Tournaments | Story | 1/17/2016

Show, Vipers fight the good fight

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Bremerton, Wash.-based West Hill Vipers 16u filed into the first-base dugout on Dodgers Field 6 at Camelback Ranch Sunday morning just minutes after a rising sun had melted the last of a light frost off the infield and outfield grass.

Over on the other side of the field, just starting to get situated in the third-base dugout, were the San Diego Show, this team a 16u group wearing the uniform of one Southern California’s – and the nation’s, for that matter – most storied travel ball organizations.

It was the 5th annual Perfect Game MLK West Underclass Championship that brought these two teams together on a chilly but sun-drenched morning in the west Phoenix suburbs. Both were here Sunday with a purpose in mind and an important job at hand. The Vipers and the Show had each dispensed of the GBG Renegades (Calif.) and the IP Prospects (Sask., Can.) in their first pool-play games to set up this winner-take-all contest to claim the Pool H championship.

Only the eight pool champions advanced to the playoffs at the 32-team PG MLK West Underclass, PG MLK West Upperclass and PG MLK West Freshman championships. Quarterfinal games in the Underclass and Freshman tournaments were scheduled for later Sunday with the semifinal and championship games on Monday. All three rounds of the Upperclass playoffs will be played Monday.

So here they were, the Vipers 16u and the Show, vying for a playoff berth in what most likely viewed as a David vs. Goliath sort of showdown. A San Diego Show team finished as runner-up at last year’s 16u PG MLK Championship and in 2014 Show teams finished as runner-up in all three age classes; a Show team won the 2013 18u PG MLK Championship. It’s an organization that tends to steal, well, the show.

“We just really want to see where we stack up, and we need to be pushed,” West Hills Vipers 16u head coach Justin Fanony said from his team’s dugout Sunday morning. “We hear a lot of things about (the Show) and we can’t let that psyche us out. This is where we want to be and if we want to play at the top caliber we have to play these type of teams.

“It really just shows how much harder we’re going to have to work during the offseason, how much harder we’re going to have to work during the season.”

Over in the other dugout, San Diego Show coach Luis Lorenzana only briefly considered the whole David v. Goliath, upperdog-underdog scenario before completely dismissing it.

“To be honest with you, every time we come to these events we know that we cannot afford to take anyone lightly; we respect all of our opponents,” he said. “We have to go out to win every game, so we treat every game like a playoff game. We’ve done a lot of PG events and we understand that we’ve gone home early because of one bad game.

“It doesn’t matter if the (opponent) is from Washington, Florida, New York (or) So Cal, we understand that we’re going to get everyone’s best.”

This West Hills Vipers 16u team is a new group in relation to the time they’ve spent playing together, although they’ve all been involved with the Vipers organization for a number of years. The roster is pretty much a 50-50 mix of players from the classes of 2018 and 2019 who are 15 and 16 years old; all are from the Bremerton area on the Kitsap Peninsula, an hour ferry boat ride west of Seattle.

Only Port Orchard 2018 shortstop Torre Digiovanni is ranked nationally has a “follow” and no player on the roster has committed to a college, which certainly isn’t unusual for a team of high school sophomores and freshmen.

“We have to chase a lot of the Seattle teams and the teams that everybody considers the best,” Fanony said. “On our side of the water we are the best, and we want to play the top competition; that’s what makes us better. You don’t get better be just playing the weak sisters.”

The Vipers 16u hit .275 as a team in their first two pool wins (13 singles with one double) and outscored their two opponents by a combined 13-10; 2019 third baseman Andy McMartin had three of the 14 hits and drove in three runs.

“I’ve been please with some of the things that we’ve been doing, but there are obviously some things we need to work on,” Fanony said. “This being our first games together, I think we’ve done pretty well.”

On the other side of the ledger, the Show’s roster includes 2018 No. 244-ranked catcher Bradley Polinsky from San Diego and 2018 No. 298 middle-infielder Austin Kretzschmar from La Mesa, Calif.; both prospects are uncommitted. The rest of the roster is pretty talented, as well.

“This is a good group with a lot of good chemistry,” Lorenzana said. “A lot of these kids have been around together since they were 12 years old, so they know our expectations and they know what they need to do when they come to these type of events.”

The Show’s official underclass roster includes the names of a couple of the organization’s top 2017s who are still young enough to play in what is essentially a 16u tournament. But No. 11-ranked Southern Cal commit Kyle Hurt and No. 300 San Diego State recruit Casey Schmidt have been spending their time with the Show’s entrant in the PG MLK West Upperclass Championship.

“We’re confident with what we have here that we can give it a good run (in the Underclass) and for those guys’ exposure it’s probably best for them to be playing with the upperclass team,” said Lorenzana, who played in eight minor league seasons before retiring in 2003. “With the flexibility allowed by being able to have them on both rosters, we just did that in case we needed it for some reason.”

The Vipers’ Fanony played some college baseball but injuries cut his career short and he immediately went into coaching. Now, as it’s been said, he’s living the dream: “The second best thing to do (behind playing) is to coach and to be around beautiful facilities like this and just being able to watch the boys play and get better,” he said.

The West Hills Vipers have an indoor facility in Bremerton that allows the players to get their work in the year-around, but, in fact, Fanony said the organization encourages its members to pursue other sports during the baseball offseason. He has coached at every level from 12u through 18u but particularly enjoys this underclass age group.

“I think right now (at this age) they’re really starting to get it,” Fanony said. “The maturity level is starting to pick up and they are realizing that the time is now to really get going.”

As the Show and the Vipers 16u prepared to square-off Sunday morning, the focus was simply on winning and earning a berth in the playoffs with no attention paid to playoff seeding. There are not too many degrees of separation between the No. 1 seed and the No. 8 seed considering all eight playoff entrants had to win their pool to advance. But the Show were in the running for the No. 1 seed before they went to bat against the Vipers 16u, giving them one more thing to play for.

After a scoreless inning-and-a-half, the Show’s Michael Defelippi stroked a three-run triple, Cade Brown delivered a two-run double and Tanner Smith came through with an RBI single as part of a six-run bottom of the second, and the Show were on their way to an 8-0 victory; Victor Ortiz finished 2-for-2 with a double, an RBI and two runs scored.

The Show’s 2018 left-hander Brendon Mullen pitched the five-inning game’s first three innings and didn’t allow a hit or a run while striking out two and walking one. Once the final out was recorded, t was official: Goliath won this round by a knockout.

But this was no time for David to hang his head. Fanony had wanted to his young players to experience the highest level of play they could find, and they had not only succeeded on that front but had come within one win of securing a playoff berth.

“I just hope they can see where we stack up and to see what we need to do in order to get better, even just the little things,” Fanony said of the experience. “… Obviously, we have to enjoy the game – love the game – and just be out here and have fun. Because if we’re not having fun, then why are we out here.”

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