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Tournaments | Story | 10/18/2018

'17 champs boost '18 Canes

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Tucker Flint (Perfect Game)

JUPITER, Fla. – Field 4 on the Marlins’ side of the Roger Dean Stadium Complex was slowly beginning to clear of players and coaches last Oct. 23, about a half-hour after the championship game at the 2017 Perfect Game WWBA World Championship had mercifully reached its conclusion.

The Canes Prospects – Virginia-based Canes Baseball’s underclass entrant at the prestigious tournament – had somehow managed to outlast the FTB/SF Giants Scout Team in an incredibly hard-fought nine-inning affair, and the Canes’ Dylan Delucia – the event’s Most Valuable Pitcher – was soaking it all in.

“I’ve never been here, and I’ve never played in a tournament like this; it was truly a blessing to witness,” Delucia told PG a year ago. “The experience with the Canes, with the trip here and everything was 100 percent amazing. There’s not one place I’d rather be than here.”

The only thing better, had Delucia realized it at the time, may have been the thought that he’d be right back at that “amazing” place one year later, with 11 of his 2017 Prospects’ teammates once again playing alongside of him.

Twelve players that were members of the Canes Prospects team that won last year’s championship are back this year as part of the prospect-laden Canes National roster; two others are with the Canes American, who are no less loaded. It’s certainly worth mentioning that there is another Canes Prospects team in the field this year, too, and it boasts a roster packed with top 2020s.

“This is a good group of guys; fun to be around,” Jeff Petty, Canes Baseball President & CEO and National head coach Jeff Petty told PG on Thursday afternoon, opening day at this year’s 20th annual PG WWBA World Championship. “It always makes it better and it’s a lot of fun to come to the ballpark when you’ve got a good group of guys.”

And a talented group of guys, including a dozen who know what it’s like to win the championship at Jupiter, the most heavily scouted high school age-group amateur baseball tournament in the world. Underclass teams are seldom, if ever, favored to win the title at the PG WWBA World and when one does, it’s big news.

It also means that the other 87 teams in the field will be gunning for the Canes National just because of what many of the players on the roster have already experienced on this biggest of stages.

“It carries a lot of weight, because having success here is not easy to do,” Petty said. “So, when you have guys that have not only had success here but won the whole dag-gone thing, that’s beyond valuable. They’re probably not fazed by all the scouts and the carts and what Jupiter is and what it can be; it can be a little overwhelming for kids who have never seen it.”

Championship day at last year’s WWBA World turned into a grinding, nine-hour baseball marathon with both the Prospects and the runner-up FTB/SF Giants Scout Team willing their way through three games after also playing three games the previous day. To compound the fatigue factor, the Prospects needed 11 innings to get past the AZ D-Backs Scout Team in their semifinal contest.

“We had to go 11 innings in the semifinal game and everyone had to be mentally there; if you took a pitch off it could have been the pitch that might have won the game,” the Canes’ Tucker Flint told PG on Thursday. “… Just getting to Monday in the first place made us believe that we could actually do this and as each game kept going we believed that we could actually win this thing and make it a special time for us.”

The championship game went nine innings before the Canes could emerge with an 8-7 victory. It took 3½ hours to play and wasn’t decided until Flynn delivered an RBI single in the  top of the ninth. The one-out, groundball base-hit that scooted into right field sent CJ Rodriguez home – he was on second base after smacking a double – with what turned out to be the game-winner.

The Prospects rocked the FTB/SF Giants’ pitching staff for 14 hits and Flint was a key contributor with a 3-for-5 effort, driving in the winning run and scoring another one. It marked the fourth time in five years a team from the Virginia-based Canes Baseball organization had won the championship at the Jupiter event.

“We were all really tired; we had position players pitching we had pitchers playing positions,” Canes corner-infielder Andrew Compton recalled Thursday with a slow shake of his head as a smile crossed his face. “It was definitely a team effort and hopefully we can (do that) again this year.”

“It definitely made me stronger, for sure, and it definitely found out what my limits were,” top 2019 catcher CJ Rodriguez, who caught all 20 innings of the semifinals and championship games, said on Thursday. “It was fun, but once it was all over I just wanted to go to bed, I was so tired. It’s definitely one of the toughest tournaments to win, for sure.”

Six of the 12 2019s with the Nationals this week earned all-tournament recognition a year ago, including Delucia (top-500, College of Charleston) from Port Orange, Fla., the MV Pitcher. He pitched 11 2/3 innings over two appearances and gave up only one earned run on nine hits while striking out 17 and walking three.

The other all-tournament selections were Rodriguez (No. 173, Vanderbilt); Compton (No. 229, Georgia Tech); Tyler Kehoe (No. 143, uncommitted); Tyler Nesbitt (No. 168, Florida Gulf Coast); and Jack Jasiak (No. 329, South Florida).

