Tournaments | Story | 7/12/2019

Team Elite escapes with 16u title

Cory Van Dyke        
Photo: Team Elite 16u Scout Team (Perfect Game)

EMERSON, Ga. -- It’s one thing to enter a tournament of 392 teams as one of the favorites to win the championship. It’s an entirely different thing to bend but never break, living up to those expectations along the way.

That was the case for Team Elite 16u Scout Team as they defeated Academy Select 16u Ingram, 5-4, to win the 2019 WWBA 16u National Championship. Team Elite escaped the weeklong tournament unscathed with a perfect 12-0 record, while Academy Select finished 11-1 as runners up.

“It just seemed like every game one of these guys stepped up and did something big,” said Team Elite head coach JB Brotherton. “The testament is with these guys, everyday it was somebody different.”

Trailing the entire game, Brady House gave Team Elite the 4-3 lead, their first lead of the championship, when he doubled in two runs down the line in the bottom of the sixth. In the top of the seventh Gavin Perryman tied the game with a clutch two-out single for Academy Select.

Team Elite could have easily been depleted, but instead the team immediately responded.

“There were a couple times this week that we were down, but when you have the offense we have, it makes it a little more relaxing,” Brotherton said. “They come up big in big situations.”

In the bottom of the seventh, catcher Ian Moller led off with a single to left field. Moller stole second base and advanced to third on Mason Cooper’s fly ball to deep center. Eventually with the bases loaded and one out, Moller saw his opportunity on a passed ball and scampered home for the game-winning run. 

Madness and pure exhilaration ensued. Moller had just caught four games in two days, but still mustered the speed and energy to dash home, just beating the tag at the plate. His teammates mobbed him, embracing Moller in the bottom of the dogpile.

“I’m not going to lie, I was really tired,” Moller said with a chuckle. “But I knew I just had to run 90 feet to get that run for our team.”

What makes the whole situation even more insane is that typically Moller garners a courtesy runner when he gets on base. However, Brotherton had run out of substitutes the inning before.

“That just shows how gutty Ian was this week,” Brotherton said. “He wanted it as bad as anybody. We didn’t have a pinch runner there. I ran out on the bench. He said he could do it… It’s the capping on a great week.”

It’s now the second year in a row that a Team Elite team has won the 16u WWBA title. In 2018, Team Elite Prime 16u defeated MWE 16u, 5-2. However, for this particular group of players, this tournament marked some unfinished business from last year.

In the 2018 WWBA 15u National Championship, the Team Elite 15u Prime team was made up of the majority of the same players as this year. That group also entered bracket play as the No. 1 overall seed, but was bounced in the second round of the playoffs. One year later, Team Elite 16u Scout Team rode the road to redemption all the way to a championship.

“It just shows that this group is special,” Brotherton said. “Our staff has done an outstanding job of putting a team together to make a run like this. They were the No. 1 seed last year… for them to bounce back and come out and get a W here at the end, it makes it even more tasteful.”

Team Elite eviscerated the competition in pool play, outscoring opponents 67-6. After a first round bye in the playoffs, Team Elite was promptly tested by facing Canes National 16u. Izaac Pacheco powered Team Elite to the 6-4 triumph with two bombs and four RBIs. Pacheco batted .321 over the week with six home runs and 17 RBIs to earn MVP honors, but he offered most of the praise to his teammates.

“It means a lot, but I’m just so proud of my team,” Pacheco said. “We made it all the way. I couldn’t have done it without them. They’re amazing teammates, and I’m glad we made it to the top.

“A lot of people said we wouldn’t have a lot of chemistry because we’re all over from different states, but right when we got here we had a lot of chemistry. We played well together and it was amazing.”

After a 10-2 win over Georgia Bombers 16u in the third round of the playoffs, Grant Taylor pitched a gem en route to Team Elite’s 2-0 win over Molina Stars in the quarterfinals. Taylor tossed six scoreless innings, scattering two hits and two walks along with seven strikeouts. The hard-throwing righty finished the tournament with 14 strikeouts over nine innings and was named MVPitcher.

“It feels great,” Taylor said. “There was a lot of great pitchers here. I’m just happy to be recognized as the MVPitcher.”

The championship wasn’t the only game where Team Elite had a flair for the dramatic. In the semifinals against Wilson Sandlot with the game locked in a 5-5 tie in extra innings, Luke Leto started the bottom of the eighth with a triple. After two intentional walks to load the bases, Benny Montgomery singled past the five-man infield to send Team Elite into the championship.

Like Brotherton mentioned, it was seemingly a different player who stepped up for Team Elite every game. Lead-off hitter Ryan Spikes hasn’t even been noted, and he led the team with 16 hits over the course of the week. It epitomizes the collective unit that was gathered in the Greater Atlanta area. One that shouldered the expectations, let their talent do the talking, and was ultimately crowned the best 16u team in the country.

“Let’s look at it in ten years and see how good this group is and the bright future they have,” Brotherton said. “This might be one of the best teams they’ve ever played with and it might in the future too… They bought in and we found a way to win a championship.”

2019 16u WWBA National Championship runner-up: Academy Select 16u Ingram

2019 16u WWBA National Championship MVP: Izaac Pacheco

2019 16u WWBA National Championship MV-Pitcher: Grant Taylor

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