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Tournaments  | Championship  | 6/14/2017

WWBA Qualifiers crowned

Steven Walters     
Photo: Perfect Game

Team Elite 17u Prime emerged as the champion in the 17u WWBA National Championship Qualifier, beating the 643 DP Cougars Pralgo in the championship game at LakePoint on Wednesday afternoon.

Team Elite 17u Prime and the 643 DP Cougars came in as the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds respectively, and Team Elite continued their terrific tournament run, winning the deciding championship matchup by a score of 4-0.

Both teams had strong showings in pool play, with each winning their respective pools and moving on to the playoffs.

Although Team Elite 17u Prime coach Brad Bouras realized that his team started out slow at the plate, they finished the tournament strong, scoring 56 runs over their final seven games. During that streak, they scored no fewer than seven runs in a game except for in the championship game.

The team also dominated on the mound, allowing only five runs over their nine games. In the semifinals, Ethan Hankins showcased his high-octane fastball, touching 97 mph on the radar gun, while consistently sitting at 94-96 mph. Hankins would strikeout seven hitters over five innings, as his team would run-rule the MGBA Braves 8-0 in their path to the championship game.

A walk-off hit sent the Cougars into the championship. They were down 3-2 for most of their game against the Ninth Inning Royals Edwards, before they tied the game at 3-3 in the seventh. Ben Harris would double to push his team to the championship, winning the semifinal matchup 4-3.

The championship game was a highly anticipated matchup between two of the top ranked 17u teams in the country.

Bouras would give the ball to righty Ethan Smith, who went five innings, giving up just one hit, while punching out five. Smith’s fastball ranged from 88-92 mph, with his slider around 80 mph. He also mixed in a curveball at 70 mph that he was able to work off of his fastball.

“I felt like just outside command and being able to throw my slider and curveball down in the zone, trying to get them to pop out and groundballs,” Smith said.

Smith’s performance led him to winning the MV-Pitcher award for the tournament. Over the span of two starts, Smith struck out nine batters over 10 innings, giving up only one earned run in the process.

“It means a lot. It’s my first time, so it’s pretty important to me,” Smith said. “Being able to pitch in it with this great team is great experience for me.”

The Cougars would counter with lefty Daniel Livnat, who surrendered four earned runs over six innings. Although he provided innings for the Cougars, it was not enough to beat the tough Team Elite lineup.

Team Elite scored the first runs of the game in the bottom of the second inning on a two RBI double by the extra-hitter Shane Marshall. The University of Georgia commit would finish the game 2-for-2 with three RBIs to lead his team’s efforts.

The early offense allowed Smith to get into a groove on the mound and he took command of the game from that point on.

“Well, when we get early runs, I can try to make them just hit the ball and try to get themselves out instead of just trying to just strike everybody out,” Smith said.

The team would tack on one more in the third thanks to a Will Banfield RBI double. Banfield’s double was his only hit of the game, finishing the day 1-for-3. They would add another insurance run in the sixth to put the game further away from the Cougars.

Team Elite 17u Prime has played deep into the playoffs in many of their recent tournaments, and although they could have let that affect them, they continued to show the energy that Bouras saw earlier in the tournament, even though many of his players were dealing with the grind of summer baseball.

“They really showed a strong will to win and compete,” Bouras said. “A lot of guys were tired, [had] sore arms. We’ve been playing a lot of baseball in the last seven, eight, nine days between a lot in the previous event, and then this event right here, so basically, they showed that they can play with some bumps and bruises, when they’re tired and step it up. Several guys played outstanding considering all of the circumstances of all the games we’ve been playing in.”

With the championship win, the team secured a paid spot in the WWBA 17u National Championship at the end of June. After the team spoke with Perfect Game about their goals earlier in the week, Bouras said that this would be huge for them to be able to have the spot. Their goal became a reality, and Bouras expressed excitement as they were named champions, and he looked forward to the competition that awaits them in the WWBA.

“We’re proud and honored to be able to get an opportunity to play in the national championship event, Bouras said. “It’s such an opportunity for the kids to play at a great complex at LakePoint and play in front of scouts and an opportunity to compete with the best players in the nation,” Bouras said.

The MV-Player of the tournament was Drew Hamrock of the 643 DP Cougars Pralgo. The Virginia commit went 12-for-28 with 10 RBIs and two stolen bases for the Cougars.

2017 17u WWBA National Championship Qualifier champions: Team Elite 17u Prime

2017 17u WWBA National Championship Qualifier runner-up: 643 DP Cougars Pralgo

2017 17u WWBA National Championship Qualifier MVP: Drew Hamrock

2017 17u WWBA National Championship Qualifier MV-Pitcher: Ethan Smith

EMERSON, Ga. – The 643 DP Cougars Sterling beat Team GA Baseball Gold 16u to win the 16u WWBA National Championship Qualifier, capturing a paid spot into the 16u WWBA National Championship in July.

