GOODYEAR, Ariz. – The Perfect Game Baseball community was first introduced to the SACSN National Team three years ago this month at the 2013 Perfect Game/EvoShield National Championship (Underclass). Floridian Frank Torre Jr. had put together the all-star team and given it the name SACSN (pronounced SAX-sen), an acronym for the Student Athlete Community Service Network.
That first SACSN underclass team featured players from 10 states on its roster and included eight prospects ranked in the top-56 in the class of 2015 rankings. Most notable among them was No. 1-ranked high school junior Dazmon Cameron, who went on to become the 37th overall pick by the Houston Astros in the first-round of the 2015 MLB Amateur Draft. That SACSN team went on to win the championship at that year’s PG/Evo Under.
Torre has another SACSN National Team back in the desert this weekend for what is the 8th annual PG/EvoShield National Championship (Underclass) tournament, and once again he has assembled a very prominent squad, with players on the roster arriving here from coast-to-coast.
There are 11 prospects on board that are ranked in the top-491 from the class of 2018, along with at least two very high-profile 2019s: No. 8 catcher/outfielder Hake Holland, a U. of Miami recruit from Miramar, Fla., and No. 41 shortstop Tyler McKenzie, a Vanderbilt commit from Loxahatchee, Fla.
The top 2018s include No. 21 infielder Nolan Gorman (Glendale, Ariz.; U. of Arizona), No. 54 outfielder/third baseman Nick O’Day (Coatesville, Pa.; Texas Christian), No. 75 middle-infielder Jarrett Ford (Decatur, Ga.; U. of Tennessee), No. 102 right-hander/corner-infielder Owen Meaney (Houston; Louisiana State), No. 142 right-hander/outfielder/infielder Conner Thurman (San Tan Valley, Ariz.; U. of Arizona) and No. 154 right-hander Cristian Sanchez (Centreville, Va.; U. of Alabama).
“I really like this team,” Torre Jr. said Saturday after seeing it play only one game at the event. “They’ve already gelled together better than a lot of our other teams have before. We have a lot of versatility and a lot of speed and I think we’ve got a really good shot at doing really well this weekend.”
The Nationals won their pool championship with a 3-0 record, outscoring their opponents by a combined 23-10. Those runs for and against were good enough for SACSN to earn the No. 10-seed in the 18-team playoffs, and it was scheduled to face the No. 7 Southern California Bombers 2018 in a second-round playoff game Sunday afternoon.
BPA 2018 from San Juan Capistrano, Calif., and the CAB Soldiers from Rancho Cordova, Calif., both went 3-0-0 in pool-play and earned the playoff’s Nos. 1 and 2 seeds, respectively; BPA outscored its three opponents by a combined 27-0 and the Soldiers theirs by a combined 18-0.
The SACSN Nationals hit .277 as a team in their three wins, led by a monster effort from Gorman. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound left-handed hitter slashed .571/.700/.1.296 with two doubles and a home run counted among his four hits; he drove in two runs and scored five.
Torre Jr. used 11 pitchers to work 21 innings, with only two throwing as many 3 1/3. Thurman threw three, one-hit, shutout frames, striking out six and walking none, and Sanchez didn’t allow a hit or a run in 2 2/3 innings, striking out one and hitting a batter.
“It’s a real pleasure to play with the baseball players in the whole country; it’s an honor” Sanchez said before making his start Saturday afternoon. “Some of us have met before and we just have good coaches that mesh us together. We’re hard-workers, that’s what we are.
“We always expect to do well and it’s a lot of fun playing baseball with these guys,” he said. “They’re great players.”
Torre Jr. enters his teams in only a couple of events a year, and the focus is on conducting community service activities in the communities the prospects both live and play in. Even when these players aren’t wearing a SACSN uniform, they are encouraged to do community service events in their own communities and beyond.
“That’s really what we stress; it’s not just on the field but off, as well,” Torre Jr. said. “All year around, they’re doing things associated with SACSN, and as far as identifying players for our next event, it’s really an all-year around thing, too. … It’s all-year-around as far as identifying the top kids and who we want to bring in.
“We’re not a travel (ball) program like these others, so we’re really not in competition with them,” he continued. “It’s really like one or two (off season) events that we do that are kind of special and (the prospects) do buy in because it’s a unique situation.”
It’s a concept these top prospects – all of whom play for upper-tier travel ball organizations during the summer and are likely to be at either (or both) the PG WWBA Underclass World Championship and the PG WWBA World Championship in Florida next month – are eager to buy into. The baseball is a big part of it, of course, but the time spent doing community service is also very rewarding.
Jacob Allred is a 2018 outfielder from San Diego who is ranked No. 268 nationally and is one of four players on the SACSN roster that has committed to Arizona. During a pregame conversation Saturday, Allred said:
“To be surrounded by this much talent and this group of kids, and not only how they are on the field but off the field, it’s an incredible honor. Not only is it easy to assimilate in with these guys and see how they play, I can learn from them, also.” He then added:
“It’s wonderful to help out the community and know that you’re making a difference. It’s important to make it more about baseball and to do something extra that not everybody else does; it’s a really great honor.”
There are challenges to winning prominent Perfect Game national tournament championships with an all-star team, usually because of the players’ unfamiliarity with one another. A handful may know another handful just through their various travel ball experiences but others are first-time acquaintances, and the coaches are also getting to know many of them for the first time.
Holland is one of only four 2019s (high school sophomores) on the team so is a newbie in every sense of the word. Add to the fact that he is a catcher and he not only is trying to get to know his fellow position players but he’s also trying to learn how to handle a whole new group of elite arms.
“Most of the time it’s easy (getting to know new teammates), but sometimes being a catcher it’s hard working with pitchers for the first time; finding out what pitches they throw,” Holland said. “But whenever you get a guy that doesn’t spike the ball half the time, it makes catching a lot easier. With these guys. you just set-up, they throw it to a spot, and it’s just great. … When you get a chance like this you relish it; you love it.”
Torre Jr. and his staff have found that the key to assembling an all-star team that can go out and perform with a hum like the proverbial well-oiled machine, is making sure the right kind of kids are in place from the start. It all begins with character and accountability among the young players; anything else is unacceptable.
“Even when you coach these (players) for a weekend you can see that – that character and the competitiveness – and a lot of that is what has separated these kids all ready,” Torre Jr. said. “But even kids that aren’t highly ranked, a lot of times you’ll find those diamonds in the rough, those kids that you can see that they’re progressing and getting ready to take a big leap.”
That very first SACSN National Team – the one that took the field at the 2013 PG/Evo Underclass – captured the tournament championship; no SACSN team since has replicated that feat. This group of SACSN players started their quest for a spot in Monday morning’s semifinals on Sunday afternoon but, in truth, whether or not it gets there is kind of secondary.
“Really, even from the first year, the response was great with the kids from all over wanting to come and be a part of it,” Torre Jr. said. “It helps with having the alumni we have now with top draft picks and kids who have really separated themselves. I think it’s even easier now to get the kids to commit because they really see the alumni (group) they will be a part of.
“I think, without a doubt, it’s only grown and there will be more and more kids that want to be a part of it; it’s exciting.”