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Tournaments | Story | 7/22/2019

Sox cashing in on opportunity

Jack Nelson        
Photo: Andrew Villiger (Perfect Game)

DUNWOODY, Ga. – The quarterfinal game between Sox Baseball 17u and 6-4-3 DP Athletics 16u Hawkins was an old school baseball fan’s dream. One swing of the bat was the difference in this pitcher’s duel, as Donovan Cash smacked a grand slam in the bottom of the sixth to give his Sox teammates the 4-0 victory. The win sends the Sox to the final four of the Perfect Game 17u Summer Showdown.

They say good pitching always beats good hitting. Thankfully, the Sox sent Andrew Villiger to the hill, and the righty systematically diced up 6-4-3 for a complete game shutout. The Peachtree City, Ga. native allowed just three hits, walked no one, and struck out four. He was an impressive 71 percent strikes with a fastball-curveball combo that suffocated hitters all afternoon. 

“I just went right at them with the fastball, then I would mix in the curveball,” Villiger said. “The umpire started giving a little more on the outside corner as the game progressed. I took advantage of that.”

Very early on, it seemed like one or two runs was going to be enough to win. There were just seven combined hits, a few of which were bunt singles. Offense was at a premium. From a pitcher’s perspective, this adds pressure. One mistake could be the difference. Villiger understood the magnitude of each pitch, and this elevated his game to achieve a near flawless performance.

“I knew I had to hit my spot every time,” he said. “I think I did a pretty good job with that today.”

Sox coach Rodney Dickinson was proud of Villiger’s masterpiece, but he also wasn’t entirely surprised by it.

Andrew Villiger won’t light up a radar gun,” he said. “If he did threw 85-87 mph, everyone in the Southeast would probably want the kid because he pounds the zone. He competes, and I know exactly what I’m going to get from him every time he goes out there. That’s why I started him in this game.”

While Villiger put the team on his back, Donovan Cash got to be the hero on Monday. Cash stepped up to the plate with the bases juiced in the bottom of the sixth. It was the best chance the Sox had all day, and it was evident that pushing a couple across would be all that Villiger would need to close it out. Cash had a couple tough at bats before, including a strike out. But he cleared his mind and absolutely crushed a 1-1 fastball over the centerfield fence.

“I was just looking to drive the runs in,” Cash said. “I wasn’t having good at bats before. I just wanted to put a barrel on something, and luckily I did.”

“There have been a lot of late inning heroics all tournament,” Dickinson said. “Our pitchers throw strikes and the kids play good defense, so we have a chance to be in every game. Donovan had the big hit today. He had the big swing in a pool play game, too.”

At the beginning of the summer, teams and players often set goals to achieve and define areas to improve. Some want to become more sure-handed in the field. Others want to develop themselves physically and get stronger. As the calendar creeps toward August, Dickinson says he has noticed drastic improvement in his boys.

“We’re finally in our age group instead of playing up,” Dickinson said. “We’ve been competing and competing for years. We’ve had a really good summer, so it’s nice to see that hard work pay off. We’ve won close to 20 games in PG tournaments, and I think we really surprised some people.”

With team success comes individual accolades. Currently, the Sox have no one committed to play in college. But players like Villiger and Cash are making it hard for coaches to ignore them much longer. The Sox roster also includes Keegan Rich, a top 500 ranked player in Perfect Game’s high school class of 2020. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound lefthanded pitcher can reach 90 mph with his heater.

“I have a bunch of grinders that no one really knew about coming into the summer,” Dickinson said. “But now we’re getting a lot of college visits set up.”

It’s not about how you start, it’s about how you finish. For nearly two months, the Sox have played seemingly countless games on the blistering Georgia baseball fields. An elite travel baseball schedule demands many sacrifices from just about everyone involved, but to come away with that trophy makes every early mourning and every late night worth it.

“We’ve been working all summer to put ourselves in a position to be here,” Villiger said. “We have our shot to win it all.”

The Sox will meet the Home Plate Chilidogs 16u Argila in the semifinals on Tuesday. The Chilidogs come in to the matchup with a pristine 4-0 record and an 18-2 run differential.

In the other semifinal, Rawlings Southeast 17u National will clash with the 6-4-3 DP Cougars 16u Sterling. Action kicks off at 8 a.m. at Brooke Run Park. The Championship will follow.

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