The defense was working early for the Cougars, who were flawless in the field. In the top of the first, with a runner on second, Gavin Rose of Team GA Baseball singled to right field, but the run was cut down at the plate on a strong throw by Andrew Jenkins. The Cougars would strike first in the bottom of the second inning on an RBI double by Ryland Goede. He would score on an RBI single by Caden Smith.

Team GA would respond with two runs of their own in the Top of the third inning, via a two-out, RBI double by Ben Petty. The Cougars would threaten again in the bottom of the third, but a slick back-handed play by Logan Tanner at third base would end the threat. Team GA later had runners on second and third with one out, but Cougars starter Sebastian Thomas would induce a pop out and a flyout to prevent Team GA from tying the game at two.

643 would push across a run in the fifth and three in the sixth to seal the deal and leave the park with the championship trophy, winning by a score of 6-1.

The No. 1-seeded Cougars dominated their pool, putting up a robust 71 runs in pool play to coast to the playoffs. Their offense had three games of 10 or more runs, including a 17-0 performance against the Georgia Bombers 16u Gaines.

The pitching was equally as impressive, surrendering only five runs over seven pool play games. They were led on the mound by lefty Luke Jannetta, who went 10 innings, giving up two earned runs, while striking out 13.

“We got quality starts by everybody,” Sterling said. “Our starting pitchers brought us deep, and our hitters were an important part of that being able to shorten games.”

Both were on display in the championship game, as they continued their tournament dominance.

Thomas received the start for the Cougars against Team GA, who had averaged 6.3 runs per game in pool play. The 6-foot-5, 215-pound righty sat in the mid-80s, and turned in six strong innings, surrendering only five hits and one earned run, striking out four.

“It took him a minute to get going,” Sterling said. “He wasn’t locating as well as he usually does early in the game, and once we got past that fourth inning, he located his fastball in, and he threw his breaking ball much tighter.”

Thomas, too, realized that he was able to settle in on the mound in the latter innings. He said a key proponent of that was his catcher Wood Kimbrough.

“I thought my fastball was working a lot,” Thomas said. “Getting ahead, especially in those last two innings after the fourth, the fifth and sixth innings were really good for me. Everything was working, I was spotting up, and I could use my off-speed. My catcher back there, Wood Kimbrough, he’s a heck of a dude, made a big difference in that game for me.”

Thomas would be named the MV-Pitcher of the tournament after going 11 innings, while giving up only one earned run, and striking out nine hitters over two starts.

“This is my first, so it’s a big moment. It’s always good to win it, and I’m just excited. This is going to be a big summer for us, and hopefully not the [last] one I get.”

Thomas said that the run support was another factor that allowed him to be comfortable on the mound.

“It helps so much to be able to understand that you have a lead and that you can trust your guys to get you a lead when you need it,” Thomas said. “I don’t have to worry about this team, this team rakes, and I never have to worry about obtaining a lead, because they do it for me.”

The offense broke the game open in the later innings, and finished the weekend with 87 runs having crossed the plate. Sterling said that the offensive attack was due to the team facing top-flight pitching while playing older age teams in the prior weeks.

“We were able to slow the game down immensely this week,” Sterling said. “Two weeks ago, we played in two 18u events, the 18u Memorial Day, had a good run in that, then we made it to the championship game in the 18u PG. Then we played in a 17u event where we go into bracket play, which set up this 16-year-old tournament, and it’s helped us slow the game down playing against 16-year-olds.”

Luke Boynton and Ryland Goede were the spark plugs in the team’s offense against Team GA Baseball. Boynton went 2-for-2 with two runs scored, while Goede went 3-for-3 with three RBIs. John Giesler, who added an RBI to the team’s performance, would be named the MV-Player of the tournament after going 14-for-26 with five doubles, two triples, two home runs, two stolen bases and 15 RBIs.

“John was locked in the entire time,” Sterling said. “It was solid contact, solid contact, solid contact. I think he hit a few gap balls. Basically, anytime John came up to the plate, we knew something productive was going to happen.”

Giesler said that he was not even focused on winning the award, he just wanted to contribute.

“I was just trying to put the ball in play and help my team win,” Giesler said. “We had a bunch of guys on this team like Luke [Boynton], Ryland Goede, Andrew Jenkins who could’ve gotten this. I wasn’t expecting this.”

The team said this win not only meant a lot to the team because of their experience with each other, but for their parents, knowing how much they put into them financially for them to play baseball.

“That means a lot. Our parents always work hard in getting us here and paying for our summer, and this is all because of them,” Thomas said. “To be able to give them back something, it means a lot to me, and this team knows that, and we’re just happy to get after it.”

“It means a lot to our parents,” Sterling said. “I know they’re going to love having a freebie into a very expensive tournament. Perfect Game is as good as it gets, and they’re worth their price tag, so being able to get a little bit of something back is really important to our parents.” 

2017 16u WWBA National Championship Qualifier champions: 643 DP Cougars Sterling

2017 16u WWBA National Championship Qualifier runner-up: Team GA Baseball Gold 16u

2017 16u WWBA National Championship Qualifier MVP: John Giesler

2017 16u WWBA National Championship Qualifier MV-Pitcher: Sebastian Thomas