Tournaments | Story | 6/13/2017

Team Elite primed for run

Steven Walters        
Photo: Perfect Game

EMERSON, Ga. – Talent is flowing in abundance for the No. 4 ranked Team Elite 17u Prime, who is off to a hot start in the 17u WWBA National Championship Qualifier at LakePoint, owners of a 6-0 record with one game left in pool play.

The pitching has stood out for Team Elite 17u Prime, with their pitchers surrendering only five runs over six games. They have produced three shutouts as a staff, something that is not unusual for a squad this talented. In this tournament, Ethan Smith turned in a good start against the East Cobb Athletics, giving up only one earned run over five innings, while Alex Havlicek also showed well in his start against the Georgia Bombers, going five innings, striking out 11 hitters.

“We have a very talented pitching staff,” said Prime coach Brad Bouras. “We have a lot of live arms, a lot of guys who can light up the radar gun pretty well. The best thing I think our staff does, though, is we can pitch. A lot of our pitchers can throw three pitches for strikes. They really want to compete, they look forward to the day they’re pitching all week, they prepare for it, and so that’s probably been the best thing about it is our will to compete game in and game out with whichever guys we put out on the mound.”

The team still has top pitchers Kumar Rocker and Ethan Hankins waiting in the wings for the playoffs. Rocker and Hankins both feature fastballs that sit in the low to mid-90s, and both players are ranked in the top 10 in the class of 2018 per Perfect Game.

The pitching staff has been the beneficiaries of an offense that has broken out in its past four games, scoring 36 runs in that span. They have crossed the plate 42 times so far, and Bouras said that their recent success was due to a change in approach that he spoke to his team about.

“The very first game of the week of the actual event we struck out a good bit, and I got on them and told them to cut down on the strikeouts, and we’ve done that since then,” Bouras said. “They’ve done a great job of two strike hitting, a great job of situational hitting, and we’ve had a bunch of guys come up big with some clutch hits.”

Will Banfield, ranked by Perfect Game as the No. 6 player in the country, echoed the situational approach of Bouras.

“Just trying to see the ball and hit the ball. Just wanting the pitcher to throw me a strike, so that I can drive a runner in or do my job and be a leadoff hitter and try to get on-base any way I can,” Banfield said.

The team lost in the quarterfinals of the Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational on Thursday, June 8, and had a quick turnaround to begin this tournament the very next day. Although the little rest could’ve had an adverse effect on the team, Bouras said that the team has shown good energy through the team’s first five games.

“We came right off of that PG Invitational and had very little rest from the playoffs of that, and I was worried that our guys would be a little dead from playing all those games right there and then rolling right into this event, and I was really happy to see a lot of intensity in the dugout, a lot of high energy. Guys are taking good approaches at the plate,” Bouras said.

The team is looking forward to using the tournament as an opportunity to expose their players to top talent, while also using it to grow closer as a team. The team is comprised of players from seven different states, and although chemistry is hard to build when players are not familiar with each other, it helps when players are able to play a lot of games with each other to grow more comfortable.

“The big thing right now, especially with these type of talented teams, you’ve got guys that are out of state, guys that are in state, and some guys that have never played with each other before, but the biggest thing right now is to build chemistry, with everyone getting to know each other and understand everyone’s strengths and weaknesses, what their roles are on the team, and for the coaching staff learn our players as well, and to build that chemistry going into the July National Championships,” Bouras said.

The team has 21 committed players, including Rocker, a Vanderbilt commit, who said that the exposure that the organization provides by playing in tournaments like this, in addition to the organization’s philosophy of development, has helped him grow as a player.

“I started when I was 15. They showed me a lot of exposure, which started me off well, and then they’ve kept my arm healthy. All around a great program,” Rocker said.

The team won their game on Monday night against Top Notch 17u to push their record to 6-0 in the pool. Angelo Dispigna went 2-for-3 with three RBIs out of the No. 12 spot in the lineup, while Isaiah Byars, a University of Alabama commit, went 2-for-4 with an RBI to add to his team efforts.

They will play the Tampa Storm 17u on Tuesday at 12:45 p.m. for their final pool play game and will move on to the playoffs, which begin at 7:15 p.m. later that night. They are on their way to their overarching goal of winning the tournament, which would provide them with a paid invitation into the 17u WWBA National Championship at the end of June.

“[It would] mean a lot,” Bouras said about the possibility of winning the paid spot. “Every year we play in the [WWBA National Championship] and to go and play that event every year is a huge deal, and it’s an awesome opportunity for teams. To have the spot actually paid for is really cool too. So obviously everyone wants to save money in their budgets, and it may allow a team to play in another event later to end the summer that they may have not planned for.”

“It’d be awesome for us,” Banfield said. “I’m really excited about it, and hopefully we’ll keep it rolling.”

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