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Tournaments | Story | 7/11/2019

Cangelosi seizes semifinals berth

Cory Van Dyke        
Photo: Adam Brouwer (Perfect Game)

EMERSON, Ga. -- Adam Brouwer had pitched a masterpiece into the bottom of the seventh, but things suddenly got dicey with one out remaining to complete the game and advance to the semifinals at the 2019 WWBA 16u National Championship. Scorpions 2021 Founders Club had the tying run on second and the go-ahead run on first, trailing Cangelosi Sparks 2021 Black 2-1.

Brouwer worked ahead and had a 2-2 count on Scorpions’ hitter, lefty Ricky Reeth. He then unleashed an 86 mph fastball, trying to paint the outside corner. Reeth connected and sliced the ball the opposite way, deep into the corner down the left field line.

The ball floated for what felt like an eternity. The game was literally hanging in the balance.

“I was praying it was foul,” said Cangelosi Sparks extra hitter Matt Maloney.

Eventually the ball landed.

‘FOUL BALL.’

The Cangelosi Sparks fans, players, and coaches collectively exhaled. The Scorpions were incredulous. Brouwer gathered himself, knowing he’d just been given a second life. After bouncing a changeup in the dirt to make the count 3-2, the righthanded hurler brought the heater one final time and induced a ground ball to second to end the game. Sparks 2, Scorpions 1.

“It’s super relieving because I thought it was fair off the bat,” Brouwer said. “I thought that was the end of the game.

“We play really good together as a team. Defense helped me a lot today.”

On Thursday night, it truly was a game of inches, and the baseball gods were in favor of the Cangelosi Sparks. One or two inches to the right, and the team’s elation quickly turns to devastation.

“Good team chemistry, that’s why the ball was foul,” said Cangelosi Sparks head coach Dean Anna. “I believe in that. If the chemistry is bad, maybe the ball is fair. These guys just pull together and it was foul for a reason.”

While the foul ball certainly provided the most drama of the entire game, it shouldn’t outshine Brouwer’s overall performance on the bump. The 6-foot-1, 185-pounder tossed a complete game, surrendering one run, five hits, and one walk along with four strikeouts. Brouwer needed just 79 pitches over seven innings, throwing 77 percent for strikes.

“He was throwing strike after strike after strike,” Anna said. “He just kept going after the hitters and kept them off balanced with the off-speed. It was very impressive today. He works quick. It was very nice for our defense.”

Perhaps most impressive was Brouwer’s ability to mix his fastball that lived in the mid-80’s inside and out. 

“Definitely my fastball,” Brouwer said of his go-to pitch. “Off-speed wasn’t the best, but locating my fastball with first pitch strikes and getting ahead of hitters was really great.”

The Cangelosi Sparks jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning on a Ryan Kraft RBI. After the Scorpions tied the game with a run in the bottom of the third, the Sparks immediately responded.

Kraft led off the inning with a walk and Maloney stepped to the plate. He smacked a double inside the left field line for the go-ahead RBI.

“I just wanted to do a job for my team and get that run in,” Maloney said. “I was just lucky enough to get that RBI down the line.”

That was the only other run that the Sparks needed, as Brouwer pitched the team into the semifinals. Meanwhile, Ryan Moerman and Landen Looper each collected two hits in the game.

The Cangelosi Sparks are now one of four teams remaining in a tournament that began with 392 teams. It took three wins on Thursday for the team based out of Lockport, Illinois to improve to 10-0 on the week. 

“We’re resilient,” Maloney said. “We fight. Not a lot of people know about us, but we fight to the end.”

The day began with a with a 4-2 triumph over Banditos Scout Team 16u. Reed Gannon fired a complete game, striking out seven along the way. Next, the Sparks defeated East Cobb Astros 16 X, 5-3, once trailing by three runs going into the bottom of the second.

“The guys are all pulling together,” Anna said. “We’ve been down in a lot of the games, and they just stay in the game. They stay in the game and don’t get down. They’re just grinders.

“Our pitching staff holds it together and we come up with some timely hits, but no one ever gives up on this team. That’s what I want to see.”

Kraft pitched four innings in the win and Looper added three scoreless innings in relief, setting up the noteworthy victory in the quarterfinals. The Sparks needed only four pitchers over the three games which is critical in a tournament like the 16u WWBA where any team’s pitching depth will be tested late in bracket play.

“It went as the blueprint described,” Anna said of the efficient pitching by his bunch. “Very impressive and it’s definitely going to help us for tomorrow.”

Tomorrow the Sparks will face Academy Select 16u Ingram, another team who sits with a 10-0 record, at 10:30 am at LakePoint. On the other side of the bracket, Team Elite 16u Scout Team and Wilson Sandlot will meet with the winners advancing to the championship.

Anna and Co. find themselves two wins away from being crowned the top 16u team in the country. It’s a daunting task ahead, but in a game of inches, anything is possible.

“I’m so excited for these guys,” Anna said. “I’m very happy for them. I just think if they stay together, we’re going to have a really good chance.” 

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