Tournaments : : Story
Sunday, January 14, 2018

MLK West great for eXposure

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

GLENDALE, Ariz. – With a roster perhaps best described as a melting pot for talent, eXposure West on Sunday made sure everything was in place and everyone was in synch – that this batch of stew had percolated to perfection – and there would be meaningful baseball to be played on Monday.

Thanks to the walk-off walk 2018 catcher/third baseman Joe Terlizzi induced in the bottom of the seventh inning, the West escaped Team Northwest, 4-3, to complete a 4-0-0 run through pool-play at the Perfect Game West MLK Championship-Upperclass.

Chattanooga, Tenn.-based eXposure West now heads into Monday’s six-team playoffs as the No. 3 seed after outscoring its four pool opponents by a combined 30-9. Reaching bracket-play was the goal, and finding success was one of the reasons everyone associated with the program gathered here in the desert in the first place.

“We get that we’re out here for the kids, we get that we’re out here for the (scouts), but at the end of the day there’s a winner and a loser and we want to compete,” eXposure Baseball owner/manager Brandon Turner said Sunday morning, speaking from the Dodgers’ side of the Camelback Ranch spring training complex. “That’s the thing that I like so much about this group so far this weekend.”

The West will face No. 6 Pacific Northwest Regional Team 2018 Royal (3-1-0, Washington) in one of the two Upperclass play-in games Monday morning on the White Sox side of the Camelback Ranch complex. No. 5 Sticks Baseball Academy (3-0-1, Arkansas) plays No. 4 GBG NW Marucci (4-0-0, Washington) in the other play-in game.

Recruits (4-0-0, Nevada) and North East Baseball National (4-0-0, Massachusetts) earned the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds, respectively, and byes directly into Monday’s semifinal round; North East Baseball is the defending PG MLK-Upperclass champion.

EXposure Baseball may be based in Tennessee, but this eXposure West roster is truly a national one; international, in fact. The players were brought together from California, Georgia and Illinois; Arizona, New Jersey and Utah; Kentucky, Missouri and Pennsylvania – and British Columbia.

Organization scouting director Dylan Bosheers is the man put in charge of assembling these eXposure Baseball national teams, and he did a fine job of putting the pieces together with this group.  The prospects are high school seniors (with one exception) and nine have entered PG’s class of 2018 national prospect rankings as top-500s or better; 10 have signed letters-of-intent with NCAA D-I schools.

Left-hander Kyler Bush (West Haven, Utah; Washington State) is the most highly ranked at No. 395; outfielder Tyler Acosta (Barrington, Ill.; Illinois) comes in at No. 468.

Catcher Austin Schmitt (Valley Park, Mo.; Louisiana-Monroe), catcher Chaz Bertolani (Alpharetta, Ga.; Lipscomb) and shortstop Nick Holesa (Huntingdon, Pa.; Virginia Tech) are among the 2018 top-500s. Sonny Fauci (Old Bridge, N.J.; St. John’s), the only 2019 on the roster, is a top-500 prospect in his class.

Left-hander/outfielder Paul Bergstrom (Mount Prospect, Ill.; Creighton), Tyler Cranston (Scottsdale, Ariz.; Elon), Gunner Smith (Dayton, Ky.; Eastern Illinois) and Terlizzi (Scottsdale, Ariz.; Texas-Arlington) are the other D-I signees.

Terlizzi is ranked in the top-1,000 and has been a solid contributor both at the plate and on the mound during the West’s run into bracket-play. He hit .556 (5-for-9) with a double and a triple, drove in two runs and posted a 1.603 OPS during pool-play; he also pitched three innings of one-hit, shutout ball with three strikeouts and one walk.

“We all came here not knowing each other, really, but the first day that we met everyone, we started gelling right away. It’s important to have good team chemistry just to start it off,” he said Sunday. “Every single guy on our team just competes every single game, every inning, every pitch, … and we’ve just grinded some games out; it’s been a great experience.”

Bush is a 6-foot-5, 225-pound lefty who gave up one earned run on two hits while striking a pair in 5 1/3 innings of work while picking up the win against the Dbacks Langley Blaze (British Columbia) on Saturday. Bush agreed with Terlizzi’s assessment of this West squad.

