Tournaments : : Story
Wednesday, July 8, 2015

18u BCS 'last hurrah' for NBS 18u

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

FORT MYERS, Fla. – Nelson Baseball School 18u second baseman/right-handed pitcher Reed Massey isn’t alone in the way he feels about playing at this week’s 18u Perfect Game BCS Finals national championship tournament. Massey, who is from Marietta, Ga., graduated from Mount Paran Christian School in Kennesaw, Ga., thi spring and is playing in his final Perfect Game tournament with his Nelson Baseball School (NBS) 18u teammates.

When the 18u PG BCS Finals conclude Friday, the NBS players will return to their Georgia homes for a few weeks before heading off to their college destinations, which in Massey’s case is Wofford College, an NCAA Division-I school in Spartanburg, S.C. This is it, as far as activities with a link to the high school years. It’s time to turn to the page.

“We work all summer towards performing at this tournament and we come here and we get to see it pay off a little bit,” Massey said early Wednesday morning from the Player Development Complex before NBS 18u romped to a 10-1 victory over the Baltimore Bandits.

“It is a little bittersweet because this is the last time I’ll be playing with this group of kids, so it’s kind of sad that way, but I guess it’s time for something new,” he said. “Hopefully we can continued to do (well) here and make it far into bracket-play, and we’ll see what happens after that.”

What happens after that is anyone’s guess but after what has transpired the last five days, Nelson Baseball School founder/general manager/head coach Brian Nelson can rest assured his 18u team has escaped no one’s attention. The team clinched its pool championship with Wednesday’s win and takes a 4-0-1 record into Thursday’s 10-team playoffs.

As evidence that this truly is a national tournament, NBS 18u earned victories over teams from Naples, Fla. (Collier Select), Vega Baja, P.R. (SBO Elite), Leander, Tex. (UB Big Dogs) and Cooksville, Md. (Baltimore Bandits) and gained a tie with a team from Cape Coral, Fla. (Cape Thunder).

Nelson is pleased with the way his club is swinging the bats down here, and he should be considering it hit a cumulative .336 and averaged nine runs per game in its first five games (only 11 of their 36 hits went for extra-bases, however).

“The biggest thing for us is, we need to make sure we get guys on early,” Nelson said Wednesday. “We’re a kind of momentum-type team – we’ve really been that way for four years and have had a lot of success – and if we jump out on people early we usually cruise to some wins because we’re pretty deep pitching-wise out of the bullpen.”

Massey has been among the team’s top hitters, batting 4-for-9 (.444) with a double, two RBI and five runs scored. Jack Brannon, a Tennessee Wesleyan College signee from Canton, Ga., and Devin Bilardello, a Georgia Highlands College recruit from Marietta, each have five hits and combined for three doubles and 10 RBI.

2015 right-hander Colin LoCurto, a Georgia College & State University signee from Kennesaw, and 2015 left-hander Matt McHan, another Georgia College and State recruit from Calhoun, Ga., both had dandy five-inning starts from the mound. LoCurto didn’t allow a run on one hit while striking out four in the 6-0 win over SBO Elite on Sunday, and McHan allowed one run on three hits while fanning 11 in the 9-1 victory over the UB Big Dogs on Monday. Those are the kind of results Nelson has come to expect from these guys.

“This is a serious but kind of goofy group,” he said with a knowing smile. “They’ve been together for so long they just know each other so well, and having an organization like this, that’s what we’re built on. We’re built on loyalty – I’m loyal to my guys and they’re loyal back – and that’s really been where our success comes from.”

Nelson Baseball School has been operating out of Kennesaw, Ga., in the Atlanta suburbs since 2007 and currently has 10 teams in its oversized classroom: one each at the 10u, 11u, 12u, 14u, 15u, 16u, 17u and 18 age-groups, with two at the 15u level.

It has an established pedigree that rivals any of the other top-notch programs in the state of Georgia and even beyond those borders. According to its website, Nelson Baseball School has graduated more than 130 players into the college ranks – 64 at the NCAA Division I level – and 27 of it alumni have joined the professional ranks since 2007.

“We’ve had a lot of success,” Nelson said, perhaps referring to the runner-up finish Nelson Baseball School 18u achieved at the 2013 18u PG WWBA National Championship. “We’ve sent a lot of guys on to college and a lot of guys onto the professional ranks.”

Brian Nelson was a head coach at the college level for seven years, spending time at both the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point – where he also attended and played – and Rockford (Ill.) College. He then spent three years working at the professional level, serving as a hitting coach for two years in the Independent Northern League and one year as the field manager for the Windy City Thunderbolts in the Frontier League.

His players like to play for him. Top 2015 catcher Andrew Giles, a Berry College signee from Canton, Ga. – he doubled and drove in five runs in the team’s first five games here – is one of the team’s newbies, having only played with NBS this year. He’s found the experience to be very satisfying and rewarding, and has had no second thoughts about joining the organization.

“I just like the competition (it provides) and the way (Nelson) coaches,” Giles said. “He’s not a real pushy coach and from his experiences, he doesn’t have to yell a whole lot.”

By choosing to base his organization in the North Atlanta suburbs, Nelson is operating side-by-side with some of the most respected and traditionally strong travel ball organizations in the country. But the success of those groups year-in and year-out has proven that there is plenty of talent to go around, and Nelson feels like the competition makes each group stronger in its own right.

“Yes, we’re competing with th0se other organizations but it really helps because it’s getting the best out of our guys, and when we’re playing those other organizations it helps us,” he said. “Atlanta is that one area where you can have 10 really good travel teams at each age group. The roots that were (established) by the other organizations has helped (NBS), and I think now we’re starting to push those guys a little bit on the field to where it’s helping them get better also.”

Not long after Nelson takes this group back home to Georgia and the guys set-out on the next chapter of their lives, Nelson will hold tryouts for next year’s teams. He doesn’t anticipate it being real labor intensive because the younger teams all enjoyed successful summers and only a couple of additional parts will need to be added at each age-group. For now, he’s going to enjoy the next couple of days.

 “This is our last tournament with this group so it’s kind of our last hurrah,” Nelson said. “Our guys don’t want to say goodbye to one another so our goal is, obviously, to win this tournament. We didn’t come down just to have a vacation, we came down to not only get better on the field but hopefully to win this tournament, also.”

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