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Tournaments  | Story  | 7/9/2015

Baseball U emerges with huge win

Chris Garcia     
Photo: Perfect Game

EMERSON, Ga. – The time has come for teams to etch their names in greatness, as the 2015 17u WWBA National Championship is now in the midst of playoffs. First round games began on Wednesday night, and the number of teams left competing is dwindling by the hour. Every single team left standing is comprised of an extreme amount of talent, so the only thing setting them apart once they get between the lines is heart, effort, and a little bit of luck.

All of the teams involved want the championship title, but it’s a long road to the championship game, and some teams may even have to play three games in one day to make it there. To make it through that kind of gauntlet in the scorching Georgia summer heat you not only have to be fit, but you also have to be mentally strong. Which teams would be able to keep their focus through the weather conditions in order to advance? The LakePoint complex in Emerson is where you’ll find your answer.

The second round of playoffs kicked off on Thursday and there were some intriguing matchups to begin the day with. Perhaps none were more intriguing than the game between the Baseball U Prospects and Scorpions Prime 17u. The Baseball U Prospects out of West Long Branch, N.J., entered the playoffs with a perfect 6-0 pool play record, and they have a respectable amount of college commits on their team, with nine of their players being committed to D-I schools.

The Scorpions are one of the favorites to win just about any tournament they participate in, and won the championship at this very event just two years ago. Their roster is absoltely loaded with talent with 18 D-I commits. This was sure to provide a great game of baseball, but by the end of it, it far surpassed all expectations.

However, in the end it was the Baseball U Prospect team that came out on top, winning the game by a score of 2-1 in walkoff fashion after eight innings.

Both teams had a feeling it would be a low scoring game from the very start, considering that both starters were showing great velocity and looked to be in the zone from the first pitch. There was an enormous amount of energy between both dugouts, and a lot of back and forth chatter that fueled the intensity. The large roster size for each of these teams helped the noise a little bit, and it really seemed as if both teams were feeding off each other.

This game included a lot of strikeouts from the very beginning and attracted spectators from all corners of the LakePoint complex. In the second inning, the Scorpions got a little bit of offensive action going, as they belted two line drives to start the inning. It looked as if they were going score, but the starter for the Prospects, Eric Heatter, bore down and showed that he was a true bulldog, getting out of the jam with a pair of strikeouts.

The very next inning the Scoprions had a similar situation where the bases were loaded with no outs; it was almost certain that the Prospects would be the first on the board, but Cole Ragans struck out the next three batters to leave the Prospects empty handed. Ragans finished the game punching out an amazing 14 batters in his five innings of work using a fastball that routinely peaked at 92 mph.

At one point in the game, it felt like the starters were trading blows as if they were simply in a game by themselves. Inning after inning, these two guys competed relentlessly, almost like they were daring one another to be even more impressive than they were the inning before.

Eventually, the Scorpions would score in the third inning off of a sacrifice fly, giving them a 1-0 lead. Behind the arm of Ragans, the Scorpions felt confident that they could hold this lead, but Baseball U refused to lie down. In the fifth inning, a walk and a clutch double by Alex Kirilloff put two runners in scoring position for Baseball U. They would capitalize on an error to score one run, tying the game up and setting the stage for a fantastic finish.

After this inning, both starters were done for the day, and it was time to turn to the bullpen for a fresh arm. These arms were certainly fresh, as both Max Kranick for Baseball U and D.J. Roberts for the Scorpions were able to sit in the low-90s. Kranick was absolutely fabulous in his relief appearance, and was able to get some much need strikeouts in high pressure situations.

I was just trying to get ahead and stick with my fastballs,” Kranick after the game. “I was thrown in with bases loaded, but I was fortunate enough to get out of it. I think my fastball was good, and my slider was good enough. Overall, I just wanted to compete for my team.”

Kranick was able to keep the offense of the Scorpions dormant through his 2 2/3 innings pitched, and he really gave his team a chance to win the ball game. Seeing as though this game had been so exciting, it’s only fitting that it went to extra innings. With the score at 1-1, they headed into the eighth, but this was not your everyday extra inning game. Per tournament rules, the California rule was put into play, and to start the inning both teams would have the bases loaded with one out with a chance to hit the runner in and win the game.

The Scorpions were up first, but Kranick shut them down and left them with nothing to show for. The momentum had now swung the way of Baseball U, and it definitely paid off. They would win this game by a score of 2-1 in one of the most unorthodox fashions; a walk-off balk by the pitcher, D.J. Roberts.

Without Kranick’s heroic efforts in that final inning, there’s no telling how this game would have ended.

It was really intense, especially with Carlos Cortes at the plate,” Kranick said about facing one of the Scorpions' top hitters to open the eighth inning. “He’s one of the best hitters in our class, so I knew I had to bring my best stuff and I did. I’m pretty happy with how everything turned out.”

There weren’t many hits in this game, but someone who did provide a little bit of offense for Baseball U was Alex Kirilloff. Kirilloff led the way with two base hits and provided a little bit of a spark for his team in the inning that they tied it up in the middle of the game.

I was just trying to stay even keel through that game because it was so intense,” Kirilloff said of his approach in his fifth inning at-bat after striking out his previous two times to the plate. “I didn’t want to think about past at-bats, and I just wanted to control what I could control. At the plate, I focused on my timing. I wanted to make sure I was giving myself enough time to catch up to the fastball. Teamwork was huge for us today, and our team feels blessed. Hopefully we can keep rolling.”

Kirilloff, who went 2-for-4 with the aforementioned double, finished the game hitting .450 (7-for-20) so far at the 17u WWBA National Championship, driving in seven runs in his team's seven games played, proving to be an integral part of the offense hitting toward the top of the lineup.

Head Coach John Wells felt that this game really showed who they were as a team. On this big of a stage, with that tough of an opponent, many teams can collapse; his stayed strong all the way through and was able to get it done with hundreds watching. Wells decided to throw Kranick again for the third round of playoffs, seeing as he only threw just over two innings in the win over the Scorpions.

Prior to starting the next game, Kranick said he intended to go in with same mentality, and hoped to produce another successful result. Coach Wells experienced a large range of emotions during this game, but he was happy to see Kranick and the rest of his team play the way they did.

It’s been an incredible tournament. The boys we have haven’t been playing together very long at all; we just kind of threw this team together from four different teams in our organization,” Wells said. “We don’t have the hitting we use to have, but these guys scrap and play the game the way it’s supposed to be played.

Pitching was the key factor in today’s game. The first 11 or 10 outs were strikeouts, but we started to put the ball in play and got it done. They just have to keep their energy up. That game is over, and we have to worry about the next.”

Unfortunately for Coach Wells and his Baseball U Prospects squad they were shut down by Carson Crouse – who struck out seven batters in a complete game effort – and Ostingers Baseball Academy in the very next game 6-2. However, they should not hang their heads at all after completing a successful run at this year's 17u WWBA National Championship, highlighted by their dramatic win over the Scorpions Prime.