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Tournaments | Story | 10/8/2018

Co-champs wear Under crown

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: WWBA Underclass World co-champs (Perfect Game)



FORT MYERS, Fla. – None of the top teams that arrived here five days ago for this year’s Perfect Game WWBA Underclass World Championship wanted to leave with the word “co-champion” in front of their name. Please, can we just leave the "co" at the door as we're walking out.

But no one left jetBlue Park on Monday afternoon particularly disappointed or with a bone to pick when the Scorpions 2020 Founders Club and the East Cobb Astros 17u – the Nos. 1 and 2 playoff seeds, respectively – did in fact depart as co-champs. In a round-about way, perhaps, it felt like this outcome was the most appropriate way to recognize these two terrific teams without picking sides.

With the score tied 1-1 heading into the top of the eighth inning, the lightning warning siren wailed and the rain began to fall, and both coaching staffs and PG officials decided to bring the national championship event to a close; both teams finished with 7-0-1 records.

“It was a good week all-in-all, and obviously we would have liked to complete this game, but it’s raining pretty hard so it probably wouldn’t have worked,” the Scorpions 2020 Founders Club’s Matt Gerber said postgame.

No, it probably wouldn’t have, and this way players and coaches from both teams were able to be fitted for PG national championship rings down in jetBlue Park’s main concourse while the rain continued to fall; they are both deserving of those rings.

The championship game settled into a pitcher’s affair early on, but also one of missed opportunities on the Scorpions’ side. They left two runners on base in the first inning and the bases loaded in the second before finally breaking through in the bottom of the third when they were trailing 1-0.

Even then, the run they scored was unearned when Richie Morales led off by reaching on an error and eventually scored on a one-out fielder’s choice with CJ Kayfus doing the hitting. Seven 2020 Founders Club hitters singled in the game, and those were the only hits they had. The 3-through-5 batters in the Club’s order finished a combined 0-for-10 with three strikeouts, leaving numerous runners on base.

The Astros 17u had taken the lead in the top of the third when AJ Fiechter – who fielded his shortstop position with aplomb throughout the game – came up with a one-out single, Tiger Borom walked and Brad Grenkoski chased Fiechter home with a two-out double.

Astros 17u 2020 right-hander Zack Henderson worked the first 5 1/3 innings and surrendered only the one unearned run on seven hits.

One of the biggest turning points in the game came when Astros’ 17u head coach Josh Burrus handed the ball to 2020 right-hander Ethan Stamps with one-out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the sixth. Stamps promptly struck out the first two batters he faced, and worked 1 2/3 hitless, scoreless innings, striking out four and walking one.

The Scorpions’ Zac Veen, a 6-foot-3, 175-pound 2020 outfielder/utility from Port Orange, Fla., and a Central Florida commit ranked No. 478 nationally in his class, was named the Most Valuable Player. Veen hit just .273 (6-for-22) but those hits included a double and a monstrous walk-off home run in the semis; all seven of his RBI came in the Scorps’ quarterfinal and semifinal games.

Astros 17u 2020 right-hander Will Sanders was named the Most Valuable Pitcher. A 6-foot-6, 185-pounder from Atlanta, Sanders – a top-1,000 uncommitted prospect – worked 10 1/3 innings over two appearances without giving up a run on five hits, striking out three and walking two.

Lightning and rain may have brought the curtain down on the PG WWBA Underclass World Championship an inning or two early, but both of these teams played at the top of their game over the last five days.

“Our guys played really, really hard and had a great week,” Gerber said. “We played some really quality opponents and the pitching was very good for us all week.”

The East Cobb Astros 17u’s Burrus was all-in on his guys, as well: “We played well all weekend, and it was all of our guys,” he said. “We kind of came here short-handed … but I’ve got to give all our guys credit; everybody played well. We had somebody different every game that stepped up and performed.

“Again, every game we had somebody different … coming through with the big hit to keep rallies going,” he added. … “There was no selfish baseball and that was the biggest thing. Everybody played for one another and it was team-first.”

The Scorpions 2020 FC outscored their three pool-play opponents 26-0 en route to the No. 1 seed, and also won their second- and third-round playoff games by shutout. It got more interesting in the quarters and semis where the run differential was 14-11.

The Astros 17u were right there, too, earning the No. 2 seed by outscoring their pool-play foes by a combined 25-1 and then their first four playoff opponents by a combined 26-5.

“Those were the big things I thought we did very well,” Burrus said. “Pitching and defense, we played both lights-out, and we had some timely hitting.

Sanders pitched six innings of three-hit, shutout ball to help the Astros 17u to a 7-0 victory over the No. 11 Canes National (6-1-0) in one of the semifinals played Monday morning at the jetBlue Park complex. Stamps singled, doubled, drove in two runs and scored two others for East Cobb, while Andrew Bennett had a pair of singles and drove in a run.

Veen crushed a 1-out, walk-off solo home run – an absolute bomb, in the words of one PG observer – in the bottom of the ninth to lead the Scorpions 2020 FC to a thrilling 6-5 victory over never-say-die No. 12 Team Louisiana in the other semifinal.

Veen also singled and doubled and finished with four RBI, and pitched four innings of relief, allowing one run on five hits. CJ Kayfus singled four times, drove in a run and scored twice for the Scorps.

Connor Simon (3), Brody Drost (2) and Matthew Russo (2) combined for seven of Team Louisiana’s 10 singles in the loss; Drost drove in two runs and Simon scored three.

“Sheets Baseball Team Louisiana was an awesome opponent,” the Scorpions’ Gerber said. “I’ve been doing this for a long time and hats off to those guys. They really play the game hard and in the right way.”

At the end of the day, yes, the Scorpions 2020 Founders Club and the East Cobb Astros 17u were the co-champions at the PG WWBA Underclass World Championship. And both coaches feel like their players have grown-up as a result of the experience.

“I hope they’ve gotten better this week,” Gerber said. “I was talking to the East Cobb coaches before the game, and this is how you get better; it’s about playing the game and playing the game at this level. If you look at the major leagues right now there are a lot of guys that went through Perfect Game and they’re young … and the fact of the matter is that I think these guys are getting prepared earlier and earlier to play the game at a high level.”

Burrus concurred: “Individually, they’re all good ballplayers but now they’ve really seen that playing together is much bigger,” he said. “When you play together big things and great things will happen to you and I hope that’s what they can take out of this weekend.”


2018 WWBA Underclass World Championship MVP: Zac Veen



2018 WWBA Underclass World Championship MV-Pitcher: Will Sanders





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