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Tournaments | Story | 5/27/2017

Development key for Clippers

Steven Walters        
Photo: Perfect Game

EMERSON, Ga. – “Developmental.” That was the word that Webster Beal used to describe the HQ4 Clippers organization. Beal, the head coach of the HQ4 Clippers 16u team, has coached many of these kids since they were 11 years old, and has seen the importance of development first hand.

“I think it’s very important to develop a kid at a younger age, mechanic wise and the whole state of their play,” Beal said.

The Charlotte-based organization has been around for about 10 years, beginning as a developmental program for high school and middle school kids, and transforming into a travel baseball organization about six years ago. The organization now features six teams from ages 13 to 18.

“We started as a developmental program for high school kids and middle school kids and then we added a travel ball program about six years ago,” Beal said. “At the beginning stages, definitely hard coaching during practices, always showing up with a plan, and then taking that plan to the field [is what we try to do].”

The goal now is to develop players into college baseball players, something that Beal knows a lot about himself. Beal pitched at Gardner-Webb University from 2005-08, posting a 5-6 record in his senior year, while finishing second on the team in innings with 74. The organization features other coaches with college experience, including Chet Greeson (Western Carolina), AJ Wright (Coastal Carolina) and Mike Dowdy (Brandeis University).

“I think I’ve matured a lot. [The coaches] have helped me perfect my game,” said Jackson Benjamin. “We work a lot fundamentally in the field at practice, and I think I’ve matured a lot there.”

John Gunthorpe, an outfielder of the class of 2019, stated his improvement on the mental side of the game.

“It’s made me better mentally, in the way I approach the game, in the way I approach hitting and in the way I approach defense whatever the position,” Gunthorpe said.

Beal credits the organizational philosophy of development and the coaches around him as a key factor in driving kids to get to that same level of play.

“The whole developmental program [makes us unique] as well. One of our faces in the organization is [Hal] Bagwell, he’s the head coach at Ardrey Kell High School, and he runs all our camps, he’s really our face. A lot of parents and kids will buy into his program because he teaches as if they were going to college, especially if you go to his high school.”

James Johnson, who was named to the Top Prospect and All Tournament Teams for the 2016 Freshman PG Series Classic in August, also expressed how he benefitted from the developmental style of coaching.

“When I first did the All Freshman Tournament in Fort Myers, I definitely learned a lot, especially being on my own and not knowing people on teams [helped] so I can mature and do what I’m supposed to do.”

His goals for the tournament included working in the changeup to his repertoire.

“[My goals are to] just produce, hit well, pitch well,” Johnson said. “I’m pitching today, and hopefully I’ll be working in a changeup pretty well.”

The team as a whole will use the 16u WWBA Memorial Day Tournament at LakePoint as another opportunity to develop as a program.

“Coming in and playing these really good teams, it’ll show you how good you are as a team,” Johnson said.

The team has played four Perfect Game tournaments over the past few years, including the 15u PG Super25 National Championship at JetBlue Park in 2016. Beal has recognized how the tournaments have helped them improve.

“We’ve played in all kinds of tournaments, but really, when we come to Perfect Game tournaments its to play some of the best ball players in the country,” Beal said. “There’s really no competition [to Perfect Game tournaments] when it comes to talent level.”

The team faced the Georgia Bombers 16u, the No. 44 ranked 16u team per Perfect Game, and were shutout 10-0. Even with the tough loss, Beal took the positive out of the opportunity to face a nationally ranked team.

“They were solid through and throughout, and I don’t know if we’ll play a better team maybe the whole season, so kind of set our standards to playing them, and there’s only one way to go from there,” Beal said.  

The Clippers dropped their second game 10-3 against the 643 DP Jags 15u. Johnson started the game going 4 2/3 innings, surrendering five hits and two earned runs. The righthander topped out at 80 mph, while featuring a changeup and curveball.

The team will look to continue to improve over the weekend, realizing the opportunity to grow against some of the top talent in the area.

“It’s good because we have something to strive for,” Gunthorpe said. “We know that this is the best of the best, so if we perform well in this, then we know that we can do even better things since were so new with everybody.”

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