Tournaments | Story | 7/23/2016

T-Rex in full final 4 mode

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

MESA, Ariz. – Not in my backyard! That could very well be the rallying cry for the three teams representing Arizona at this year’s 17u Perfect Game World Series, which completed its third of five days of play at the Cubs Baseball Riverview spring training complex on Saturday.

That may, indeed, be the rallying cry for Scottsdale-based T-Rex Baseball, the Phoenix-based Dbacks Scout Team and the Tucson-based Tucson Champs, but at the end of play Saturday, only the T-Rexers had protected their scalding-hot desert turf.

At a 24-team, elite tournament like the 17u PG World Series where only the four pool champions advance to Monday morning’s semifinals, there is absolutely no margin for error, and the Dbacks and Champs erred far too often and fell from contention. T-Rex, on the other hand, won twice on Saturday to move to 4-0-0 and will battle the San Diego Show (3-0-1) for the pool championship Sunday morning.

“Any championship we can win in Arizona is important,” T-Rex Baseball founder/head coach Rex Gonzalez said Saturday. “First of all, ywe want to represent our state well, and also our parents and our organization. But we especially want to make sure we represent our state well because we don’t have as big of a population as some of the other states. There are a lot of good ballplayers in this state and we just try to piece together some guys and come out and try to play the game the right way.”

This team has played the game the right way since the core group of 2017s began playing together in PG 14u and 15u tournaments in 2013. The centerpiece has always been corner-infielder Jacob Gonzalez, who has grown into a 6-foot-4, 210-pound Perfect Game All-American, and who is ranked as the No. 52 prospect in the nation and the topped-ranked guy in Arizona; he has committed to Texas Christian.

Six-foot-nine, 220-pound left-hander Russell Smith, another TCU commit who pitched Saturday, shows up on the 2017 national rankings at No. 91; first baseman/outfielder Nick Bruesser (Stanford) is at No. 210; right-hander/corner-infielder Matt Schroer (LSU) is No. 213; right-hander/corner-infielder Boyd Vander Kooi (Oregon) is right behind at No. 216 and outfielder/first baseman Blake Paugh (Arizona) is nipping at his heels at No. 217.

T-Rex Baseball started play here on Thursday with a 6-2 win over the Illinois-based Elite Baseball Training/St. Louis Pirates and got past Utah-based Mountain West ’17 on Friday. Perhaps its most important win came Saturday morning when it shutdown SoCal powerhouse GBG Marucci, 5-0, before rallying from a 4-0 deficit and then holding off the Texas-based Dallas Patriots, 8-7.

As noted, the win over GBG was key because the Californians were among the favorites to win this event after recording a runner-up finish last year, albeit with a completely different roster. Unheralded 2017 right-hander Joseph Montenegro kept GBG off the scoreboard by effectively scattering two hits and four walks over his seven innings of work, striking out six in the process.

T-Rex scored four runs in the top of the sixth and one in the top of the seventh – a solo home run from Trevor Hauver – to account for its five runs.

 “You really just have to go out there and say, ‘You’re the best,’” Montenegro said of his mindset going into the game. “You have to go out and challenge them with your fastball – that’s what you have to do – and once you’re ahead (in the count), just throw a couple of off-speeds in there, and you’ll be good.”

And it wasn’t lost on him who he was facing: “You hear the name of that organization (GBG) and you know they’re good,” he said. “You have to go out there with your best stuff; you have to go out there and challenge them.”

Montenegro, an uncommitted top-500 national prospect, calls Farmers Branch, Texas, home and is one of only two Texans on the T-Rex Baseball roster; they are also the only two non-Arizonians. But he’s played in several PG tournaments with this team and has created a bond with his teammates, an essential ingredient toward developing that all-important team chemistry.

“We’re a good team, just a bunch of good friends. We’re all tight and we have great chemistry,” Montenegro said. “It takes the whole team to win, not just the nine that are out on the field. If you get called off the bench, you have to know your role and do your job, and everybody on this team does that.

“This is just a bunch of good guys and a bunch of good ballplayers, and we’re all out here together trying to win this thing.”

Smith’s highly anticipated 17u PGWS outing started out rockier than nearby Camelback Mountain, as he needed 41 pitches to get three outs after giving up four runs – two earned – on two hits and four walks in the first inning. He ended up working six innings and needed only 68 pitches to record the last 15 outs without giving up a run.

“Every game at the (PG) World Series is pretty much pivotal. There just isn’t much room for error in these tournaments,” Rex Gonzalez said. “Early in the game (against GBG) we didn’t execute (offensively) but later in the game we did execute; today we just got in a situation where we had a great pitching outing from J.J. (Montenegro), and that put ourselves in positions to win the ballgame. When we really needed to execute the players stepped up and did just that.”

The teams in attendance at 17u PGWS are known for trotting out some of the best arms in the country, but the T-Rexers still managed to hit .304 as a team in their four wins, with nine of their 38 hits going for extra-bases. The PG All-American Jacob Gonzalez led the way, hitting 8-for-13 (.615) with a double, triple, three RBI and six runs scored.

The final 12 games of pool-play will be contested Sunday, and when the sun rises on the Cubs Baseball Riverview complex this is what will be known:

The Virginia-based EvoShield Canes (4-0-0) have already clinched the Pool A championship and will be playing in Monday’s final four regardless of the outcome of their game with Texas-based Premier Baseball Futures. The same can be said for the California-based CBA Marucci (4-0-0) which will be playing Monday morning even in the unlikely event it gets run-ruled by the Texas-based Houston Banditos (2-1-1) in a Pool B showdown.

Pools C and D are up for grabs, with the fifth game of pool-play for four teams – CCB Elite, North East Baseball, the San Diego Show and, yes, T-Rex Baseball – deciding their fates.

In Pool C, California-based CCB Elite (3-1-0) needs only to beat the Dbacks Scout Team (0-2-2) on Sunday to win the pool championship. Should CCB Elite stumble and Pennsylvania-based North East Baseball (2-2-0) and the Cali-based SGV Arsenal (2-2-0) both win, tie-breaker procedures will come into play.

In Pool D, it’s much more simple. The T-Rexers (4-0-0) have a head-to-head with the perennial powerhouse San Diego Show (3-0-1) with the winner advancing. Should the game end in a tie, it would be advantage T-Rex.

Rex Gonzalez likes the group he has and likes it chances of moving on into Monday’s play. This is all about flying the Arizona flag and trying to become the first team based in Arizona to win the 17u PG World Series national championship after previous four titles being be captured by a pair of Florida-based teams, one from Texas and one from Virginia.

“In this day and age, it’s tough to keep guys together,” Rex Gonzalez said of his tight-knit core and what they hope to accomplish over the next two days. “For us, and deservedly so, when the name ‘PG’ is put on (an event) it makes the best come out in everybody and everybody wants to be here and compete at the highest level.”

 Give us your feedback
Copyright 1994-2020 by Perfect Game. All rights reserved. No portion of this information may be reprinted or reproduced without the written consent of Perfect Game.