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Tournaments | Story | 10/9/2016

No. 2 Chain 17u rules its pool

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

FORT MYERS, Fla. – If, through the years, someone had taken the time to put pen to paper and jot down on a notepad the simple recipe for earning a top-two seed at a Perfect Game national championship tournament, the players and coaches from Chain 17u Dobbs must have found that note, memorized it and put it in their pockets for safe keeping.

It is, of course, a recipe as simple as bread and butter: 1) Limit your opponents to as few runs as possible; 2) Go out and collect your own runs in 20-gallon drums.

Chain 17u Dobbs, representing the Warner Robins, Ga.-based Chain Baseball organization, did just that at this weekend’s Perfect Game WWBA Underclass World Championship. It outscored its three pool-play opponents by a combined 28-1 and charged into Sunday’s first round of the 63-team playoffs with the No. 2 seed in tow.

“This group is really athletic and we’re swinging the bats well,” Chain 17u head coach Britt Dobbs said late Sunday morning before his team took the field for its playoff-opener at the Stadium at Terry Park. “Arms-wise, we tried a little strategy to see if we could work some things out, because even through pool-play while you’re trying to win, you’re (also) trying to set the pitching up for (the playoffs). You hope you can get lucky, but you can also get burnt doing things that way, too.”

When pool-play concluded and the playoff bracket was deemed “official” late Saturday night, it was the On Deck O’s out of Pineville, N.C., who had earned the No. 1 seed; they were 3-0-0 with runs for-against totals of 16-0. The O’s were the only one of the 63 teams in the playoffs to receive a bye out of the first-round directly into the second.

Both No. 2 Chain 17u Dobbs and No. 3 Marucci Elite (Baton Rouge, La.) allowed only one run apiece in their three pool-play games, but Chain got the nod at No. 2 because of the 28 runs it scored opposed to Marucci Elite’s 19.

“We just go out there and play the game,” top-500-ranked 2018 Hueston Morrill said Sunday when asked if he and his teammates had paid any attention to the chase for the No. 1 seed. “The better we do as a team the better everybody seems to be doing individually all the way through (the lineup).”

Sixty-two of the 63 teams in the playoff bracket would have to play and win three games Sunday in order to advance to Monday’s round-of-eight (the On-Deck O’s were the exception). With that in mind, Dobbs asked his players only that they approach the day with what he called a “warrior mentality.”

Sunday’s weather forecast called for a high temperature of 90 degrees (with 50 percent humidity) by mid-afternoon, which was going require every player in the lineup to dig deep within himself for an extra shot of something.

“It’s a lot of games in a short amount of time, but these kids are used to that,” Dobbs said. “But most of the tournaments we play in, if you make a run late in the tournament, that’s the way it is, game-after-game-after-game; they’re used to it.”

Perfect Game implemented two rules in the playoffs to promote arm safety during a schedule when the two teams playing in Monday’s championship game will likely have played five games in about a 30-hour time frame.

Perhaps most significantly, the second-, third-, quarterfinal- and semifinal-round playoff games, and the championship game, were scheduled for only five innings. In the event any playoff game was tied at the end of its allotted innings – including the first round’s seven- inning games – the tie-breaker formula of “bases loaded, one-out” to start the extra frames is being used.

“It’s going to be a little different; it’s the first time we’ve done it,” Dobbs said of the five-inning games. “I don’t know if I’m used to the thought of that yet … and it definitely gives you a different approach as to how you handle the game early. Usually, in the first three or four innings you just kind of let it do what it does, and then you kind of strategize at the end. Well, now the game’s shorter so you’ve got to strategize a little earlier.”

To even reach the point of having to consider what will happen in bracket-play, the Chain Gang first had to win their pool. And while the 28-1 run differential may indicate the ride to the pool championship was a romp, in fact it was only a romp in the first two games.

They started by blanking the 9er’s Baseball Club (New Jersey), 6-0, a contest in which 2018 right-handers Joey Klinker, John Dyer and Chip Burch combined on a 12-strikeout, no-walk, no-hitter; they faced the minimum 21 batters after one 9er’s player who had been hit by a pitch was erased from the base-paths by a double-play.

