GLENDALE, Ariz. – Anticipation filled the 110-degree air that engulfed the Camelback Ranch MLB spring training complex early Sunday afternoon, and for good reason. A ballgame of considerable consequence between two teams stocked with considerable talent was about to be played.
The game was one of four to be contested in the quarterfinal-round of the playoffs at the Perfect Game WWBA Underclass West National Championship Protected by G-Form, and there was some added spice to the stew of intrigue because it was a rematch of a pool-play game from Friday, the tournament’s opening day.
In that first go-around, the Jupiter, Fla.-based SACSN National Team broke a 1-1 tie with three runs in the top of the sixth inning and held on for a 4-2 victory against the perennially strong and nationally elite SoCal-based San Diego Show.
The SACSN NT advanced to the 16-team playoffs by virtue of its pool championship while the Show secured a berth with one of seven at-large bids. After each won a first-round game Sunday morning, the rematch quickly became a must-see for fans, parents and scouts alike.
“We’re excited about that, for sure,” SACSN NT top 2019 prospect Chandler Freeman told PG about an hour before the game’s first pitch. “The San Diego Show are one of the better teams in this tournament, obviously, and they played a good game with us the first time around, so we’re excited.”
While the third baseman/right-hander Freeman, a Dallas Baptist commit from Liberty Hill, Texas, went into the quarterfinal clash ranked No. 120 nationally in the 2019 clash, his counterpart on the Show roster, uncommitted first baseman/outfielder Garrett Frechette from Vista, Calif., entered as the No. 67-ranked 2019.
“When you go against a team like (SACSN) with their pitching, it just it makes it more exciting to compete against them,” Frechette said. “We’re all really looking forward to it.”
It was everything anyone could have hoped it would be. With the score tied at 3 heading into the bottom of the seventh, the No. 2-seeded SACSN National Team (5-0-0) took advantage of a couple of walks to get men into scoring position and then beat the No. 10 Show (3-2-0) by a 4-3 count on a walk-off sacrifice fly from Pierce Gallo out of Marietta, Ga.
“Every time you come out here, you want to play good teams. It’s counter-productive if you play less than competitive teams that you’re looking to play,” Show founder and head coach Brian Cain said. “We (welcomed) the challenge, absolutely.”
That outcome, along with three others, set up the Underclass West’s Monday morning semifinal pairings, and from a seedings standpoint it’s a very unlikely final-four, except for No. 2 SACSN. It will face No. 11 CBA Nevada 2019 (4-1-0) out of Henderson, Nev., in one semi while the other is very much a neighborhood affair: No. 13 AZ T-Rex Rawlings (4-1-0) from Scottsdale will go head-to-head with the No. 16 Canyon Thunder 17u (3-1-1) out of Phoenix.
The Thunder 17u enjoyed a memorable day on Sunday, taking out the No. 1-seeded CBA Wave Gold out of San Diego in the first-round before besting the No. 8 SoCal Tribe from Lakewood, Calif., in the quarters.
It has been an emotional weekend for several members of the SACSN National Team that call Florida home due to the impact of Hurricane Irma. The SACSN program, under the direction of Frank Torre Jr., is based in Jupiter – Torre Jr. was unable to be here because of the hurricane – and eight players on the official roster are Floridians.
Acting head coach Tino Gaudino is also from Jupiter, which serves as the long-time host city of the PG WWBA World Championship every October. He’s proud of the way this entire team has responded on the field this weekend and how they’ve stayed true to the program’s well-known anti-bullying campaign.
“The players really started to jell together after many of them had hectic flights getting out of Florida and getting out of everywhere,” he said. “They’re a special group and they’re here for our cause … and they enjoy it and I really enjoy them. They’re starting to click and everybody is really starting to play well now.”
The SACSN National Team roster includes seven 2019s and 2020s ranked in the top 292 nationally in their respective class, including Freeman and No. 8 and No. 11 2020s Dylan Crews and Ethan Long, respectively. Crews is one of those Florida kids, as is No. 192-ranked 2019 Kevin Martin.
Gaudino’s biggest challenge as the head coach of this deep and talented team is making sure everyone gets the playing time they deserve. He recalled that before that first game against the Show on Friday, during what was essentially a getting-to-know-you moment, he asked his eight position players where they normally hit in the order; they all answered either the 3- or 4-hole.
“I call them ‘the donkeys’ because pretty much from 3 through 8 are big power hitters. I tell them not to worry about where you’re hitting because you’re playing with a bunch of studs today and just do your part and figure it out.
“We just kind of try to go with the hottest guys at the right time and everybody’s going to contribute and try to win a ring here.”
SACSN outscored its three pool-play foes by a combined 15-3 and beat the Glendale, Ariz.-based Mountain Lions, 12-0, in the playoffs’ first round before edging the Show.
“It’s been really fun being with such a talented group,” said Freeman, who usually plays with the Texas-based DBAT Elite. “It’s a bunch of guys who came out here with the intent to win and it’s just been a lot of fun. The first night was kind of tough but as the days went on we really started to get comfortable with each other and play well together, which always is nice.”
The San Diego Show, with a storied history of performing well at PG national championship tournaments regardless of age-group, bounced back from the opening-night loss to SACSN by winning three games by a combined 16-1 score before running into SACSN again. They beat the Dana Point, Calif.-based Trosky Redbirds, 4-0, in the playoffs’ first-round Sunday morning.
“We’ve grown together as a team, just with the bonding experience,” Frechette said. “It’s just playing team baseball, that’s the main thing. Just cleaning it all up and competing; that’s what it’s all about. So many (elite) players came out of the Show so it’s kind of an honor to put this jersey on; it’s a big thing.”
Cain has been at this a long time, and he has perspective that others lack. He loves bringing his San Diego-area players to the Arizona desert in September because he knows experiences like the PG WWBA Underclass West National Championship will only make them better.
To his way of thinking, the baseball season never stops, at least for the prospect that dreams of playing at the collegiate or professional level. Position players, especially, need to learn how to grind-out a long season, and all that repetition seems sure to bring positive results.
“You see them right after they’ve left high school to come play travel ball during the summer, and from June 1st until now, you can see their growth mentally and physically,” Cain said. “There are a lot of guys that are playing out here, you can just see how their maturity levels have increased in the last three months. They’re growing up and it’s good to see.”
The SACSN National Team left the Camelback Ranch complex Sunday afternoon knowing they’ll get a chance to play for something special in the morning: a PG national championship and the swag that comes with it.
“They all came here to win a ring and have athletes step up and promote our anti-bullying campaign and be a part of something for the community,” Gaudino said. “It’s their goal to win a ring because we got one the first year we came out here (2013) and we haven’t won one since. They want to be that team that wins another one.
“We’ve just got to keep hitting,” he concluded. “We’ve been playing flawless defense pretty much the whole tournament and the pitching has been there all weekend.”