Tournaments | Championship | 6/17/2015

WWBA National Qualifier Champs

Chris Garcia        
Photo: Perfect Game

643 DP Cougars Pralgo come out on top

EMERSON, Ga. – Wednesday marked the championship day for the 2015 WWBA National Championship Qualifiers, as four final teams for both age groups (16u and 17u) stepped on the field with high hopes of winning a paid invitation to the WWBA National Championship in July. The round of semifinal games were full of drama and two of them even ended in walkoff wins.

The eventual 17u runner-up Mizuno Rebels came back from a three-run deficit with two outs in the final inning of their semifinal game to earn a spot in the 17u championship against the 643 DP Cougars Pralgo, who would prove to be the best team in this competition.

The 643 DP Cougars, led by Coach Danny Pralgo, went a perfect 5-0 in pool play and their playoff games were no different. Their quarterfinal against Troy Post 70 was their closest game, as they barely escaped with a 5-4 win. Their semifinal win was less interesting, as they handled the GBSA Rays 7-1. Their game against the Rays featured consistent hitting all the way through, and the Cougars finished with 10 hits. Their hot bats would continue into the championship game against the Mizuno Rebels.

They started off that first inning hot with a hit batter and a bunt for a base hit. What followed was another bunt; as you can tell, the 643 program has this whole bunting thing down. They put an extreme amount of pressure on Rebels when they were on the basepaths, and that would only continue as the game progressed.

The Cougars are dangerously good at getting runners into scoring position, and they know that once the man is in position he is most likely going to score. When you watch these guys play, you can sense the confidence that they have at the plate with runners in scoring position. They find the holes better than almost any team. It didn’t help the Rebels that their starting pitcher couldn’t find the zone in the beginning, but they quickly put in a reliever that was able to slow down the Cougars. Unfortunately for the Mizuno Rebels the pitching change simply wasn’t enough as the game finished with the Cougars on top, 6-0.

Patrick McDonald of the 643 Cougars was honored with the MV-Pitcher award. In many of the games, McDonald made a difference with his bat, but it would be his work on the mound that earned him this coveted award. He relied heavily on his fastball, but when he needed a strikeout, his breaking ball was devastating. In six innings he allowed two earned runs and had 14 strikeouts. Not to mention, he also hit .476.

“My go-to pitch was my fastball; I was locating that very well,” McDonald said. “When I was ahead in the count, I would come with my curveball, and that was getting me strikeouts, but I wanted to live and die by my fastball.

“I was surprised by the competition this week. The team that we played in the finals had only let up two runs in pool play, so we knew it would tough to score runs in this game. This tournament was big for us because we got a lot of players back that we had been missing this summer. Those guys really added the extra push we needed to win this qualifier.”

Nicholas Webre of the Mizuno Rebels would not go unnoticed in this tournament as he won the MVP award. Webre was phenomenal this week and provided a spark at the top of the lineup that the Rebels needed. Webre had three hits in the championship game and finished with a .500 batting average, a .654 on-base percentage, six RBI, and a home run.

“I was looking to hit the ball the other way every time,” said an excited Webre. “When you try to pull it, you end up coming off the ball and not making solid contact, so I just wanted to make sure I was hitting it up the middle or away.

“That away approach was big for me this week. When I have that approach, I hit better. Our mindset this week was to just improve as a team. We’re proud of what we accomplished this week.”

The 643 organization has been in the final four of almost every tournament this summer. They are certainly creating a reputation as one of the best teams in the nation, but Coach Pralgo wants to make sure that these guys stay humble.

The Cougars have big tournaments coming up for the rest of the summer, including the 17u WWBA National Championship that they just won a paid invitation to. As long as they can keep up this winning attitude and humble mindset, there is a chance that they could be winning many more championships.

“This tournament was a total team effort,” said Coach Pralgo. “All of our pitchers contributed and threw strikes and let our defense play behind them. We were able to manufacture runs when we needed them and win some ball games. Anytime you can finish a tournament strong, it builds confidence.

“We do this so these kids can enjoy the game and achieve their future goals, and these guys are really showing their ability to play great baseball. The road only gets harder and the competition only gets better, so we just have to stay humble and focused.”