It was the Gang’s second win – a 20-0, three-inning flogging of IMG Academy Silver (Florida) – that distorted their team batting and scoring statistics. Chain 17u had 29 hits in its three pool wins and 15 of them came in that game; it totaled 10 extra-base hits and seven were in that one game. Colton Bierly and Jacob Dolcater combined on a three-inning no-hitter, striking out six, walking one and hitting one.

The team was finally tested in its third and final pool-play game when it needed a one-out, two-run single from the No. 9 hitter Burch to eke-out a 2-1 over 29ers Baseball (Illinois).

“I feel we’ve been playing pretty well as a team,” Morrill said. “(Saturday) we had a little bit of a struggle but Chip Burch came up with two RBIs that gave us the win. I feel that as a team we’re playing together and that’s what we have to do throughout the playoffs – we’ve got to work together as a team.

“Coming into big spots, we’ve had pitchers who have been coming in and throwing strikes,” he continued. “Now with these (playoff) games we’re going to need them even more; pitching is really big right now.”

Dobbs certainly was pleased with the way his kids pitched, especially since a few of his top arms were unable to be here this weekend. He speculated that just about every team and program is going to be short on arms the later it gets into the fall, and it becomes increasingly difficult to bring a full roster along for what everyone involved with the team hopes will be a long stay.

“We threw three guys a game – a couple of innings, a couple of innings, a couple of innings – and they did a fantastic job,” Dobbs said. “So, yeah, the pitching thus far has been the key to what we’ve done and hopefully that will continue throughout the playoffs.”

The Chain 17u Dobbs roster is a very impressive one when fully intact. It features (all 2018s) No. 8-ranked Florida State commit Brandon Howlett, No. 147 North Carolina commit Aaron Sabato, No. 185 Kentucky recruit Trevon Flowers and No. 251 South Carolina commit Charlie Welch.

In the three pool-play wins, it was the unheralded Morrill – a 5-foot-10, 160-pound uncommitted shortstop/catcher/right-hander from Live Oak, Fla. – who was swinging the hottest bat; he went 7-for-8 (.875) with three doubles, four RBI and five runs scored.

The 250-team PG WWBA Underclass World Championship attracts college coaches and recruiting coordinators from schools all across the country, so an uncommitted prospect is always eager to put his best foot forward.

“This is a very important event for me,” Morrill said. “Being here as a junior and with this tournament leading up to Jupiter (PG WWBA World Championship), I feel like getting looked-at at this tournament will help things roll over into Jupiter, if anybody’s looking they’re going to be there, too.”

Dobbs didn’t hesitate at all when he said he loves this event. He and his coaches had noticed at one of their pool-play games that there were more college coaches gathered behind home plate than he sees at some of the summer tournaments. He’s had a lot of phone calls this week, as well, which makes him happy because that is what this is all about.

“We like to do well as an organization and that’s good for Chain, but at the end of the day we’re trying to get these kids in front of the right people so they can get to the next level; that’s the goal,” he said. “We’ve seen a lot of the college folks here so, yeah, we love this event.”

Dobbs also firmly believes that even the prospects who have already committed to their schools of choice can benefit from playing at the PG WWBA Underclass World:

“Every experience that they get, they are less nervous, and they’ve got to learn how to play in front of all these people. Even the guys that have already committed can benefit from this. It’s still just an experience of playing high-caliber baseball in some intense situations against some quality opponents; it just makes them better.”

As well as Chain 17u Dobbs played in its three pool wins, it was just that bad in its 9-8, nine-inning victory (decided by the tie-breaker) over the No. 63-seeded Upstate Mavericks (yes, No. 63) Sunday afternoon.

Chain totaled nine hits and seven of its nine runs were earned, but the Dobbs’ pitchers walked seven (they also struck-out seven), hit a batter and threw two wild pitches; only 56 percent of their pitches were delivered as strikes, according to GameChanger. To make matters worse, the Gang committed three fielding errors and only four of Upstate’s eight runs were earned.

But they lived to tell the tale and advanced into a second-round game against the No. 34-seeded EvoShield Canes 17, which meant they would be playing at least one more game on this warm and sunny fall day in Southwest Florida.

“I love it anytime I can get out on the field; it’s incredible,” Morrill said. “I’ve been playing with most of these guys for two years now and I think the chemistry is there. I love getting out there with them, working hard. It’s always intense, it’s always fun. We’re always competing with each other, always competing against each other, and I think that’s what makes us the team we are.”

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