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Tournaments | Story | 10/4/2015

CBA '17s living on Tucson time

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

FRESNO, Calif. – The CBA Marucci organization identifies its base of operations as the city of Temecula in Southern California. To take a quick look at the college commitments several of the top prospects on the CBA Marucci Underclass team playing at this weekend’s Perfect Game California World Series Underclass-Pacific Division have made, it might be easy to conclude that there is a direct delivery route running from Temecula straight to Tucson, Ariz.

The official 20-man Underclass roster CBA Marucci head man Jon Paino submitted for this tournament includes seven prospects from the class of 2017 that have committed to NCAA Division-I universities. And of those seven, three have committed to the University of Arizona in Tucson, a Pacific-12 Conference program that won the NCAA D-I College World Series as recently as 2012.

The CBA Marucci trio are not only three of the top 2017 prospects from the West Coast but three of the best in all the land. Right-handed pitcher/first baseman Matt Sauer from Santa Maria is ranked No. 37 nationally; outfielder/right-hander Sean Ross from El Cajon is ranked No. 42; and outfielder Donta Williams from Las Vegas, Nev., is in the top-500.

Arizona hired former University of Nevada head coach Jay Johnson as its new head coach at the end of last season after long-time coaching legend Andy Lopez announced his retirement. Johnson and his staff hit the ground running on the recruiting trail and Perfect Game ranks their still uncompleted 2017 class – the one that includes Sauer, Ross and Williams – at No. 14 in the country.

“I think it’s a matter of (the Arizona coaching staff) under new coach Jay Johnson just getting out and being informed on who a lot of the better, younger players are,” Paino said Sunday before his Underclass squad went out and won its pool championship to advance to Monday’s semifinal round at the PGCWS Under-Pacific.

“It’s more of a credit to them being out a lot, doing their homework and really getting to know the type of kids that fit in their program,” he said. “We’ve got top-notch kids with good values and good families, and I think they kind of mirror those same values.”

CBA Marucci Underclass’s other 2017s with D-I commitments who were with the team this week include infielder Jamal O’Guinn from Fresno, a Fresno State recruit ranked No. 211 nationally; right-hander Johnny Kuhn Jr. from Lakewood, a Long Beach State commit ranked No. 287; right-hander Daniel Ritcheson friom Northridge, a San Diego State commit; and third baseman/right-hander Tyler Hardman from Lake Elsinore, an Oklahoma commit ranked in the top-500 nationally.

Catcher/second baseman Chris Jimenez from Fontana (No. 375) and middle-infielder Josh Zamora (No. 484) are among CBA Marucci Underclass’s top-500 2017 prospects that are uncommitted. Going only by CBA’s track record, it’s easy to assume almost everyone on the roster will have a college scholarship in hand at this time next year. Maybe they’ll even join Sauer, Ross and Williams in Tucson someday.

This is the first PG tournament Sauer has played with CBA Marucci, having previously suited up for the SBG Wahoos in two events, and he is on CBA Marucci’s roster for the PG WWBA Word Championship in Jupiter, Fla., at the end of the month.

“It’s been a lot of fun because it’s baseball, and I love baseball,” Sauer said of the weekend. “This is a great team, and I knew it was going to be fun coming in here and it’s been a lot of fun playing so far.”

Sauer, an athletic 6-foot-3, 185-pounder, made one start during pool-play and worked four innings of one-hit, shutout ball with five strikeouts and one walk; he was 2-for-8 (.250) at the plate with two RBI and two runs scored.

He said it was Arizona’s new pitching coach Dave Lawn who had the biggest influence on his decision to settle in Tucson in the fall of 2017 unless, of course, the 2017 MLB June Amateur Draft does something to change his plans.

“(Lawn) was the biggest selling factor for me,” Sauer said. “Everything he talked about just clicked and I thought it was the perfect fit for me just with everything he said.”

This is the second tournament of the summer Ross has played with CBA Marucci and in five plate appearances this weekend he is 1-for-4 with a double, two RBI and a run scored.

“This has been a great tournament so far,” he said Sunday. “I really love Perfect Game and it gives me a chance to be with my guys – this is the only time I get to see them; this is just a great time for me to bond with them.”

Ross climbed to No. 42 in PG’s national rankings on the strength of three Top Prospect List performances at the 2014 PG West Coast Underclass Showcase, the 2015 PG Sunshine West Showcase and the 2015 PG Underclass All-American Games.

He first became acquainted with Johnson when the coach was still at Nevada and started recruiting him to Reno. When Johnson took the job at Arizona he continued his pursuit of Ross, and he persuaded Ross to make a visit to Tucson. Ross fell in love with the place and soon committed to become a Wildcat.

“I always loved how he kept pursuing me,” he said. “He kept telling me how I was going to be really good fit on their national championship team, and I loved hearing that. That kind of sold me.”

This is the third PG tournament the 5-foot-10, 150-pound Williams has played with CBA Marucci Underclass this season and he’s been pretty good every time. This weekend, he’s hitting .500 (3-for-6) with three singles, two RBI, four runs and four stolen bases. He said the guys that have already made their college commitments help push their teammates who are still making their decisions.

“Everybody really wants to feed off everybody else,” Williams said. “If somebody commits, the other guys are like, ‘Oh, that’s going to be me next.’ We all feed off the way we play in games, and everyone wants to go D-I with the Pac-12 or any of the other conferences.” And make no mistake, playing in the Pac-12 Conference is a big deal to these guys.

“It’s an honor be able to play (at Arizona) and to think that you’re good enough to play there and in that conference,” Ross said.

Williams said his decision to commit to Arizona was based mostly on the relationship he built with Johnson while also being quite aware of Johnson’s history of success at Nevada and his previous stops. “The entire coaching staff at Arizona is great and that’s why I made my decision to go there,” he said.

And don’t downplay the role CBA played in Ross and Williams securing their scholarship offers from the Wildcats.

“Coach Paino is very good with the scouts and everything and he just knows everything about them,” Williams said. “He knows the right tournaments and events to take you to that will get you looked at even more.”

Added Ross: “CBA definitely helped me during the recruiting process.”

A CBA Marucci team is entering the semifinal round at a third straight Perfect Game tournament on Monday – CBA Marucci squads won championships at both the PG/EvoShield Upper and Underclass National Championships last month. The on-field success is nice, but seeing his guys pick up those scholarship offers – whether they come from Tucson or Fresno – is what Paino finds the most gratifying.

“That’s the major reason why we do it,” he said. “The winning and all the other stuff is fun and great, but yesterday I got a phone call from one of our younger players who had just committed and that’s the moment why we do this. So yeah, there is a strong sense of pride in that.”

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