2015 17u WWBA National Championship Qualifier runnerup: Mizuno Rebels

2015 17u WWBA National Championship Qualifier MVP: Nicholas Webre

2015 17u WWBA National Championship Qualifier MV-Pitcher: Patrick McDonald

643 DP Cougars Sterling take home 16u trophy

The Dallas Dodgers and the 643 DP Cougars, led by coach Ryan Sterling, squared off Wednesday afternoon in the 16u WWBA National Championship Qualifier title game. This title game was one for the books, and it may have been the most exciting game of the entire tournament. It started off slow, and for a little bit, it looked like the Cougars would have this win in the bag. But the Dodgers had other ideas.

The game started off with the Cougars taking the lead in the second inning, but the Dodgers would answer back, the last time they would do so until the last inning of the ball game.

This particular 643 team is a team that comes at you quick. They don’t waste any time putting runners on, and once they’re on, you better believe that they will be moving them over with a little bit of small ball. They even successfully executed a suicide squeeze in the fifth inning that gave them yet another run.

At the beginning of this game, the story was the errors that the Dodgers were making and how the Cougars were taking advantage of them. The end of the game is when the real drama came in, when the Dodgers made a last inning push to get them a walkoff win. They scraped away run after run, until they finally tied it up and sent the game to extras.

The Dodgers were all too used to the situation of coming back from behind in the last inning, seeing as they walked off twice during this tournament. They were hoping that the third time would be charm in this championship game, but the Cougars came back in the top of the eighth inning and put up two runs to make the score 9-7. That is how the game would finish, and the 643 DP Cougars 16u Sterling would be crowned champions.

“I was looking for first pitch fastballs, and just hoping to drive the first one that came across the plate,” said Drew Walters, who was named the event's Most Valuable Player. “In the cages I was trying to stay on the ball and try not to pull off of it. Really, I was trying to get to that left-center gap for extra-base hits in order to put my team in a better position to win.

“We faced both hard pitching and slow pitching but we seemed to adjust to both. I think this tournament is good for us because our pool game that we lost had us low, but we battled back and were able to come back and win the whole thing.”

The Dodgers had a shining star of their own; Jake Lyons. Jake Lyons was great in the innings that he pitched, and any time that he takes the mound the Dodgers have a good chance to win the game. Lyons has an intimidating stature and a deceptive motion that many hitters had trouble with. He was called upon to start a very important semifinal game in which he threw a complete game in which he struck out eight and only allowed one run. The game finished 2-1, so holding that sliver of a lead on such a large stage is definitely Most Valuable Pitcher caliber play.

“My fastball was great this weekend,” exclaimed Lyons. “I was really dialed in with that pitch and anytime I brought in on the hands, they couldn’t touch it.”

“My main goal was to attack the zone consistently. I really mentally prepared for this week, so anytime that I was put in a pressure situation, I was able to relax. Moving forward, I think if we keep playing this good of competition, I think our team is going to be very good.”

This tournament was big for the Cougars, and coach Sterling was very proud of the way that his guys were able to take adversity and turn it into fuel for winning ball games. They came into this tournament very confident, but their confidence was a bit shaken when they lost their pool game against Team Combat Aces. Once this team knew that their back was against the wall, they stepped up their game and played with a sense of urgency that was unmatched.

“We slipped up in pool play and it really gave us an itch,” said Sterling. “We got lucky to be in the playoffs, so we did not want to waste this opportunity.

“Anytime you win a tournament, it is special, but I think this tournament was a culmination of everything we have been trying to do this summer. Moving forward, we now have a sense of confidence that has been lacking, but we need to stay humble. This tournament is just a stepping stone to get better.”

2015 16u WWBA National Championship Qualifier champions: 643 DP Cougars Sterling

2015 16u WWBA National Championship Qualifier runnerup: Dallas Dodgers Black 16u

2015 16u WWBA National Championship Qualifier MVP: Drew Walters

2015 16u WWBA National Championship Qualifier MV-Pitcher: Jake Lyons

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