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Tournaments | Story | 6/28/2019

Coast-to-coast BPA combination

Cory Van Dyke     
Photo: Kemp Alderman (Perfect Game)

MARIETTA, Ga. – Some West Coast flair has made its way to Georgia for the 2019 WWBA 17u National Championship. BPA 17u based out of Laguna Niguel, California arrived on the East Coast and quickly asserted itself with a 8-0 victory over Rockies 17’s Purple in the opening game of pool play.

However, the roster isn’t entirely comprised of California products. Instead, BPA 17u utilizes an amalgamation of players from its base plus players from Mississippi to compete this week in Georgia.

Head coach Jared Sandler used his comrade Trent Pratt, the associate head coach at BYU, to come in contact with Trent’s brother, Russ Pratt. Russ Pratt runs the Yalobusha Giants travel organization that’s located in Mississippi. Through the connection, both Sandler and Pratt learned that their programs were practically identical, forming the perfect union for certain tournaments.

“They run their program very similar to us,” Sandler said of Pratt’s Yalobusha Giants. “We’re like minded. We play so many events. We have kids in our organization that certain events are the right ones for them and certain events aren’t. It’s the same for him. Between the two organizations, we try to get the kids to the right places to help prolong their careers.”

Over the past several years, multiple players from Pratt’s team has joined Sandler and Co. as is the case this week at the 17u WWBA. 

Kemp Alderman’s played with us for a couple of years,” Sandler said. “Obviously really physical. He’s a big bat with a really good arm. Plays hard, good baseball player. Peyton Puckett is another one… Really athletic and can play all over the field. Real toolsy.

Sam Bianco is our leadoff hitter and a real electric player. Ryan Burt is the other one who plays with us, a lefthanded arm and bat. Those four guys have played with us for the last three years a pretty good amount. They’re not the outsiders. They’re a part of the team. Really good kids.”

Bianco, son of Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco, echoed Sandler’s sentiment. The Louisiana Lafayette commit notes that the mixture of West Coast and East Coast provides a compelling dynamic that forms BPA 17u, even if some differences may exist.

“It’s fun,” Bianco said. “They’re all good guys. They’re a different culture. Personalities are a little different, but it doesn’t clash. We’re really close and we play well together.

“The normal conversations, the things you say, it’s just a little different. We’re just used to different things. They’re good people. We’re good people and we just have fun together.”

It’s no different on the opposite end of the spectrum. Emilio Corona, BPA’s four-hole hitter and a Washington commit from San Luis Obispo, California, welcomes the Mississippian quartet with open arms.

“I think it’s really exciting because some of us don’t see each other unless we’re at these tournaments, so it’s kind of a nice get together,” said Corona, who homered in the opening game. “Obviously we’re trying to win and I think we have a really good team. Our goal is to obviously win this thing.”

While Bianco won’t be playing for his father at Ole Miss and instead hopes for a non-conference meeting against him, Alderman will head to Oxford in 2020 with his next level-ready 6-foot-4, 240-pound frame. The No. 1 catcher from Mississippi for the 2020 class went 1-for-2 with a double in the opening triumph.

“I’ve always been an Ole Miss fan,” Alderman said. “I’ve always wanted to play there. I’m good buddies with the coach’s son, [Sam]. They started recruiting me. I love it there. It feels like home to me. They feel like family.”

For BPA, a major design of the team is the experience that comes with traveling the country to play baseball. Once the long plane rides have concluded, taking the field under the hot Georgia sun becomes all that more special.

“A lot of the guys in our program, they’re trying to play professional baseball,” Sandler said. “A component of that is being able to play every day, being able to travel. Being able to get in the car and drive and get up and play the next day. We like the travel aspect. We think it’s important to get used to it early. We think baseball is not a game, it’s a culture. You have to learn to live that lifestyle.”

And so that culture has paved the way for loads of success in previous years at the 17u WWBA National Championship. In the tournament’s 17 years of existence, BPA has been a consistent contender year in and year out. Sandler insists that nothing is expected to change this year. 

“We love this tournament,” Sandler said. “It’s our favorite one of the summer. We’re big fans of Perfect Game. It’s just a great event.

“We’ve won this tournament. We’ve lost in the championship of this tournament and probably everything in between. I think the message in a long tournament like this is we want our guys to show up every day ready to play… Our big emphasis is that some of these guys will be draft guys next year. The rest of them will go to college. They’re all looking to do big things next year. This is an important week and this is an important summer to help them in their baseball career to prepare for what’s coming.”

So while BPA 17u is oozing with talent from California and Mississippi, the team is making sure not to stray too far from its roots on the supposed best coast.

“We all come with a certain swagger because that’s how the West Coast works,” Corona said. “With all of these East Coast teams, it’ll be kind of a battle. It’s fun to see who’s the better side.”

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