Tournaments | Story | 7/13/2018

MW Dodgers reach 17u elite 8

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Matthew Boyer (Perfect Game)

FORT MYERS, Fla. – The players and coaches from the Fairview Heights, Ill.-based Midwest Dodgers 17u team first stepped out on the field at City of Palms Park right around 7:30 Friday morning; it was 5:30 p.m. when they were finally able to walk off.

It was quite a day for the MW Dodgers 17u, who somehow managed to outlast two opponents over 15 innings of play and a weather delay that brought a halt to the action for almost four hours, and who will now play in Saturday morning’s quarterfinal round of the playoffs at the Perfect Game 17u BCS National Championship.

No one was all that surprised when the No. 17-seeded Midwest Dodgers 17u outlasted the No. 16 Florida Burn 2019 UHit, 10-9, in a first-round playoff game at COP, a contest with an 8 o’clock first-pitch Friday morning.

But they surprised everyone when they took the No. 1-seeded Top Tier Roos 17u Americans into an eight-inning tie-breaker in a second-round game and emerged with an 11-9 victory. No. 17 over No. 1 isn’t unprecedented but it is most certainly unusual and unexpected.

“We went 5-0 in the last tournament we played in so we felt like we had a good pace going on coming in down here to Florida; the guys are coming together really well,” Midwest Dodgers 17u head coach Kevin Pitts told PG on Friday. “Once we play good baseball, clean baseball, we’re a good team.”

The Midwest Dodgers 17u’s upset of the TT Roos 17u Americans capped a remarkable and head-scratching day at the 17u BCS where the top-four seeds – the No. 1 Roos 17u Americans, No. 2 East Cobb Astros, No. 3 Team Elite 17u Prime and No. 4 Team Elite 17u Premier – were all eliminated with second-round playoff losses.

Among the top six seeds that received byes directly into second-round play in the championship bracket, only No. 5 Diamond Elite (6-0-1_) and No. 6 Elite Squad 17u American (6-0-1) are still alive. The complete quarterfinal pairings can be found by clicking here.

The PG BCS National Championship tournaments have long employed a unique format where teams play a first set of three pool-play games in the event’s first two days. They are then reseeded based on the results of those first three games and play three more pool games over days three and four.

The new set of four-team pools are classified as either a “championship” or a “consolation” pool. In the case of the 17u BCS, there were 13 championship pools and the top-two finishers out of those pools advanced to the 26-team championship bracket; the first- and second-round games were played Friday morning.

The Midwest Dodgers 17u (7-1-0) received the playoffs’ No. 17 seed after finishing the first set of pool-play at 3-0-0, outscoring its opponents by a combined 28-12. They went 2-1-0 in the second set, with the runs-scored, runs-against numbers a push at 22-22.

The Dodgers beat the No. 16-seeded Florida Burn 2019 UHit, 10-9, in a back-and-forth first-round game at COP Friday morning. They led 5-2 after two innings, 6-4 after 4½ and 10-5 after 6½, and then held on by the skin of their proverbial teeth for the victory.

The lineup rapped out 10 hits, all singles, in the 11-9, eight-inning, tie-breaker rule win over the Top Tier Roos 17u Americans (6-1-0) in the second-rounder. T.J. Morgan, Jake Ambuel and Kyle Dixon had two safeties apiece; Morgan drove in two runs, Ambuel and Dixon one apiece.

Matthew Boyer singled, drove in three runs and scored twice, and the 2019 right-hander also tossed 5 2/3 innings, giving up three earned runs on six hits with five strikeouts and six walks. Drew Dant, Drew Parres, Boyer and Morgan have been big run-producers for Midwest, with 10, nine, eight and eight RBI, respectively.

“I’ve been pleased with (the players) simply because coming where we’re from – the Midwest – we don’t face a lot southern guys, the guys that stay around the game and play the year-around,” Pitts said. “Being from the Midwest, we’ve only got six months out of the year to play baseball (outdoors) and this is a good experience for these guys who are trying to go off to college and play.”