“It’s really been a lot of fun meeting a bunch of new guys with eXposure,” he said. “There have been a lot of scouts here watching us play, so it’s just good to be able to meet new players and also to have some other people get to see you play.”

It often takes some time for kids from different parts of the country to warm up to one another, but they inevitably do and forge friendships for life as a result. When this group got together for the first time before the tournament started, Turner said it took all of about 10 minutes before they began telling stories and cutting-up with one another.

“It’s been a really good group that way,” he said. “A lot of times its year-by-year – sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s not – and this year it’s worked in our favor.”

The only thing that Turner and the rest of the coaching staff asks of these players is that they get out on the field and compete with all their might and show effort and competitive drive. If that occurs, the coaches won’t be the least bit concerned about the story the scoreboard tells.

But at the same time, if the team was playing in the third inning during its first game together and observers got the impression the guys had been playing together for quite some time, that meant something positive was at work; it meant the players really do care about winning and losing.

Through his own experiences, Turner has discovered the not-so-subtle truth that when one kid who can really, really play is put alongside another kid who can really, really play, both will elevate their games to an even higher level.

He feels like this team has elevated its game this weekend and done an excellent job of finding different ways to win, like the walk-off walk from Terlizzi on Sunday, completing a comeback.

“We all want what’s best for each other and we’re all playing for each other; no one on this team is selfish,” Terlizzi said. “With everything that we’ve (accomplished), we want our whole team to be excited and be happy; we do everything for our teammates, really.

“Everyone out here is a great ballplayer, so you just know that even if you fail the next guy is going to pick you up,” he continued. “It makes everyone calm and relaxed and it makes all of us go out and play better.”

The benefits that come from participation in the PG MLK Championships are many, according to the players and coaches. Facing top-notch competition in tight game situations can give the players a mental edge as they head into their high school seasons; it also provides them with valuable exposure in front of major league scouts. Turner said there were at least a half-dozen watching Bush pitch on Saturday.

“For us, we love it, because when we left (Tennessee) it was 18 degrees and then we get out here and it’s 70 degrees,” he said through a smile. “It’s just a good situation, and not just for us as coaches but for all of our kids.”

Bush, being from Utah, agreed that it’s nice to get out in the sunshine and the 70-degree air in the middle of January, especially with the high school spring season on the not too distant horizon (although more distant for the kid from Utah than the kid from Arizona.) Bottom line, a lot can be learned from the experience.

“You kind of get to tell where you’re at and get an idea of what improvements you need to make as a player,” he said. “We’re all good players so we can go out here and learn from each other; we all play the game the same the way at the end of the day.”

Turner is confident that this group will maintain its same focus during Monday’s playoffs that it carried throughout pool-play. When a tournament field is whittled down to the final six teams, it’s a safe assumption every one of those half-dozen is going carry itself with a cool confidence; they’re already proven winners, after all.

“The goal is always to win (the tournament championship), and so the first step is to win your pool just to get into Monday and get that chance,” Terlizzi said. “We’ve played some tough teams, but we did what we needed to do to continue our weekend.”

PG MLK Underclass, Freshman playoff pairings set

Monday’s playoff pairings were also announced for the PG West MLK Championship-Underclass and PG West MLK Championship-Freshman tournaments at the completion of pool-play Sunday.

The Padres Scout Team (Arizona) and Sticks Baseball Academy (Arkansas) earned the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds, respectively, in the Underclass event, and received byes directly into the semifinal round; both went 4-0-0 in pool-play.

No. 5 Trosky Baseball USA (3-0-1, California) will face No. 4 AZ T-Rex Rawlings (4-0-0, Arizona) in one of the Underclass play-in games; No. 6 Dragons Elite (3-1-0, Washington) and No. 3 Premier Baseball Futures (4-0-0, Texas) meet in the other play-in game.

Pacific Northwest Baseball 2021 (3-0-0, Washington) and Elite Squad TX-South 2021 (3-0-0, Texas) are the top-two seeds in the Freshman division and earned byes into the semis. No. 5 Sticks Baseball Academy (3-0-0, Arkansas) and No. 4 Dykstra Baseball 2022 (3-0-0, California), and No. 6 Aggies Baseball 2021 (2-1-0, California) and the No. 3 CBA Matadors (California) face-off in the play-in games.

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