Tournaments | Story | 10/24/2016

Dirtbags rule Jupiter's roost

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

JUPITER, Fla. – It was way back in October 2006, while playing at what was the 6th annual Perfect Game WWBA World championship, when Dirtbags Baseball founder/owner/manager Andy Partin first introduced the program’s black-and-gold colored, camouflage-patterned uniforms.

Dirtbags’ teams stuck with the distinctive camo look through the years, and in 2010 the program shared the PG WWBA World Championship title with Chet Lemon’s Juice. Now, six years after that co-championship, additional evidence surfaced that proves those camo uniforms – or, this year at least, the camo pants – still possess some sort of crazy baseball karma.

“The camo has just kind of stuck with us through the years,” Partin said Monday, when asked about his teams’ unique fashion statement. “I love our military and this is just kind of our salute to our troops; it’s just kind of what we do.” Perhaps it’s time the military returns a salute or two to the Dirtbags.

The No. 12-seeded Dirtbags (7-0-1) took advantage of the wildness of a trio of pitchers from the No. 18 Team Elite Prime (7-1-0) to score three runs in the bottom of the sixth inning without the benefit of a base hit, and made it stand for a 4-2 victory in the championship game at this year’s 16th annual PG WWBA World Championship. The game was played at Roger Dean Stadium on a cloudy, cool and extremely comfortable autumn day on Florida’s central Atlantic Coast.

Team Elite jumped to a 2-0 lead on the strength of a one-out RBI triple from R.J. Yeager in the top of the second inning and a one-out run-scoring single from Pat DeMarco in the top of the third. The Dirtbags moved to within 2-1 when Davis Schneider received a two-out, bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the third, a telling precursor for what would transpire in the sixth.

That was the frame when the Dirtbags used three walks, three hit batsmen and a wild pitch to plate their three runs, turning their one-run deficit into a two-run advantage. It proved to be enough for 2017 left-hander Angel Zarate, a North Carolina commit who finished with a complete-game seven-hitter, striking out six and walking two.

“These guys were hungry for this championship and I’m so proud of them,” Partin said. “They played so well at such a high level against a great team like Team Elite. (Team Elite owner/manager) Brad (Bouras) and his team always do a great job … and we were joking during the game that every time we play each other it’s kind of a back-and-forth battle.”

The Dirtbags totaled only four singles offensively, two off the bat of Jacob Brown, a top-500 2017 and a High Point commit. He enjoyed a fine tournament, collecting 12 hits -including five doubles and a triple - while posting a slash-line of .444/,488/.704, driving in nine runs and scoring nine others. Schneider walked twice in the championship, drove in one run and scored another.

Schneider, a 5-foot-10, 190-pound top-500 2017 third baseman and Rutgers recruit from Berlin, N.J., finished the event with nine hits - including five doubles and two home runs - while slashing .409/.519/.909 with 11 RBI and eight runs scored. One of his home runs was a three-run blast that lifted the Dirtbags to a 3-0 victory over CBA Marucci in Sunday night’s quarterfinal round; he was named the Most Valuable Player.

“Once we beat CBA (Sunday) we really thought we had a chance to win it all with our pitching,” Schneider said Monday. “We probably came in here not knowing how far we could go into the playoffs, but we shocked the world. It feels great.

“Being with this group, they’re like my brothers now – I just joined this team this summer and they welcomed me in,” he continued. “Playing against all these top prospects who will probably be in the draft next year, and doing well, it just feels great.”

Team Elite Prime totaled seven hits in the championship game, including the triple from Yeager, a double from Will Banfield and two singles from DeMarco. A Vanderbilt commit ranked No. 126 nationally, DeMarco finished 9-for-23 (.391), with a triple, double and seven RBI. 2017 No. 150-ranked and Ole Miss commit Golston Gillespie had five hits and walked six time while posting a .688 on-base percentage; he also scored five runs.