Most of the 2019 Illinois prep prospects that populate the Midwest Dodgers 17u roster come from Southern Illinois cities like Aviston, Evansville, Edwardsville, Glen Carbon and Carlinville that are considerably closer to St. Louis, Mo., than Chicago, Ill.

Pitts has several players, like the right-handers Boyer from Glen Carbon and Dixon from Carlinville – the latter is a Southern Illinois University commit – who have been with him for three or four years.

“All I’m asking them to do is to come out and play clean baseball,” he said. “I want them to love the game, play it well and have fun, but at the same time we’re trying to win. This is a selling point to where you’ve got scouts out here and (the players) are trying to get to the next level, so I tell them they’ve got to come out here and sell themselves.”

The TT Roos 17u Americans’ head coach Jason Miller looked at all the variables that accompany the BCS National Championship format and decided on a course of action that he felt might help his team take advantage of the unique format.

And, it was working pretty well right up until they ran into the Midwest Dodgers 17u, with the TT Roos 17u Americans earning the No. 1 seed by outscoring their six pool-play opponents by a combined 49-5.

“We came into this event with a plan which was a little different from what we’ve done all summer,” he said. “We went with the idea of bull-penning some of our bigger arms early in the week so they could come back later.”

The TT Roos 17u roster is stacked with top 2019s – and a couple of high-end 2020s – all from the Tampa Bay area. Seven have committed to D-I schools including No. 238-ranked right-hander/outfielder Hunter Mink (Florida) and No. 265 outfielder/left-hander Derek Crum (Wake Forest).

Infielder/right-hander Tanner Mink (South Florida), left-hander/first baseman Marc DeGusipe (Florida Atlantic) and middle-infielder/outfielder Colton Olasin (Bethune-Cookman) – all 2019 top-500s – have also committed. Jackson Miller, a 2020 catcher/utility, has committed to Wake Forest.

“Never take a pitch off, never take a game off,” Miller said when asked what his message was to these young guys as both the 17u BCS and their summer season comes to an end. “We’ve been fortunate this week to advance into the (championship) side of the bracket where there may be other events where you may not do that and you go into a consolation, and those games are equally as important.

“It’s not always about necessarily who’s watching … it’s about taking the same mindset to each of their games, whether it’s a championship-level game or a consolation game, that will only make them better.”

Miller went on to say that he’s really enjoyed coaching this group of Top Tier Roos mostly because it’s such a loose group of high school seniors who have had a lot of fun playing with each other this summer. Most of them have played together for the last two or three years, and they’ve grown to become great teammates with a ton of confidence in themselves.

“They go about their business, they’re professional in the way they handle the game and the way they handle us as coaches, and the way they handle their opponents,” he said. “Their baseball acumen is very high so its enjoyable from a coaching perspective to sit back and let them do their thing.”

The Midwest Dodgers 17u’s Pitts was enjoying a homecoming of sorts at City of Palms Park on Friday morning. He was a 26th-round pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1992 MLB June Amateur Draft and he had been here before.

He said he played in spring training games with other Dodgers minor-leaguers at COP in 1993 when it was the Red Sox’s Grapefruit League ballpark. That was before the Dodgers moved their spring training headquarters to Arizona and the Cactus League, and the Red Sox moved their Grapefruit League base of operations to the new jetBlue Park in southeast Fort Myers.

Pitts is now a hitting instructor up in Illinois who put together this one 17u team that has now reached the quarterfinal round at a Perfect Game national championship tournament. The team is more than 1,000 miles away from its home base in Illinois but there is no place any of the players or coaches would rather be than right here in Southwest Florida playing for a PG national championship.

“If they want to go to the next level and play baseball, this is the kind of tournament that you want to be in where you’re playing guys from all over,” Pitts said. “Now they can see it and match themselves up with some of the other guys out here.”

The Midwest Dodgers 17u will face the No. 9 Florida Burn 2019 Platinum (7-1-0) in a quarterfinal matchup Saturday at 8 a.m. on Field 3 at the jetBlue Park Player Development Complex.

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