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Monday, September 05, 2016

Lightning strikes; West wins

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game


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FORT MYERS, Fla. – Lightning delays threatened to steal the thunder at Sunday night’s Perfect Game Select Baseball Festival 14u all-star game at jetBlue Park, but at the end of a very long night, the 17 pitchers that toiled for the West and East squads took control with some lightning bolts of their own.

Nine West pitchers combined on a three-hitter, striking out 15 and walking four, and while the eight East arms were nearly as good, it was the boys from the West that took home the 3-1 victory at the inaugural all-star event.

The game went into what turned out to be a 35-minute long lightning delay just minutes before the scheduled first-pitch at 7:07 p.m. EDT. Once it finally got underway, it was smooth sailing until the top of the eighth when another delay – this one lasting an hour – shut down the action with the West holding a 3-0 lead. When play resumed the West survived a rocky top of the ninth to hold on for the win in a game that concluded after 11 p.m.

The West’s Calvin Harris, a 2020 left-handed hitting catcher/utility prospect from Peosta, Iowa, sliced a two-out, two-run single down the left-field line in the bottom of the second inning that gave the West-siders a 2-0 lead, which, as it turned out, would be all they needed. Harris was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.

“The atmosphere out here was something else,” he said. “The talent of everyone out here was amazing and this has definitely been a great experience. It’s definitely something that I will never forget.”

West added a single run in the bottom of the third on the strength of a lead-off single that was erased on the base-paths, five walks and two wild pitches; it left the bases loaded in the frame. The West’s Robert Moore singled, walked twice and stole a base during the course of the game.

West 2019 right-hander John Pharris from Dequincy, La., was impressive in his one inning of work in the top of the fourth, striking out three and walking one. West 2020 right-hander Albert Hernandez from Davie, Fla., struck-out the side in the seventh, no small feat considering his three victims were Josh Shuler, Estanli Castillo and Tim McHugh, the 3-4-5 hitters in the East lineup.

Things got a little dicey in the ninth after the second lightning delay had expired and it had nothing to do with the stadium’s sprinkler system being automatically set off at 11 p.m. (that did, indeed, happen). West 2020 left-hander Yanluis Ortiz from Southlake, Texas, came in to get the save and promptly struck-out the first two batters he faced. But then walked the next two and threw a couple of wild pitches that led to the East’s only run. At long last, he was able to record the final out.

The eight East pitchers used were pretty salty in their own right, giving up the three runs on seven hits while striking out 13 but also walking seven. 2020 left-hander Patrick Holloman from McDonough, Ga., struck out the side in in the seventh, and 2020 right-handers Travis Hamrick from Banner Elk, N.C., and Hank Bearden from Rocky Face, Ga., both struck out two of the four batters they faced in each of the fourth and sixth innings.

The East’s best chance to score before the seventh came in the top of the sixth when they got back-to-back singles from Jackson Miller and Alex Freeland to lead off the sixth and had the bases loaded with no one out, but couldn’t push a run across.

In the end it came down to dominant pitching from the West’s staff and at least one timely hit from a kid from Iowa. That seemed especially appropriate at an event held in Southwest Florida, which has become another home base for Perfect Game while it maintains its central headquarters in Cedar Rapids in Eastern Iowa while also continuing to grow its presence in North Georgia.

“Just being from Iowa makes this special,” Harris said. “With Perfect Game getting started in Cedar Rapids, I’m just proud to represent it.”

The four-player finals of the PG Select Baseball Festival Home Run Challenge were staged about an hour before the game’s first pitch, and East 2019 third baseman/outfielder Liam Deegan from Richmond, Va., ended the short-and-sweet affair in the first-round with very little fanfare.

Deegan was the fourth of the four participants to hit – 2020 Robert Hassell of Franklin, Tenn., 2020 third baseman Yanluis Ortiz from Southlake, Texas, and 2020 outfielder Estanli Castillo from Kissimmee, Fla., via the Dominican Republic preceded him – and hit the only home run, dropping a bomb above the netting on the replica Green Monster in jetBlue Park’s leftfield; he came up about a foot short with a second swing. All four hitters were given 1 minute, 30-seconds to get in as many swings as possible.

“Honestly, I did change my approach (at the plate) a little bit,” Deegan said. ““I’m looking to pull everything because, obviously, it’s the shortest part of the ballpark. You just kind of want to elevate everything and not hit hard line drives.”

The entire weekend has been something Deegan will never forget: “It’s been a dream,” he said. “(Receiving) all the gear and meeting all the players and the new people, it’s the best of the best of the 14u players. It’s been amazing.”

The young prospects started the day Sunday by attending a Leadership Seminar at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort and Spa, and after lunch headed on out to jetBlue Park. They were given a tour of the stadium, assembled for team pictures and then took batting practice and infield/outfield leading up the finals of the Challenge.


 

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