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Tournaments | Story | 10/19/2018

Warhawks a Jupiter staple

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Dutch Landis (Perfect Game)

JUPITER, Fla. – Without the early contributions, sacrifices, loyalty and even a little bit of daring-do by Ron Slusher and the Ohio Warhawks organization, the Perfect Game WWBA World Championship might not be celebrating its 20th birthday down here this weekend.

And Slusher is here as a big part of the celebration, back with yet another variation of Warhawks’ rosters from the past, one that will be competitive and always on the hunt for the program’s first Jupiter PG world championship.

Slusher took the time out to talk to PG for a few minutes before his team took the field for its second pool-play game at the event and was asked for any recollections he may have had of that first year.

“Andy (Ford) called me up back in 1997, and back then what we were doing (with the Warhawks), no one else was doing, getting kids and going out there, and we had a lot of success,” Slusher said. “He called me up and we were just shooting the crap together and we hit it off – really good friends.”

Slusher said the two continued to talk and he offered Ford a whole lot of suggestions – ideas, if you will – about what might be done, but went on to say that the Fords had a lot of really good ideas of their own; they didn’t need any help. And what it grew into – the PG WWBA World Championship, aka Jupiter – is what Slusher called “the best thing ever for the kids.”

In fact, when asked if he was surprised – amazed even – at what the Jupiter event has grown into, his response was “No, no, no, no – it was a no-brainer.”

And, for people like Slusher and others involved in the travel ball industry or as a part of the scouting community, it’s something that will never get old. He said he had a bit of health scare a couple of days ago when he was on a plane flying into the event, and while everything turned out fine, he remembered thinking, “If I have to ‘go’ anywhere, I want to ‘go’ right here.”

“If you’re a baseball guy and you love baseball and you love kids and you want to see them be a part of something special, nobody does it better than Perfect Game,” Slusher said. “Some of these kids that want to stay home and not come down because their advisor tells them to not come down, well, that’s because they’ve never played here. They have no idea what they’re missing by not being here.”

So, here’s Ron Slusher, back at the place where he hopes to someday in the very distant future to meet his maker. And for this year’s version of the Ohio Warhawks he’s partnered up with Danny Pralgo from the 643 DP Cougars organization to put together what they both think will be a very competitive group.

The two have known each other for around 20 years and the roster they’ve assembled features about a half-dozen Cougars and is filled out with Warhawks. It is a national roster, with the Cougar players from Georgia mixed in with Warhawks from Florida and Alabama to Iowa and Texas to Utah and California and plenty of train stops in between.

“I like this team a lot,” Slusher said. “Defensively, we’re solid; offensively, we’re solid, and any weaknesses we have is probably going to be in our pitching. … We can hit the ball – we can smack it – and I think we can make a run at it.”

The Ohio Warhawks/643 DP Cougars opened up on Thursday by playing to a 7-7 tie with the AZ D-Backs Scout Team and then blanked Miami PG Columbia Blue 4-0 on Friday. Incredibly, Slusher and Pralgo used 20 players in those two games with most of them playing for at least an inning or two in both.

In those two games, Andrew Jenkins had a pair of doubles, a single and three RBI; Max Pralgo had four singles and a double in nine at-bats (.556) and drove in two, and Daniel Cantu singled twice and drove in a run; no other player had more than one hit. All 2019s, Jenkins is ranked No. 133 and has committed to Georgia Tech, Pralgo is a top-500 (Miami, Ohio) and Cantu is a top-500 (South Florida).

Twelve pitchers were used and none of them worked more than 2 2/3 innings, and that strategy was certainly successful in Friday’s shutout win.

2019 left-handers Austin Teel (2 innings) and Nick Gottilla (2) and 2019 right-handers Dutch Landis (2) and Jake Thau (1) combined on a two-hitter, striking out 12 and walking two; Gottilla struck-out five and Teel and Gottilla two each. Teel is a top-500 headed for Wake Forest; Gottilla is a top-500 (uncommitted); Landis is ranked No. 178 (Arizona) and Thau is a top-500 (Long Beach St.).

2019s Michael Dominguez (No. 174) and Dylan Eskew (No. 188, Miami) are also highly regarded, as is top 2020 Ty Floyd (No. 155, uncommitted).

The PG WWBA World Championship’s 20th birthday run is nearing its halfway point, and many more memories will be made this weekend, and in the years to come. Slusher knows his routine and he doesn’t see it ever changing.

“The first thing I always do when I get down here is go to the (Marlins) tower to see my (PG) boys,” he said. “They know what I’m talking about when I say that they’ve come a long way in 20 years. Hell, I used to hit fungo for them but I can’t do that (stuff) no more.

“But, I will put it to you like this: When the Ford family quits coming down here, and Tyson (Kimm) and all those boys, I’m not coming down; that’s a fact.”

All-American Backstrom enjoying first Jupiter experience

Mahki Backstrom is a top prospect from Los Angeles, a PG All-American who lives near the Pacific Coast and who this weekend finds himself plying his trade on a massive baseball stage on the Atlantic Coast nearly 2,500 miles from home.

And, of course, the kid is enjoying every minute of it.

“First-off it’s real hot out here so need to drink a lot of water,” Backstrom said with a smile splashed across his face on Friday from the Roger Dean Stadium Complex while competing with the USA Prime/Prospect National Team at the WWBA World Championship.

“But, this is a really good tournament,” he said. “You see all the golf carts around you, and you try not to pay much attention to them. It’s a great experience being out here with my guys, and all my friends from California out here with me. … I’m feeling really comfortable and it’s really been a lot of fun.”

The “friends from California” he mentioned in passing are Tyresse Turner, Jordan Brown and Jashia Morrissey, who are a part of this carefully constructed USA Prime/PNT roster. It consists primarily of players of players from Texas, with some guys from California, Florida, Colorado and Illinois mixed in for good measure.

They each bring something unique to the table and co-head coach Trev Sanford of PNT – he shares the job with Brandon Gowins of USA Prime – called it a real “melting pot” of talent that does an excellent job of working together and feeing off one another. The personalities are different but endearing.

“I know the California boys and we’re all really fun and ecstatic, and the Texas boys, my god, Malikai, he’s a real goofball,” Backstrom said. “And those guys from Florida, Tulane, (they’re) awesome. So, we’re all one band even though we’re from different parts of the country; we’re just one people.”

In Malikai, Backstrom was talking about Tulane commit Malikai Wickley from Texas and It is assumed that when Backstrom said “Tulane” he was referring to Florida preps and Tulane commits Matthew Corlew and Dylan Goldstein.

Backstrom has been on some pretty big PG stages just in 2018 alone, competing at the 18u WWBA West Memorial Day Complex, the PG Sunshine West Showcase, the PG National Showcase, the WWBA 17u National Championship and, finally, at the PG All-American Classic. He is the No. 47-ranked national prospect in the 2019 class and has committed to Fresno State.

And for a player the caliber of Backstrom, each experience seems to be even more awesome than the previous one.

“Since the time I first strapped the cleats on, I was like, ‘This is what I want to do,” he said. “It’s just kept getting better from there. I’ve had to fight through some diversity, most definitely I can say that, but I’ve been shining through it; It’s been joyful.”

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