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Tournaments | Story | 10/3/2015

BPA Under back for more

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

FRESNO, Calif. – BPA DeMarini Elite Baseball director of team development and head coach Jared Sandler has two teams here in the Central California Valley this weekend competing in the Perfect Game California World Series Upperclass-Pacific and PGCWS Underclass-Pacific tournaments.

On Saturday morning, Sandler brought his underclass team to 14-year-old Chukchansi Park, the modern and spacious downtown home of the 2015 Pacific Coast League champion Fresno Grizzlies, the Triple-A affiliate of the American League’s Houston Astros.

 The sun shined brightly down from a cloudless sky while Sandler glanced around at the more than a dozen college coaches that had gathered for the first games of the morning at Chukchansi Park, one of five Fresno-Clovis venues the two PG events were using Saturday.

The PG California World Series Underclass-Pacific is a 24-team tournament and is sharing these Central Cal stages with the 12-team PGCWS Upperclass-Pacific and eight-team PGCWS Underclass-Coastal. The BPA DeMarini Elite Upperclass squad was runner-up at last year’s inaugural PGCWS Upper event.

The San Juan Capistrano-based BPA DeMarini Elite Underclass roster Sandler brought to this event isn’t at its full summertime strength, but he likes the fact that he has these youngsters here in early October knowing it was assembled to compete at the highest level.

“Every time (Perfect Game) has an event we’re always looking forward to it,” he said Saturday. “This is a different experience, great ballpark; a lot of good teams. It should be a great weekend.”

This is not the same BPA DeMarini Elite Underclass team that finished as runner-up at last month’s PG/EvoShield Underclass National Championship in Glendale, Ariz., but quite a few of the same prospects are on board, including seven that were named to the all-tournament team. One of those not in attendance is slugger Jayson Gonzalez, who was named the Most Valuable Player in Glendale.

Included among those all-tournament performers from last month that are here this weekend are 2017 catcher/outfielder Tyler Lasch, a Mississippi State recruit from Lake Forest, Calif., ranked No. 139 nationally; 2018 outfielder/right-hander Preston Hartsell, a University of Southern California recruit from Newport Coast, Calif., ranked No. 144; and 2017 right-hander/first baseman Wyatt Boone, a top-550 prospect from Corona, Calif.

Hartsell has already built a solid resume over the last two years while playing for Phenom Baseball – he was named the Most Valuable Player at the 2014 14u PG WWBA West Memorial Day Classic playing for Team Phenom – and joined BPA DeMarini Elite just ahead of last month’s PG/EvoShield Underclass.

“I’ve known about BPA – great team, close to home – with a great coach. I love Jared (Sandler); he’s one of my favorite coaches,” Hartsell said Saturday. “The whole group of guys is great and it’s been a lot of fun. The team has phenomenal talent with phenomenal guys, and they’ve made me feel like I’ve played with them for years.”

In BPA DeMarini Elite Underclass’ 7-0 tournament-opening victory over EJ Sports Warriors Underclass from San Roman, Hartsell led off the bottom of the first with a triple and eventually scored, and later added a single. Judging by the way his teammates reacted to his hitting exploits, it was easy to sense he had found a new, comfortable home.

“He’s a really good athlete – lots of tools – and he’s been working real hard; he’s been a great addition and he fits in really well,” Sandler said of Hartsell. “It’s really good for him because we have a couple of other two really good outfielders – Jack Owen and Sam Cachola – that are a year older and have both played here for a long, long time, and for Preston to be able to work with those two guys all the time, they’re making him a better outfielder and help him polish some of those tools.”

In addition to the play of some of those underclass veterans – 2017 uncommitted middle-infielder Trevor Windisch from Huntington Beach doubled, singled, drove in three runs and scored a pair – the opener also served as a beneficial coming out party for three rising class of 2019 pitchers.

Left-hander Tony Jacob from Acton, right-hander Hunter Cranton from Yorba Linda and lefty Cooper Benson from San Luis Obispo combined on a seven-inning, one-hit shutout with seven strikeouts and two walks. Jacob started and pitched three hitless innings with four strikeouts; Cranton allowed one hit and struck-out one in three innings; Benson pitched a perfect inning, striking out two.

“They’ve all played up and done some big things in the past, so this is kind of the next step for them,” Sandler said. “It’s good for them to be around some of the older kids and play in these big events.”

Playing in these big events has helped the BPA DeMarini Elite players develop into some of the country’s top prospects. While a player like Hartsell has obviously received some outstanding guidance and instruction before joining BPA, he’s looking forward to spending the next two years with Sandler.

“I have to credit my coaches and my family,” he said of his development into a top national prospect. And to his way of thinking, things are only going to get better. “I’ve gotten so much better in just the few months I’ve spent with Jared.”

There were coaches and recruiters from at least 14 colleges in attendance at the PGCWS Underclass-Pacific games at Chuckchansi Park Saturday morning and early afternoon, and reports indicate there were many more at the other venues. That’s a big reason Sandler brings his BPA DeMarini Elite teams to these events.

They will continue to play most weekends through the first two weeks of November before scaling the schedule back as December approaches. The PG California World Series’ provide excellent opportunities to keep the prospects front and center right through National Signing Day the second week in November. There are, after all, still a lot of scholarships to be offered.

“We have a couple of juniors that are still uncommitted and are really good players, so we want to keep them out in front of (college coaches),” Sandler said. “Some of them have been getting offers coming in and they’re just waiting to see what is the right fit for them. We just want to keep playing and getting better and getting them into schools.”

BPA DeMarini Elite Underclass was scheduled to play the always tough Southern California Bombers Underclass in its second pool-play game of the tournament late Saturday afternoon at Fresno City College’s ballpark not far up Fresno Avenue from Chukchansi. BPA DeMarini Elite Upperclass was to begin tournament play Saturday night, also at Fresno City College.

It makes for a long day for Sandler, who coaches both teams, but neither he or his players have ever been known for shying away from the stoutest competition.

“You look at everyone’s roster and the teams that are signed up, it’s a great event,” he said. “Every team is good, we’re going to see good pitching and our pitchers are going to have to face good hitters, and anytime you get a collection of (players) like this you’ve got to come ready to play. Whenever you’ve got a tournament with such good competition, it makes your guys better.”

Concluded Hartsell: “We always think we’re going to win. That’s all we come here to do.”

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