Tournaments | Story | 7/11/2016

Team Elite focused on 16u title

Vincent Cervino        
Photo: Perfect Game

EMERSON, Ga. – Team Elite 16’s Prime entered the 16u WWBA National Championship on the short list of teams expected to compete for the championship title. Team Elite continued to meet, or even surpass, such high expectations as they defeated Tri State Arsenal 16u Prospects 13-1 on Monday to advance to 5-0 in pool play.

The offense only had six hits on the day, but a patient approach at the plate helped players take advantage of a whopping nine walks by opposing pitching. From there it was all about seizing opportunities with swings on hittable fastballs, which Team Elite executed to perfection.

Justin Wrobleski, the No. 2 lefthanded pitcher in the state of Georgia for the class of 2018, and Will Banfield, the No. 8 overall player for the class of 2018 and a Vanderbilt commit, led the way for the offense with four RBI and three RBI, respectively. On the mound Charles Gibson, the No. 3 first baseman in the state of Georgia for the class of 2018, was dominant. He allowed only one hit and one run to score over the course of the four inning complete game.

“Defensively, I thought we played a pretty good game, we only had one miscue,” said Manager Shane Hopper. “(Charles) Gibson gave us a good start. We didn’t have to go to the bullpen so we’re getting ready for the stretch run. Guys are swinging the bat pretty well, a lot of line drives right now. We’re running the bases well and playing pretty good team baseball right now.”

The excellent showing by Team Elite in this tournament has been a complete team effort. Through five games they own an absurd +38 run differential, 40 runs scored to only two runs allowed, to go along with stellar defense. The Team Elite defense has only committed one error defensively and the coaching staff has stressed the importance of defensive prowess.

Hopper admitted that at the start of the summer season his team looked scary good on paper. He preaches the importance of complete and total focus on the game at hand and not to overlook any team they have to play against. Hopper knew that his team would have the ability and talent to win the championship, but the end result would be determined by the players’ ability to execute day in and day out.

“I think this is a well-rounded team,” said Hopper. “We have some arms, we have some really good arms. We have some speed, we have some power, all the components for a really good team. We’re strong in the back end of the bullpen, we have some good middle relievers too. I like our chances. I said it before the season started: we look really good on paper. It’s just a matter of these guys going out and executing every day.”

As Hopper admitted, the roster is loaded with elite talent. Team Elite currently has six of the top 50 prospects for the class of 2018 playing on their team. The No. 1 overall prospect is Kumar Rocker and he has led the way for this pitching staff. After playing on the 17u team for the 17u National Championship last week, Rocker has been clocked as high as 95 mph and is joined on the pitching staff by other top 50 prospects Ethan Hankins (No. 13 overall for the class of 2018 and a Vanderbilt commit) and Makenzie Stills (No. 39 overall, also a Vanderbilt commit).

The batting order is led by a multitude of toolsy, high-upside players including catcher Will Banfield – the No. 1 catcher for the class of 2018, No. 8 overall and committed to Vanderbilt – is a highly-touted prospect as his combination of arm strength, defensive ability, and a loud player culminate in a rare talent. In the heart of the lineup Banfield is joined by other highly-praised prospects Jarrett Ford, ranked 48th nationally and a Tennessee commit, and the powerful John Malcom, ranked 40th overall and yet another Vanderbilt commit.

Team Elite’s players have come together and put on a showcase of some of the best baseball played during the summer. Having already participated in numerous Perfect Game tournaments and showcases, including their 16u Perfect Game/East Cobb Invitational championship title, Team Elite looks to be hitting their peak in time for the National Championship and the World Championship later on in the year.

“The kids love coming here,” said Hopper. “They love the atmosphere and they love the competition. I see guys step up all the time at these fields. They (Perfect Game) do a good job with the events and we like playing in them. We have a good rapport with PG and we would like to continue that relationship.”

With such high expectations, and a collection of elite talent, it can be easy to lose focus of the immediate task at hand. Hopper imposes a philosophy of distraction-free preparation and any tangential topic will take a backseat to the current game. Hopper himself is even very strict in terms of his mentality and mindset on winning ballgames and getting better. After the 13-1 win today Hopper jumped right into a bullpen session with three of the team’s pitchers who needed to get their side work in today.

In fact, Hopper didn’t even want to talk about his team until after his game because he was so locked-in and so far his philosophy is not only working, but it’s setting up Team Elite in excellent position to be a real contender in the playoffs.

“It’s the same stuff I’ve been preaching all year,” said Hopper. “Come out focused and ready to play every day. You can’t take any team lightly, you can’t take one pitch for granted. Every pitch counts. The kids are starting to buy in and hopefully we hit our stride at the right moments.”

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