Tournaments : : Story
Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Another deep run for NBS 18u

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

FORT MYERS, Fla. – On Wednesday morning, up at the Player Development 5-Plex on this city’s far north side, Nelson Baseball School 18u played in its second Perfect Game national tournament semifinal-round playoff game in only five days.

The first was played at Perfect Game Park South-LakePoint in Emerson, Ga., on June 23, the final day of the 18u PG WWBA National Championship. Wednesday’s semifinal game took place on the second-to-last day at the 18u PG BCS National Championship.

Kennesaw, Ga.- based NBS 18u fell to the eventual 18u PG WWBA runner-up Game On West Braves out of LaGrange, Ga., in that semifinal at PG Park South five days ago.

Determined to regain the upper-hand, NBS 18u (6-1-0) posted a walk-off, 3-2 victory over the TBSA Patriots 18u (5-2-0) from Clearwater, Fla., on Wednesday, and will play in Thursday’s 18u PG BCS championship game against the Tallahassee, Fla.-based Next Level Baseball 18u (6-1-0).

Jubilation – and a definite sense of relief – engulfed the NBS 18u dugout at game’s end, and the players poured out onto the field to celebrate in one big dog-pile.

“We’ve gotten key hits in key situations and we’ve gotten great starts from our starters on the mound, and at a tournament like this with such a quick turn-around, that’s been huge for us,” NBS founder and 18u head coach Brian Nelson said. “We’ve played 16 games in 12 days … and I’m not going to say we’re running on fumes but the last 12 days have been pretty well stressed for us.”

Wednesday’s semifinal was tied 1-1 heading into the bottom of the seventh and the NBS 18u players must not have felt like playing extra-innings on the already hot and humid morning. Ty Delancey, hitting No. 10 in the batting order, led off with a single – his third hit of the day – and moved to second when lead-off hitter Bryson Parks laid down a sacrifice bunt.

With one out, TBSA Patriots 18u head coach Les Thompson decided to intentionally walk William Prater to set up a double-play. No. 3 hitter Gavin Harman spoiled that strategic move by lining a one-strike fastball into the gap in left-center, which sent Delancey scampering home with the winning run. NBS 18u had left the bases loaded twice during the game but Harman delivered a key hit when it was needed most.

For the first four innings, the game featured a dandy pitcher’s duel between NSB 18u right-hander Jordan Krueger and TBSA Patriots 18u righty Manny Martinez. Martinez was lifted after pitching four, three-hit, eight-strikeout innings, while Krueger was in it for the long haul. He finished with a complete-game five-hitter without allowing an earned run, and struck-out six without issuing a walk.

Krueger has an interesting story. Extremely young for his grade – he just turned 19 this month – the right-hander with a side-armed delivery graduated from North Paulding High School in Acworth, Ga., in 2016 and just completed his freshman year at Georgia’s Kennesaw State University. He made 16 relief appearances for the Owls this spring, and posted a 1-1 record with a 5.24 ERA in 22 1/3 innings pitched.

He’s been a part of the Nelson Baseball School program since he was 15 years old, and even though he has a year of college under his belt, he is age-eligible to play at the 18u PG BCS National Championship.

“It’s really a lot of fun,” Krueger said about playing with NBS one last summer. “Instead of getting shipped off to go play (summer league) college ball someplace, it’s really fun to come back here and have a real team environment with a lot of guys I already know.”

“It’s really cool with us being a high school-age program, and now with him being here it means that I’ve had Jordan for five years,” Nelson added. “It’s just real gratifying to see the progression that he’s made.”

Nelson would have started Krueger on Tuesday if NBS 18u had found itself in a must-win situation if it hoped to reach the final-four, but with a berth already wrapped-up, Nelson was able to hold him back and make Wednesday’s semifinal start.

Krueger made two starts at the 18u PG WWBA and was the winning pitcher in both, allowing just one earned run on 11 hits in 13 1/3 innings (0.50 ERA), with 13 strikeouts and two walks. He last pitched on June 22 and came in rested and ready to go.

“He was tremendous,” Nelson said. “In the first-inning he missed a couple of spots and they hit a couple of balls, but he’s been a bulldog for us.”

When he used the word “bulldog” to describe Krueger, Nelson could easily have been talking about any one of his players.:

“These guys have just really been tough, they really have,” he said. “One-through-nine in the lineup, and onto the pitching, to the guys that come in (late in games), it’s just a tough, hard-nosed group. And when you play this many days in row, you need that because if you take a day off, you’re done. They’ve learned that and they’ve just come ready to play.”

Eighteen players on NBS 18u’s official roster have signed national letters-of-intent to continue their careers in college, just like Krueger has already done. These aren’t your typical, big-school, D-I commitments, but instead commitments to smaller schools and programs like Western Carolina, Columbus State, Middle Georgia State and Trevecca Nazarene; several community colleges are also represented.

“We’re really built on guys that come into our program at 15 years old and they stay with us for four years,” Nelson said. “It’s a real tight-knit group, and we’ve got a lot of junior college and smaller Division I and Division II type guys.”

The TBSA Patriots 18u were also in the north Atlanta suburbs last week competing at the 17u PG WWBA National Championship, but didn’t achieve the same level of success as NBS, finishing 3-4-0. The Pats lost a couple of games by just one run while in Georgia, including a 3-2 setback at the hands of Nelson Baseball School 18u in both teams’ tournament-opener on June 19.

“I’ve been really happy with (this group) and everybody’s contributed where ever they’ve needed to be,” Thompson said Wednesday. “Any of the guys that we’ve plugged-in have stepped up to the plate and they’ve just been playing great baseball.”

The TBSA (Total Baseball Sports Academy) Patriots 18u roster is strikingly similar to that of NBS 18u’s in terms of its composition. The program finds players with a strong work ethic who largely escaped the attention of the country’s D-I programs, and lets them go to work. These players are going to continue their studies and baseball careers at schools like Barry, Oberlin College and St. Michael’s.

“We’re really looking for the type of kid that’s really looking for a job,” Thompson said. “They’re fighters, they’re ready to go to the next level, and to be honest, this year we didn’t know if we were going to have an 18u program. But these kids decided they wanted to come back for one last run, and we want to keep them in shape, keep them healthy and then send them off to the next level.”

As for the NBS 18u squad, they’re getting to wrap-up what has been a truly long grind – Thursday’s championship will be their 17th game in 13 days – and Nelson admits he’s starting to feel some fatigue, which makes him all the prouder of the way his players have held up.

He’s almost amazed at how these young men have been able to maintain their focus and do everything that’s been asked of them over the past two weeks, and collect a boatload of wins in the process. Heading in the championship game, NBS 18u is a combined 14-2 at the 18u PG WWBA and 18u PG BCS national championships.

“We’ve been focused, and with the success we had last week, we came down here to win this tournament,” Nelson said. “That was our goal coming in and anything short of that would be a little disappointing for us.”

“We come into these tournaments expecting to win every game; we think we have a great team,” Krueger concluded. “We know we can beat anybody we play.”

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