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Tournaments | Story | 10/21/2018

Freshman Final 4 set for battle

Bryan Cooney        
Photo: Parker Byrd (Perfect Game)

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – After three days of competition, 64 teams have been whittled down to the final four at the WWBA Freshman World Championship in West Palm Beach after a grind of a day of playoff matchups. On one side of the bracket, the South Charlotte Panthers will take on Canes National 2022 while US Elite 15u National will battle 5 Star National Black 15u, with the paths for all four being very different with how they reached Championship Monday.

The Panthers were the team that punched their ticket in the most dramatic fashion. They needed a rally from three runs down in the final three innings of their quarterfinal matchup against Cangelosi Sparks Black to eventually walk off with a 5-4 victory as Braylen Hayes (2022, Sophia, N.C.) scampered home on a 3-2 pitch in the dirt with two outs.

After outscoring their pool play opponents 26-3 to earn the No. 3 overall seed in the playoff bracket, the Panthers made short work of the FTB Rockets with an 8-3 victory in their second round matchup thanks in large part to a 3-for-3, four RBI performance from Xavier Issac (2022, Kernersville, N.C.).

Going into their meeting with the Sparks running on all cylinders, the Panthers committed a critical error on a sacrifice bunt which led to a one-all tie becoming a 4-1 Sparks’ lead entering the fifth inning. The Panthers chipped away with a pair of runs in the fifth to get to within a run, while reliever Nathan Chrismon (2022, China Grove, N.C.) kept his team in the game with two scoreless frames after entering in the fifth.

In the bottom of the sixth Parker Byrd (2022, Laurinburg, N.C.) drove in the game-tying run with a single to center to score Aiden Evans (2022, Cornelius, N.C.) from second to send the game to the seventh even at four.

Chrismon put up another zero in the seventh and the Panthers quickly worked a threat for free as Hayes worked a four-pitch walk to lead off their half of the inning. After a bunt moved him up to second, a walk made it first and third for Evans who used his speed to beat out a potential double-play ball to leave it up to Chrismon. On a 3-2 pitch, a breaking ball bounded away from the Sparks catcher and Hayes slid in safely to send the Panthers to Monday’s semifinal.

They will match up with Canes National 2022, who earned the No. 2 overall seed in the playoff bracket but needed to overcome a stiff test from the No. 7-seed Elite Squad in their quarterfinal matchup. With the game tied at two in the fifth inning, Adam Shepard (2022, Manassas, Va.) gave the Canes the lead for good with an RBI double to left as they finished off a 5-3 victory to remain unbeaten in the tournament.

With three of the top bats throughout the tournament in David Mershon (2022, Taylors, S.C. – 10-for-15, five RBI), Virginia commit Nathan Fink (2022, No. 8, Charlottesville, Va. – 9-for-18, four stolen bases) and Shepard (7-for-12, nine RBI), the Canes will be a formidable lineup for all challengers to contend with on Monday.

On the opposite side of the bracket, US Elite 15u National forged their way to the semifinals with a tense 4-3 victory over Team Elite Prime 15u in a game that went down to the last pitch. After US Elite jumped ahead with a 3-1 lead after the first inning, Team Elite kept the game manageable and mounted a sixth-inning rally trailing 4-2 with their first three batters reaching to load the bases against US Elite starter Jesus Gonzalez (2022, Hialeah, Fla.). Reliever Gavin Woodland (2022, Vailer, Ill.) was called upon to put out the fire and after a strikeout and fielder’s choice allowed Team Elite to close to within 4-3, Woodland got a groundout to shortstop to wrap up US Elite’s semifinal spot.

Gonzalez struck out eight in his five innings of work and offensively Mason Morris (2022, Felton, Del.) went 2-for-3 with an RBI. Morris, Sal Stewart (2022, No. 9, Miami, Fla.) and Drew Wyers (2022, Columbus, N.J.) led US Elite in the tournament with six hits apiece.

Their semifinal opponent is the lone club that needed to come all the way from the first round of the playoffs and win three games on Sunday to have a shot for a championship.

5 Star National Black was up early with an 8 a.m. matchup against Team Elite Nation 15u and broke out the bats to score an 11-2 victory to set up a rematch with Cannons Baseball Academy 2022, who came on top over 5 Star with a 3-1 victory to win Pool J. After falling behind 1-0 in the first inning, 5 Star scored two runs in the second and three in the third to take command. Tanner Zallem (2022, Fleming Island, Fla.) launched a two-run home run in the fifth and starter Sullivan Brackin (2022, Jacksonville, Fla.) racked up 11 strikeouts in his complete game victory as 5 Star won 8-2 to set up a quarterfinal matchup with the Top Tier Roos 2022.

5 Star jumped out in front of the Roos early with a four-spot in the first inning as Brackin, Tag Williams (2022, Monticello, Fla.) and Tanner Knowles (2022, Kathleen, Ga.) all produced run-scoring hits.

That gave their starter Hunter Russell (2022, Fleming Island, Fla) a four-run lead to work with before he stepped on the mound. The righthander made that lead stand as he pitched into the sixth inning, striking out seven in his 5 1/3 innings of work.

Zallem, who leads 5 Star with six hits and six RBI for the tournament, had a two-run single for 5 Star as they added three runs in the fifth on their way to sealing their spot in Monday’s semifinals.

Both semifinal matchups begin at 8 a.m., with the championship game to be played at 11 a.m. at the FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beach Stadium.

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