Both teams – the North Carolina-based Dirtbags and the Georgia-based Team Elite Prime – faced their share of adversity on their way to the championship. The Dirtbags won their pool despite a 1-1 tie with Team Indiana in their second game of the tournament and the Prime used tie-breaker criteria to claim their pool championship despite a 3-1 loss in their third and final pool-play game.

Things began clicking for both teams in the playoffs. The Dirtbags blanked the No. 21 Upstate Mavericks, 8-0, in the round-of-32 and out-paced No 5 Team Evoshield, 9-5, in the round-of-16 before their dramatic victory over CBA Marucci.

Team Elite Prime dropped the No. 15 Scorpions 2017 Prime, 6-2, in the first round, out-slugged the No. Indians Scout Team, 11-8 in round-two and moved into Monday’s semifinals with a 4-1 victory over the No. 26 Tri-State Arsenal Prime in Sunday night’s quarterfinals.

And here they were – the No. 12 Dirtbags and the No. 18 Team Elite Prime – playing for PG national championship rings on the biggest PG tournament stage of them of all.

“My team doesn’t quit; they don’t quit,” Partin said. “They seem to thrive with some adversity when their backs are against the wall; it seems to really bring the best out of them. This is a special group, and I told them before our last game, ‘You are not the team that I’d like to play right now.’”

The Dirtbags bounced past the No. 25 Midland Redskins (5-2-0) out of Ohio, 8-0 in five innings, and the Prime shut down No. 19 AZ T-Rex Rawlings (5-2-0) from Arizona, 1-0, in a pair of semifinal games played Monday morning on the Marlins quad at the Roger Dean complex.

Brown smacked a two-run double, Schneider an RBI double, Sam Weatherly contributed an RBI single and Collin Watt hit a two-out, walk-off run-scoring single as part of a six-run fifth inning to lead the Dirtbags to their semifinal win; Schneider’s double was his second of the game.

The Dirtbags’ 2017 right-hander Mason Hickman, a Vanderbilt commit ranked No. 140 nationally, threw a five-inning, three-hit (all singles) shutout, striking out five without walking a batter.

Top 2018 right-hander Ethan Hankins, another Vanderbilt commit ranked No. 9 nationally in his class, pitched 6 1/3 shutout, six-hit innings in Team Elite Prime’s semifinal win, striking out six and walking one; ’17 righty Austin Hohm needed only eight pitches to record the final two outs. Gillespie drove in the game’s only run with a single in the bottom of the second; he had singled earlier in the game to account for two of the Prime’s five singles in the game.

AZ T-Rex 2017 left-hander Riley Kohler was pretty good himself, giving up just the one run on five hits in six innings of work. Nick Brueser collected two of his team’s six singles in the game.

Based on their semifinal performances and single appearances earlier in the tournament, Hickman and Hankins – the two Vandy commits – were named co-Most Valuable Pitchers. Hankins pitched 10 scoreless innings, giving up eight hits while striking out 12 and walking two; Hickman put in 8 2/3 innings of work without allowing a run on six hits, striking out 11 and walking one.

Partin admitted that the tournament can become a bit of a “grind” and it started to wear his 17-man roster down as the days past. But he also said he hopes that a lot of the other teams will recognize that you can bring “your team” – the one you played with all summer – to Jupiter and win a championship.

And the reward was a simple one: “This was really neat to watch those kids out there with that dogpile; it was awesome,” Partin said shortly after he had expounded on the entire Jupiter experience:

“Nobody does it better than Perfect Game; this is awesome,” he said. “This event gets better and better every single year, and the talent of the teams is incredible. Every team in this tournament can win this tournament.”

And with all things considered, no one should be surprised that is the team from North Carolina with the blue-collar name wearing their distinctive camo uniforms, is the team that has now won out-right or shared the PG WWBA World Championship title – Jupiter – two times in the last seven years.

2016 WWBA World Championship runner-up: Team Elite Prime

2016 WWBA World Championship MVP: Davis Schneider

2016 WWBA World Championship MV-Pitchers: Mason Hickman (left) and Ethan Hankins

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