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Tournaments  | Story  | 3/12/2016

Sparkman on top at Showdown

Jeff Dahn     
Photo: Perfect Game

CARTERSVILLE, Ga. – Five of the 14 teams that took part in this week’s Perfect Game High School Showdown at PG Park South-LakePoint came into the event as top-26 teams nationally according to Perfect Game’s Preseason High School top-50 Rankings.

No. 2 Parkview HS (Lilburn, Ga.), No. 7 Buford (Ga.) HS and No. 20 Gulliver Prep High School (Miami, Fla.) were among those five ring-leaders. Conspicuously absent from the rankings was Sparkman High School out of Harvest, Ala., an unincorporated town of a little more than 5,000 folks located in the far northeastern corner of the state.

The Sparkman Senators’ absence from the rankings was conspicuous only after what they accomplished over the past three days at the PGHS Showdown. When Senators’ head coach Kellen Greer was asked about the rankings, he pshawed the entire notion.

“We don’t care about that. We’re just trying to find a way to win ballgames,” he said dismissively. “You can rank whoever you want to rank, it’s no big deal to us. We’re just trying to find ways to win.”

This talented Sparkman roster relied on the tried-and-true, battle-tested ways to win at the Showdown –  pinpoint pitching, overwhelming offensive production and dominant defense – and walked away with the event championship after knocking off Gulliver, 6-2, in Saturday afternoon’s championship game.

The championship game was a snapshot of what Sparkman’s three previous Showdown games had featured. The Senator’s two most recent wins before Saturday were a 9-1 pasting of No. 7 Buford and a 7-0 blanking of No. 2 Parkview and like a routine traffic accident, there wasn’t much new or different to be seen in this one … Just keep moving, folks, nothing to look at here. Sparkman scored two runs in the top of the second, three in the top of the sixth and one for good measure in the top of the seventh; the outcome was never in question.

It banged-out 15 hits in the 6-2 victory – seven doubles – a total diminished in the “Wow!” factor by the 11 runners the Senators left on base, quite a few in scoring position. Senior Brock Anderson (1-for-4, 2B, run scored), juniors Reid Powers (2-for-4, 2 2Bs, RBI, 2 runs), Alex Strachan (2-for-4, 2B, RBI), Andrew Stemple (2-for-2, 2B, run) and Jacob Foster (2-4, 2B, RBI), and sophomore Garrett Bodine (2-for5, 2B, RBI, run) led the offensive onslaught.

Meanwhile, on the mound, 6-foot-3, 175-pound junior right-hander Carter Vickers limited Gulliver’s potent lineup filled with NCAA Division-I recruits to one earned run on five hits with eight strikeouts and two walks in a complete-game effort.

“I just wanted to throw strikes and do the best I can and hope the offense does what it does best,” Vickers said postgame. “With these guys playing behind me it makes it a lot easier; it helps a bunch. They’re unbelievable out there and they play their hardest all the time and it helps me want to be the best that I can be.”

Sparkman (12-2 overall, 4-0 at the Showdown) hit .385 as a team in its four games here and counted 17 doubles and three home runs among its 50 hits. Powers, a South Alabama commit, was 8-14 (.571) with four doubles, two RBI and six runs; senior Breonn Pooler (NW Florida State College) went 7-for-11 (.636) with two doubles, three RBI and three runs; Foster was on fire at 11-for-18 (.611) with three doubles, six RBI and five runs and Strachan hit .357 with two doubles, a home run, four RBI and three runs.

“Offensively, we had a really good three days here,” Greer said. “I think today might have been worst by not being able to execute and get some guys in when they were in scoring position. Overall, our guys did a heck of a job and I’m really, really proud of them. It’s a good group of kids, a good group of guys and they play well together.”

Six Sparkman pitchers combined to allow seven earned runs in 28 innings pitched (1.75 ERA) on 18 hits with 32 strikeouts and nine walks. Senior right-hander Seth Gulley came through with beautiful complete-game, two-hit shutout with 11 strikeouts in the big 7-0 semifinal win over Parkview, matching (if not exceeding) Vickers’ championship game effort.

“Our guys did a really good job and all four days out on the mound our guys went out there and did a heck of a job,” Greer said. “This was the first time all year we had three guys finish a game and we still didn’t have a guy throw over 85 pitches; they really set the tempo and set the tone for us.”

Gulliver (11-3, 3-1) struggled at the plate the entire tournament -- .234 team batting average, four doubles, three home runs among its 22 hits – a happening certainly unexpected after a close look at its batting order. It’s five hits Saturday included a double from senior Javier Valdez, a Florida International signee, and junior Miami commit Robert Touron had two of the Raiders’ four singles.

Valdes and junior Miami commit Raymond Gil both hit .455 (5-for-11) and combined for two doubles, a home run (Valdes) and eight RBI; sophomore Miami commit Adrien Del Castillo hit .364 with two solo home runs. The Raiders’ pitching staff combined to give up 10 earned runs on 30 hits in 28 innings pitched (2.50 ERA) with 27 strikeouts and 12 walks.

The right-hander Valdes was also the star of the staff, allowing four hits in six shutout innings with 10 strikeouts in a 6-0 win over Cartersville (Ga.) in the tournament opener on Thursday. Sophomore right-hander Kevin Maura threw five, four-hit shutout innings in the Raiders’ semifinal win.

The Senators will return to Alabama with high hopes for the rest of the 2016 season: “We’re still a few weeks away from getting into our area-play stuff but we continually try to play the best teams in the state of Alabama year-in and year-out. We’ve got a bunch of good teams on the schedule so it’s going to be a challenge every time we play,” Greer said.

“(This tournament) has been really well run, first-class, great teams in it. A shout-out to Perfect Game and a really good job for (it) for putting on a great event. Anytime you can play good teams and win it’s a good thing for you. This is really good for us and our team to see if can continue to keep it rolling.”

Just don’t talk to Greer about the rankings. It’s a better idea to ask one of the players, like the impressive right-hander Vickers, what it meant to beat three top-10 teams in three days.

 “We knew were capable of (a lot) but that was a big accomplishment, really,” he said. “It helped us with our motivation so it was good.”

2016 PG High School Showdown runner-up: Gulliver Prep