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Tournaments | Story | 7/6/2017

Viper Baseball bites Scorpions

Steven Walters     
Photo: Perfect Game


EMERSON, Ga. – A pitching duel emerged early in the morning between Britt Sparks of the No. 56-seeded Viper Baseball Academy and Slade Cecconi of the No. 9-seeded Scorpions 2018 Prime. Sparks would win the duel, shutting out the Scorpions 1-0 to advance his team to the next round of the playoffs in the 17u WWBA National Championship.

“Well, he threw Saturday and he was really good. His fastball location was really good and he had a good mix of secondary pitches, so we felt like if he went out and did the same thing today, he’d keep us in the ball game, and he was good again today,” said Viper head coach Rickie Diehl.

The Troy commit would throw 3 2/3 innings, allowing two hits, two walks, striking out four. The 6-foot-5, 190-pound righty featured a fastball that ranged from 87-91 mph. He also featured a breaking ball that was around 73-75 mph and kept hitters guessing all morning.

“My off-speed was working well, I knew they could hit a fastball, so I had to really work on off-speed to keep them off-balance during the game. Throw strikes, get outs. Just the normal game, can’t over think it,” Sparks said.

It was the second outing of the tournament for Sparks, who had gone five innings, giving up four hits and two earned runs in a loss against the Indiana Prospects. Diehl recognized that Sparks was on again today and emphasized how Spark’s three pitch mix has allowed him to have success, especially in this game.

“Well, I mean he mixed everything, he threw his changeup in 0-0 counts, he threw his slider in 0-0 counts, so our game play was to make sure just to keep them off balance, don’t let the barrel get to the ball. Outside of one hitter that got a barrel on the ball, which is a mistake changeup, he mixed everything well and just kept them of balance and they never knew what’s coming,” Diehl said.

Cecconi was brilliant on the other side for the Scorpions, allowing only one hit and one walk over five innings of work. The No. 6 player in the class of 2018 punched out seven batters over his body of work, and was spotting up all day, showing excellent command of his fastball to the glove side. Unfortunately for him, he was on the wrong end of the deal. Diehl praised Cecconi’s efforts after the game after seeing how tough he was to hit.

“The guy that we were facing was excellent. Hats off to him. Good velocity, mixed a curveball when he needed to,” Diehl said.

Fortunately for VBA, the walk and the hit came in the same inning. After a strikeout and a groundout in the fourth, it seemed to be another quick inning for Cecconi, who had thrown only 33 pitches to get through 3 2/3 innings. Taylor Easterling had other thoughts, singling on a line drive up the middle to collect the first hit against Cecconi. Tommy Crider would draw a 3-2 walk to place runners on first and second with two outs. That brought up Sparks with a chance to help out his cause.

“Well, I was thinking he was going to throw me a fastball first pitch, so I was fixing to swing no matter what. I guess that was my approach, to hit it hard and I didn’t,” Sparks said with a chuckle.

Sparks would break his bat on the pitch, sending a blooping ball to shortstop with a lot of topspin. The Scorpions shortstop would bobble the ball, allowing Easterling to score from second, which allowed Viper Baseball Academy to take a 1-0 lead.

“Anything can happen in baseball,” Easterling said, “and a little blooper, [the shortstop] made an error and bobbled it. I scored from second base. It was the winning run, it helped us out and all I can say we’re going to go grind this next game and play as a team like we have been this whole tournament.”

That would be all VBA would need, as Jacob McNairy would come in and shut the door on the Scorpions, moving on to the next round. Diehl said that he was not surprised by the performance of his team, who comes together nicely to craft performances like this one.

“They show me this every time we go out. We’re just grinders. Everybody you see here is built from Viper Baseball Academy. We don’t go buy players, we don’t bring in this, we go play baseball,” Diehl said. “So, every time we go on the field, these guys right here know how we’ve got to play. We’re going to go grind. We’re going to do whatever we’ve got to do to find a way to win. This is a team. They know each other inside and out. When that happens, you can beat teams.”

VBA will play the winner of the game between Nelson Baseball School 17u Red and Diamond Skills Dodgers at 4:45 p.m. on Thursday at LakePoint. The Huntsville, Ala.-based team is now 4-1, and have outscored opponents 28-3. Pitching has been a strength of the team, with the staff having thrown four shutouts and not having allowed a run since they gave up three in their first game of pool play. To this point they have struck out 35 hitters over 29 1/3 innings, and look to continue their dominance moving forward. The offense, although quiet in this one, has also done well, posting three games of eight or more runs in their final three pool play games. Even with the team clicking on all cylinders, the overall theme has been team play, which they hope to continue through the tournament.

“We just all came together, came together as a team, just knew what we had to do to get to the next game and advance to get to the championship,” Easterling said. “We’re going to keep grinding it out and keep trying to win. That’s all we’re going to do.”


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