Tournaments | Story | 7/13/2019

Hitters deep in talent

Annika Wall        
Photo: Noah Miller (Perfect Game)

MARION, Iowa – There was no time to rest for Wisconsin-based Hitters 2021 after a successful showing at the WWBA 16u National Championship in Georgia. Fifteen hours after arriving home, the team hopped on a bus and drove to Marion, Iowa for the inaugural 17u PG Midwest Invitational.  

The past two weeks, Hitters boasts a 5-3-1 record, highlighted by a 10-0 victory over East Cobb Precision in Cartersville, Ga.

“It’s like playing championship ball every game,” said Tim Schultz, Hitters 2021 head coach. “If you lose, you’re in trouble. Every pitch means something, and that’s what we want to teach our kids.

“We have 23 kids who are learning to compete and play hard and that’s what it’s all aboutWe try to create competition by having big numbers so kids don’t get satisfied. Push each kid, so if someone makes a mistake, the next guy will push them. This way they’re mentally tough and ready for when they get to college.”

The depth of quality athletes – specifically middle infielders – is extremely visible in this team. Noah Miller and Benjamin Loyd have verbally committed to Alabama and Purdue, respectively. They’re also the top-two shortstops in the state of Wisconsin and are ranked by Perfect Game in the overall top 500 nationally. Brady Counsell, son of former MLB infielder and current Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell, also works into the lineup at second base.  

Counsell isn’t the only one on the team with a major league connection, though. Noah’s older brother Owen was drafted by the San Diego Padres in 2018 after a successful four years at Illinois State. Owen has already jumped up to AA ball, batting at a .294 clip with 16 doubles and eight homers.

“He’s taught me almost everything I know. He’s my role model,” Noah said of his older brother. “If anything, new is coming up, his infield coaches tell him what to look for, so he teaches me what I’m supposed to do.

“When we were little, we’d be playing wiffleball or throwing tennis balls at each other. I grew up with him.”

The love of baseball between the two grew into competition, something that Hitters prides itself on as an organization. Defensively sound, it seemed like Noah was at the heart of every top-notch play.

Take, for instance, a double play in the bottom of the third inning against Great Lakes Baseball 16u. With runners at first and second, Counsell fielded a hard ground ball, flipping it effortlessly to Miller. His foot grazed the back of second base and fired it to first for the double play.

Offensively, center fielder Luke Nowak came up clutch with a shallow outfield single to score two runs in the top of the fifth. Loyd followed by reaching first on an error, and Miller drove in an insurance run with a sac fly to center.

What might have taken the cake, though, was Miller robbing Great Lakes of what was sure to be a base hit. Lunging toward left field, the shortstop snagged a chopper before throwing the ball in mid-air to first to make the out.

No hesitation, no flaws. It looked like it was just another routine play.

“I’ve been all over the country and I haven’t seen a better defensive shortstop than Noah Miller. His range, his instincts are incredible,” Schultz said. “With as many ground balls as these guys take, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be as good as they are.”

“It’s really fun,” Loyd said about playing with Miller. “We like to compete against each other, see who can make the better plays, get the most hits and stuff like that.”

“It’s tough. we’re battling it out. Whoever is best plays there,” Miller added. “It’s great competition between each other because if you screw up it’s their spot to take. You always have to be working your hardest or your spot is going to get taken.”

The Hitters will face off against Cangelosi Sparks White 16u tomorrow in elimination play with the possibility of a rematch with Great Lakes if both teams come out on top. 

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