Flint (No. 222, Maryland); Jason Diaz (No. 99, Miami); Griffin Agee (No. 278, Virginia); Patrick Alvarez (No. 401, North Carolina); Will McGregor (t-500, South Carolina) and Casey Green (t-500, Coastal Carolina) were also rostered with the Canes Prospects here last year. Von Seibert (t-500, Pearl River CC) and Andrew Boyd (t-1000, Radford) were Prospects who are rostered with the Canes American this week.

The most high-profile prospect on the Canes National roster wasn’t on last year’s Prospects team and, in fact, is making his Jupiter debut. But the national scouting community is certainly aware of Seattle’s Corbin Carroll, a 2019 outfielder and UCLA commit who is ranked No. 8 nationally and was the MVP at this summer’s PG All-American Classic.

And it doesn’t end with Carroll. PG All-American middle-infielders Cade Doughty (No. 35, LSU) and Anthony Volpe (No. 38, Vanderbilt) are also rostered, as are outfielder Chris Newell (No. 74, Virginia) and catcher Alex Milazzo (No. 217, LSU).

“You throw (those four) in with the guys we had last year, it’s lethal,” Petty said. “Those guys, I know they’re highly regarded and highly ranked, but guess what they love to do? They don’t like to lose; this group has nothing but winning but on (its) mind.”

He also mentioned the addition of top arms like the right-handers Nick Dean and Nolan Crisp, and the lefty Cy Nielsen to the pitching staff has done nothing but make his team that much deeper and even more formidable.

The Nationals couldn’t have got off to any better start than what they did in their opener Thursday afternoon. The 2019 right-handers Dean, Delucia and Thomas Schultz combined on a six-inning, six-strikeout, no-hitter in blanking DRB Elite/Georgia Bombers 8-0. Alvarez singled twice and drove in three runs, Flint doubled and drove in a pair and Newell singled twice and drove in two.

“They’re winners; there’s some fighters in that group,” Petty said. “They’re just tough kids – they hate to lose – and they just don’t give-in until the final bell is rung, obviously. … It’s the mentality of those kids and it doesn’t surprise me now that I’ve got to spend the whole year with those kids. I’m excited to come to the ballpark every day because these guys’ and minds are in the right place.”

Rodriguez said winning the 2017 championship was especially sweet because no one expected the Canes Prospects to win; they were dark-horses running in the blackness of night. They were initially looked upon as the younger brother to the Canes National and American teams of a year ago, and they just showed up at Roger Dean each day with the attitude of “Hey, let’s just go out and play a little baseball.”

“I think we’re even hungrier this time because we want to defend out title,” he said. “In my opinion, we have a stronger group of guys this year, too, so I think the chances are more in our favor; there’s a lot of chemistry on this team.”

Added Flint: “It was an amazing experience. It was the first time I had ever seen anything like this when I came here last year and it was amazing to see. And then as a team to be able to play the way that we did: everyone just happened to have one of their best weekends and everything just worked perfectly.”

And, finally, this from Compton: “Coming into the tournament we didn’t really expect to win it. We were just trying to get our work in, showcase ourselves and win some games … and we kept winning and kept winning and we ended up winning the whole thing: it was great. …

“(We learned) you can’t take anything for granted; just play for the team. You can’t play down to any level and play 100 percent all the time.”

As the weekend unfolds here at an MLB spring training complex (Cardinals, Marlins) not far from the Atlantic Coast, it might be wise to also keep an eye on the Canes American and Canes Prospects, as the Prospects prove last year.

Rob Younce is the head coach for the Americans  and Mike Petty is leads the Prospects, and Jeff Petty is quick to point out that both of those teams are here this weekend with the intent of winning a championship. Remember that when the Prospects reached the championship game last year that it was the second time in three years a Canes underclass team reached the finals (it lost to the Canes’ upperclass team in the 2015 championship).

“They’re here to win and they believe they’re going to win and they’ll fight until someone tells them to go home,” Jeff Petty said. “(Mike Petty) didn’t come down here last year thinking he was going to lose and he won the whole thing. The kids believe that they’re here to win and they believe that they can win.”

He said that team goals always come first for the Canes teams playing at the PG WWBA World Championship, and if those team goals are reached, individual goals will also be realized.

“As far as this group is concerned, the reality of it is, anything short of a championship won’t be good enough; it just won’t,” Petty concluded. “We’re going to give it our best effort and we’re really going to enjoy the experience that Jupiter is. Jupiter is a great experience … and you’ve really got to enjoy it because this is the last time with your seniors. We’ll enjoy it, have a good time and may the pieces fall where they fall.”

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