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Tournaments | Story | 1/13/2017

LVR 2020 eyes PG MLK gold

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

GLENDALE, Ariz. – The 32-team Perfect Game West MLK Freshman Championship got underway at the Camelback Ranch spring training complex Friday morning with a sense of anticipation riding in on the chilly desert air.

Many of the top 15u and 14u teams from eight states – Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Minnesota, Nevada, Texas and Washington – arrived ready to compete for the championship, which in five previous years has gone to teams from either Arizona and California. One somewhat veteran team from Nevada – or, at least, as veteran as a 15u team can be – is hoping to change that history this weekend.

Las Vegas-based LVR 2020 (Las Vegas Recruits) is on hand boasting an already glossy resume it built over the course of successful 2016 summer and fall seasons.

This LVR 2020 team has been together for over two years now and finished No. 8 in PG’s final 2016 14u Travel Team National rankings after winning championships at the PG WWBA West Memorial Day Classic ad PG/EvoShield Freshman National Championship. It finished 3-0-1 and didn’t advance to the playoffs as a 14u team at this same event last year.

“We did really well last year at this tournament, and we were basically playing up (an age-group),” LVR 2020 co-manager Brad Maloff said Friday morning. “This year we’re kind of ‘of age’ and I feel like we’re going to really well.”

The team is competing here with an 11-man roster – nine 2020s and two 2021s – and every player on the roster is both battle-tested and feature PG trophy rooms with multiple all-tournament citations. The leader of the band is 2020 third baseman/right-handed pitcher Jaden Agassi who at No. 17 is the highest ranked prospect from his class playing in the event.

Agassi, a 6-foot-1, 178-pounder from Las Vegas, was named the Most Valuable Player at the 2016 14u PG WWBA West Memorial Day Classic and the Most Valuable Pitcher at the 2016 PG/EvoShield Freshman National Championship. He also took part in the inaugural 14u Perfect Game Select Baseball Festival in Fort Myers, Fla., last Labor Day Weekend.

Bradley Stone, a 5-foot-11, 170-pound 2020 middle-infielder/right-hander from Las Vegas, is ranked 143rd nationally in his class, and Tyler Whitaker, a 6-foot-1, 175-pound 2021 right-hander/third baseman from Vegas, is ranked No. 4 nationally in his class.

“Away from the field we’re a really fun team and we can all relate to each other really well,” Stone said Friday morning. “When we’re out there playing the game, we know everything about each other and what each other is going to do, and we’re connected in a certain way. … We’re basically out here just trying to get better every day.”

The boys from Vegas got things started in style Friday, topping the Inglewood, Calif.-based JGB Rockstars, 9-0 in five innings; they scored their nine runs by putting to good use five hits and 11 walks.

Logan Bleazard – who has been playing for Maloff since he was 8 years old – singled twice and drove in a pair of runs, Cayden Castellanos singled and drove in two, and Emilio Morales doubled and picked up an RBI. 2020 right-handers Agassi and Zach Hose, and 2021 lefty Shane Stafford combined on an eight-strikeout one-hitter without issuing a walk.

“In our program with this age-group specifically, they’ve found a way to win pretty consistently for a while now,” Maloff said. “We have a bunch of good players in our program, but this group has always been really successful; they just play hard. They’ve been together for a while … so they’ve played together and they kind of know what to expect.”

There is another LVR team playing in the PG MLK Freshman Championship and it is a true 14u team. Some of those youngsters are freshman this year and will get their first taste of high school baseball in the spring. So most of the LVR players are with the program for nine months out of the year and with their high school programs the other three months.

The players on the LVR 2020 team take the month of December off from most baseball activities, so everyone is just kind of getting back in the swing of things here in the middle of January. But they weren’t idle all winter, taking trips for team camps to both the University of Oklahoma and Texas Christian University in November. Still, it feels good to be back at it.

“I feel like I haven’t coached for a long time after being down in December so I’m really excited to be out here at this tournament,” Maloff said.

Added Stone: “We normally come to all these Perfect Game tournaments around here and they’re all really fun. We get good competition from a lot of these teams – they’re good, close games – and back in Vegas we don’t always get that.”

With his players a year older and a year wiser than they were when they were at this event in 2016, Maloff doesn’t feel like he needs to worry about their mindset coming in. He does, however, miss being in the underdog a role a young team playing “up” often finds itself in. Sometimes a team that isn’t expected to win might fight just a little bit harder while it works to shed that underdog label.

“Coming in here this year a little bit older, what I don’t want put of them is just expecting to win when we walk out on the field,” Maloff said. “They’ve got to earn it every single time, and we’ve got to make sure they keep that mindset. Even though we’re the same age as everybody else, you’ve got to earn a win every time you walk out there.”

Every player that is part of the LVR program has benefitted from the experience. They’ve been given the opportunity to see the country while playing the game they love – they will be going to Georgia this summer to play in one of the PG WWBA National Championship tournaments – and have learned valuable life lessons while also making themselves better ballplayers.

“I was actually sitting in the car before I came in here and I was thinking about how much of a better player I’ve grown into just by being with this team,” Stone said. “The competition level we play and our coaches have a lot to do with that.”

Play at the PG West MLK Freshman Championship continues through the weekend and into Monday’s holiday at Camelback Ranch, the Maryvale Stadium Complex in Phoenix and various high school fields in the West Valley. The 40-team PG West MLK Upperclass Championship and the 32-team PG West MLK Underclass Championship are also being contested this weekend at the same venues.

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