Tournaments | Story | 7/15/2019

Excel exudes confidence

Cory Van Dyke     
Photo: Brock Hill (Perfect Game)

EMERSON, Ga. – Excel Blue Wave 15u and US Elite 15u National both took the field with 3-0 records at LakePoint bright and early Monday morning hoping to establish control of the pool at the 2019 WWBA 15u National Championship.

Brock Hill, who usually plays up with the 16u team, toed the rubber for Excel and worked his way out of a first inning jam. Excel immediately got the bats rolling in the bottom of the inning with three runs. Jeff Wilkins struck the big blow in the inning with a two-out, two-RBI double. After a clean top half of the inning, Excel added three more runs, including a Ryan Storey RBI single.

That was all the scoring Hill would need on the mound as he nearly fired a complete game in Excel’s 6-2 triumph over US Elite. Hill grinded out 6 2/3 innings with 10 strikeouts while scattering just three hits, one walk and two runs.

The No. 16 player in the state of Alabama for the 2021 class shined brightest with a new weapon in his arsenal.

“My new pitch actually, a slider that I developed this week,” said Hill on what worked for him best in the game. “It worked really well for me on the mound.

“I’ve just been throwing every day and getting in the bullpen and putting the work in to do it. It helps a lot.”

Combined with a fastball that lived in the mid-80s, Hill kept the powerful US Elite lineup that came into the day averaging nearly 10 runs a game off balance. It’s a gutsy move to bust out a new pitch on the biggest stage at the 15u WWBA, but one that clearly paid dividends.

“We’re talking before the game and he’s ready to go to the bullpen,” said Excel Blue Wave head coach Judd Edwards. “He said, ‘Coach, I’ve been working on a slider the past couple days, so I’m going to throw it today.’ I kind of laughed. The biggest game of the tournament against a team we know is very, very good might not be the best time for our guys to be working on new pitches. But the kind of kid he is and how much time and effort he puts into it, I trusted him.

“He is very cerebral. He loves his craft. He works at it all the time… He threw [the slider] in some big situations today for the first time in a game ever.”

Later in the day, Excel Blue Wave 15u also defeated Skills Baseball 15u Hills, 2-1. Luke Peoples tossed a complete game with four strikeouts. Storey drove in Jake Smith, who’s hitting .615 this week and started the rally with two outs, for the walk-off hit in the bottom of the seventh. It's apparent that all of the players on Excel are relishing the opportunity to perform in Georgia against the best competition across the country.

“It feels pretty good because all these people come from all these miles away,” Smith said. “We’re doing good against them… I’m just trying to get on to start rallies, start getting runs, and start the game off good for our team.”

The club based out of Oxford, Alabama has been bringing teams to the WWBA National Championships for over a decade now. The draw of competing against over 300 of the top teams has never faded for Excel Baseball Academy.

“We’ve been coming here now since 2008,” Edwards said. “Came every year since then and we bring all our teams because we know it’s going to be the best event of the summer that any company or any business puts on. 

“Everything we do in the winter and the spring and leading into the summer is in preparation for this tournament. Everything is building to here and when we get here, we tell our guys first pitch of the tournament to last pitch of the tournament is very important.”

Edwards has been a part of Excel since the beginning. He played on the Excel Blue Wave 17u team that competed at the 2008 WWBA 17u National Championship. That team advanced to the playoffs but lost to the Diamond Devils 17s Black, the same team that eventually won the entire tournament. 

Once those travel days with Excel were over, Edwards went on to become a four-year starter at the University of Louisiana-Monroe. At the conclusion of his playing days, he returned to his roots by contacting owners Matthew Maniscalco and Josh Beshears who started Excel in 2003 as an off-season job from their baseball careers.

“I grew up looking up to our two owners who were playing professional baseball in front of me,” Edwards said. “Those were guys I wanted to be like. I just tried to sponge off of them as much as I could… I’ve been here now since 2013 coaching. I love every minute of it.”

Now 11 years later, Edwards is seeing the byproduct of what he had a hand in starting as a player at the 2008 17u WWBA. He’s now seeing his own players define the Excel way by playing with energy and playing with fire at the 2019 15u WWBA.

“It’s pretty awesome, I’m not going to lie,” Edwards said. “I think the kids understand and respect the fact that we’ve been there and understand the grind of it. We just try to share that experience and knowledge with them and help them however we can.”

Travel baseball has undoubtedly changed over the years, but Excel Baseball has kept true to its mission of producing what Edwards calls “real college baseball players.” Excel Blue Wave 15u is in line to keep that trend going, but there’s other plans to attend to first while atop the pool at the 15u WWBA.

“We want to win every game we play, but we’re not over here just to go 4-0 or just to win our pool,” Edwards said. “We want to try to make a run in this thing and see if we can be playing on Friday. That’s always our goal.”

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