Tournaments | Story | 7/4/2019

Gazzo pitches EC Sox to semis

Jack Nelson        
Photo: Jackson Evers (Perfect Game)

HOOVER, Ala. – Baseball on the Fourth of July feels right, and holding the playoffs of the WWBA 14u National Championship on Independence Day felt more than appropriate. The quarterfinals featured just one team clad in the red, white and blue. That team, the East Coast Sox Prime, defeated the Georgia Jackets National, 3-2, to punch their ticket to the final four on Friday.

And just as the Founding Fathers made history on this day back in 1776, righthander Jacob Gazzo put his own stamp on the holiday. The 6-foot-7 Gazzo pounded his low-80s fastball down in the zone, keeping the explosive Jacket bats quiet for six strong innings.

The feel of the Met was different on Thursday. There was a palpable tension, an angst that is created by playoff baseball. And this kind of energy has the power to create legends, whether it be Curt Schilling’s bloody sock performance or recently Kumar Rocker’s 19 strikeout, no-hitter in the Super Regionals. Simply put, pitching in a win-or-go-home game is a different animal than another ho-hum pool play matchup. But Gazzo stayed focused and broke his job down into simpler terms.

“I knew I needed to just throw strikes, fill up the zone, and let my defense work behind me,” he said.

Sox coach Chris Snopek was much more animated about the monster performance from his fearless workhorse.

“Big Jake Gazzo from McComb, Mississippi, just put us on his back,” said coach Chris Snopek. “He was locating in and out, mixing off speed well. That kind of performance is top of the line.“

Still, we got our Fourth of July fireworks show in the top of the seventh. With the Sox leading 3-0, the Jackets were able to load the bases, score two runs, and chase Gazzo from the game. No problem. Out came Ethan Pulliam from the bullpen, and he collected the first two outs via a strikeout and a ground out to second base. With the tying run on third, Pulliam spun a 3-2 curveball to freeze the Jackets’ Nicolas Senese, sealing the victory for the Sox.

On “Championship Friday,” the Sox will have an opportunity to add to their growing trophy collection. Founded only in 2012, the Sox are very committed to promoting their Christian mission. Christ has always been first, and the players band together for a quick prayer after every game. But the Sox also say baseball needs to be at a level that honors the Lord, too. They’ve certainly joined the table of elite organizations, as the Sox have won three WWBA National Championships, including the 14u tournament back in 2015.

Snopek has been proud of the way his 14u team has adjusted in Hoover. Yes, the Sox have historically had success at Perfect Game events, but the 2019 WWBA 14u National Championship was the first time this team has had the opportunity to compete against the top competition for their age. It’s the first time playing with wood bats consistently, and it may be the first time these kids have seen a plethora of arms sitting in the mid-80s. Needless to say, they’ve handled the transition quite well.

“Its been so much fun the see these guys blossom and grow,” said Snopek. “In these games it only takes one hit to decide who wins or loses. I’ve really enjoyed seeing all 15 guys get their chance and perform well. They are memories they can keep for the rest of their lives.”

Gazzo echoed his coach’s words. Over 100 teams came to Alabama with high hopes, and after a long, hot week, just four remain. It’s an accomplishment these Sox players won’t soon forget.

“There’s so much competition here,” Gazzo said. “It feels really special that we’ve stuck it out and made it to this point.”

“It’s huge for our program,” said Snopek. “With this bunch, its our first experience playing in the WWBA. It’s on honor to play against teams like the Georgia Jackets and the Indiana Elite. So to reach the final four while having played such great teams is a huge achievement.”

With eyes set on the Hoover Met stadium in the distance, Snopek praised the job the entire Perfect Game staff has done in organizing the tournament. Tomorrow, they will play for a national title. But today, he beamed with pride at the journey he has been on with his boys.

“The PG staff has done a great job,” said Snopek. “We never want to miss this event. We know it’s going to be top end talent. It’s really valuable because coming out here and playing every day gives these kids a taste of what it’s going to be like in high school and college.”

Waiting for the Sox in the semifinals will be Team Elite National. Aside from a 4-4 tie earlier in the tournament, Team Elite has looked unstoppable in Hoover. In their quarterfinal on Thursday, they triumphed over a very good Banditos team. They have been led offensively by Justin Smith (.500, 10 RBIs) and Jaxon Willits (.500, 11 RBIs, three triples.) With a tournament ERA of 1.39, there is plenty of depth on the mound for coach Mike Gearhardt to choose from.

In the other semifinal, Canes National will meet the Cincinnati Spikes. The Canes continued to roll on Thursday, defeating VBA Black, 10-0, in the first round of the playoffs and then dispatching the Knights 14u Platinum, 8-1, in the quarterfinals. The lineup is scary, lead by Drew Lanphere and Roman Anthony. Zane Brockman and Hayden Thomas have been electric on the mound, and they still have UNC commit Mathew Matthijs available. The Canes have looked like the class of the tournament, but that is why you play the games.

The Cincinnati Spikes enter the final day of the tournament with a pristine 9-0 record. The offensive numbers are eye catching, as the Spikes have averaged eight runs per game. Leading the charge are Mason Onate and Jarrod Mays. The Spikes can swing it, so it will be fun to see them match up with the Canes elite pitching staff in the stadium Friday afternoon.

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