.”

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