Tournaments | Story | 6/12/2017

Bond, pitching keys to .45s

Steven Walters        
Photo: Perfect Game

EMERSON, Ga. – The 17u East Cobb Colt .45s are no strangers to the WWBA National Championship Qualifier, having won the event last year as a 16-year-old team. Much of the team’s roster has remained intact, and so has their goal of winning the tournament, which would grant them a paid spot into the WWBA National Championship at the end of June.

“I think it would be just a huge accomplishment, especially winning it last year in the 16s and then moving up to the 17s to win it, and then having everyone here back and healthy is the biggest part of it that’s going to help us,” said Colt .45s coach Mitch Terry.

They carry a 5-1 record in the tournament so far, with a 0-1 loss to Extreme Elite 17u on Monday afternoon being the only blemish to their record. Will Shirah turned in a strong outing for the Colt .45s, going four innings, giving up an unearned run, while striking out eight. The Caleb Bartolero was the only player to collect a hit off Extreme starter Charlie Erler, who turned in a brilliant complete game, one-hit shutout, while striking out eight. Even with the loss, the offense and the pitching have been clicking for the team, and so far in the tournament, the team has outscored opponents 44-5. Terry stated a more aggressive approach being the difference for the team in this tournament.

“From our offense, it’s been more of an aggressive approach,” Terry said. “We started the year off being passive, trying to get that one perfect pitch, and this time their aggressive approach that they’ve taken is more of finding their pitch and not just trying to hit the perfect one, so that’s helped a lot.”

The pitching has also hit their stride, shutting out three of their six opponents so far. Terry attributes to the success on the mound to pitching in the zone.

“The first four games, we were throwing strikes,” Terry said. “That’s what we told our guys, we didn’t care what the velocity was, we didn’t care what pitch it was, as long as they were filling up the strike zone, trying to throw strikes. Those first games they were just filling up the zone, working their pitches and letting the defense work.”

The pool play in the WWBA National Championship Qualifier is different from the usual Perfect Game tournaments, with teams playing seven pool play games. This is the same setup as the WWBA National Championship. In a normal tournament, teams play only three pool play games, which doesn’t require teams to have a wealth of pitching, but a collection of arms is necessary when there are seven pool play games.

“The experience with the extended pool play, when you have seven games in pool, you know you have to have a lot of guys that can go the distance or be able to pitch in one game and rest a little bit and then come back and pitch in again,” Terry said. “It helps a lot, where as in other ones, you have three pool play games and so you have to do it quick to get those three games, but in the seven one, it’s the longevity of it.”

As a team, the Colt .45s have 13 players committed, and even though some are not committed quite yet, Terry said that this tournament can provide a great opportunity for exposure because of the longevity of pool play.

“Going back to the extended pool play, you have a lot of games where you can get a lot of guys in, and they get to see how these bigger tournaments are played,” Terry said. “It gives scouts or coaches a longer look at them, being able to see them in different scenarios, whether having to come into a game or start a game, against a very strong opponent or a weak opponent, just see how they can adjust to the game throughout.”

Leading the pitching staff are two top ranked pitchers, Luke Bartnicki and Davis Sharpe. Bartnicki, the No. 12 player in the class of 2018, is committed to Georgia Tech, a place that he chose because of the academics, baseball program, and the proximity to home. The lefty features a fastball that sits in the low to mid-90s. Terry said that it is not just the velocity, but the fluidity that Bartnicki throws with that impresses him the most.

“It’s just how easy he can do it. It’s very effortless,” Terry said. “He has a mind where he doesn’t get rattled, if any adversity happens, he stays composed. With Luke, though, it’s being able to repeat his feel, repeat his delivery, and he just doesn’t use a lot of energy when he does it, and so it’s important that when he gets in that rhythm, he stays in that rhythm, and that’s what helps him.”

The 6-foot-3, 210-pound lefty features a four-pitch mix of a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, changeup and slider. He said that he relies on the two-seam fastball early in the count, and breaks out the four-seam fastball when he needs to blow it by hitters. He is working on his off-speed pitches, and says that he is pushed b his teammates to improve his game every day.

“Honestly, this team has a lot of good pitchers, so we’re very competitive with, and we always want to get better,” Bartnicki said. “Since we’re very competitive, we always want to be the No. 1 guy, so that has helped me to strive to become the No. 1 guy.”

Terry said that Bartnicki’s biggest improvement over the past year is his stamina, which now allows him to go deeper into games and keep his command for longer in the game.

“His command has improved a lot," Terry said. “Last year, he would go three, four innings, and you would start to see the velocity drop and the command drop a little bit, but you can see that he’s built up his stamina and strength to where he’s able to stay in the zone for a longer period of time.”

Sharpe, a 6-foot-4, 200-pound righty, is another player ranked on the Colt .45s, and brings a low-90s fastball to the table. The Clemson commit not only shows good velocity, he shows composure and competitiveness on the mound, which gives him his edge as a player.

“He’s just a competitor,” Terry said. “He gets on the mound, and every pitch, he’s just going to compete against the guy in the box. He doesn’t look at who’s hitting, he competes with him, and each pitch he’s trying to win.”

The No. 112 ranked player in the class of 2018 said that he has enjoyed the competition of playing in Perfect Game events and feels that he improves each tournament.

“It’s great. They have the best facilities, the best umpires, just the best everything, and the best competition, and I just love playing here. We’ve played in tons of tournaments, and I think playing every tournament helps you in the next one and with the experience and competition, I feel like you get better every tournament,” Sharpe said.

Both Bartnicki and Sharpe are prepared to make another run at the championship, and they said that the bond that they have developed with the team, in addition to the experience that they have gained by playing in numerous playoff games over the past year together could make a big difference in their play.

“It makes us know how to get the job done," Bartnicki said. “Since we have experience in winning, we know what it takes. We basically have the same pitching lineup, so we know how to use our pitching. I think we can do it.”

The team will play its final pool play game against Sharks Elite on Tuesday at 12:45 p.m. They are currently tied in first place in their pool with Extreme Elite, who is 4-0-2. Terry offered these words on what his team needs to do going forward in the tournament.

“Just stay with that aggressive approach,” Terry said. “If you see that slow down at all, then the game will get away from you, so we tell them to just stay aggressive no matter what the score is, no matter what inning it is, every pitch stay aggressive.”

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