All American Game | Story | 7/13/2017

PG A-A Willis leads Sox in WWBA

Steven Walters        
Photo: Perfect Game

EMERSON, Ga. – Christopher Willis was one of 50 players to hear their name called on Tuesday as participants in the 2017 Perfect Game All-American Classic, with the announcement coming right in the middle of the 16u WWBA National Championships at LakePoint. The Louisiana native attended PG National in June, having an opportunity to be amongst the best in that event and is excited for another chance at that atmosphere in August’s event.

“It was an awesome feeling,” said Willis. “I’m grateful that I got the opportunity to go and compete with the best players, and I’m also grateful that I was selected to play in the All-American game. That’s an honor. They only pick 50, so it was a blessing to be picked in the top 50.”

Willis is ranked at the No. 38 overall player in the class of 2018 and is young for his class, just recently turning 17 years old. Even then, he continues to impress on the big stage, showing no signs of being behind the curve. He has been named to an All-Tournament Team four times in his PG experience, including an Most Valuable Player award in the 2015 14u WWBA National Championship. Being around the best has only made him better, learning from each player he has been around so that he can continue to grow in this game.

“Everyone there’s humble,” said Willis about his teammates at PG National. “They know they’re good, but they’re still humble. They’re not cocky. They remain calm, they never stress out over if like they could’ve had a better at bat. They shake it off and move on and it’s a blessing to be around the humble people.”

In addition to playing amongst many of the top players in San Diego, Willis said that he is also looking forward to the off the field activities. One of those opportunities is the visit to the children at Rady Children’s Hospital. Each year, Perfect Game teams up with Rady to not only visit the hospital, but to conduct a fundraiser for the children there, and to this day, $950,000 has been raised by Perfect Game.

“Just meeting all those kids and getting to spend time with them,” Willis said. “I know it’s an awesome feeling to spend time with those kids and just be around them. I know they touch peoples’ heart when you hang around them, and I just want to be around them and help them get better.”

The 6-foot-4, 185-pound catcher is among the best because of his bat, being able to hit for both average and power. Even though Willis thought he struggled with the bat, he drew rave reviews from scouts for his hitting ability at PG National. The left-handed hitting Willis has cemented his All-American status in the 16u WWBA National Championship, hitting .467 (7-for-15) with a triple, three home runs and five RBIs for the East Coast Sox Select.

“He’s just a game changer with one swing,” said Sox head coach Chris Snopek. “He hits the ball hard in the gaps, can go deep anytime, works the count really well, really protects the hitters in front and behind him, and so it just gives us really aggressive offense with him in the lineup and gives us a chance to have extra bases.”

The Sox have moved on the second round of the playoffs behind Willis’ bat. They defeated the Carolina Rockies 5-3 at 8 a.m. in the round of 64, and look to follow in the shoes of last year’s 16-year-old team who won the event in 2016. Willis would triple out of the No. 2 spot to get the lineup going in the first, scoring on a Jordan Beck single to left field. Brody Moore would later single home two runs to push the early lead to 3-0.

“I just want to try to stay towards the middle, hit the ball hard, not worry about trying to hit the ball far, just hitting it hard,” Moore said.

Kaleb Hill started on the mound for the Sox, and was solid through three innings before hitting a bump in the fourth. Three of the first four hitters in the inning would reach against the Mississippi commit before Nick Leonard would hit an RBI single with the bases loaded to knock Hill out of the game. Fellow Mississippi commit Harrison Dorsett would be thrown into the fire, surrendering two runs before escaping the jam with a 4-3 lead. With the playoffs being comprised of five inning games, there is a lot more pressure on the players and coaches alike because of the smaller margin for error.

“I think the difference is you got to be a little more aggressive the bases early, just because you have five innings,” Snopek said. “I think offensively, you’ve got to execute more bunts, kind of more small ball. Obviously, pitchers you have to be real careful with it just cause in the five inning format, if they throw over 20 pitches, they’re toast, so there’s a lot of things you have to manage differently, the pitching, the hitting, the short game and also baserunning.”

Although focused on the short game, the long game would pad the lead for the Sox, who were aided by a long solo-home-run by Hayden Dunhurst in the bottom of the fourth. Dorsett would shut the door from there, preserving the two-run lead to move his team on to the next round.

The No. 26-seeded team has played to a 6-0-1 record, showing flashes of brilliance on both sides of the ball. They have outscored opponents 34-11. Pitching wise, Ryan Hawks turned in a dominant performance against Team Elite South 16u Goodwin, throwing seven one-hit innings, striking out nine.

At the plate, Moore, Willie Joe Garry Jr., and Logan Letney have been major contributors at the plate, all hitting behind Willis. Moore is 6-for-12 with three RBIs, Garry Jr. is 8-for-15 with three RBIs and Letney is 6-for-12 with six RBI’s. Behind that success are teammates who feed off each other and want to help the team succeed.

“This is like a brotherhood. When one man gets down we pick him up. When one man struggles, the next man picks him up,” Willis said. “So, it’s like a brotherhood, and we’re a family. We all love each other and we all have a good time playing the game.”

Led by their newly named All-American, the East Coast Sox Select are back on the field at 3 p.m. to play the winner of the game between the No. 58-seeded Canes North 16u and the No. 7-seeded OTC Ballers Red. Although they have four games to go to reach the championship game, Snopek just needed to see what he has seen out of his team this tournament and needs them to continue the focus they brought in their first playoff game.

“They’re resilient. A lot of those guys have been here and so they’re patient. I think that they’re starting to learn how to adjust to the pitcher and to the umpire, so that’s what I’m seeing is that they’re just resilient, they don’t give up, so that’s what we need,” Snopek said. “There are four games today, that’s what you need.”

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