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Tournaments | Story | 9/20/2019

PNW Royal packs early punch

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Cameron Hoiland (Perfect Game)

SURPRISE, Ariz. – Before his PNW Underclass Royal team took the field Friday for its opener at this weekend’s Perfect Game WWBA Underclass Fall National Championship, head coach Arlo Evasick told a curious note-taker what observers – including a nice gathering of college recruiters – could expect to see from his ballclub.

“We love coming down here and we want to be competitive,” Evasick said, speaking from the Royals’ side of the Surprise Stadium MLB Cactus League spring training complex. “We want to bring kids who have opportunities to get recruited, so for us coming down here during a recruiting period is really important.

“We bring a mix of guys – some are committed and some aren’t – and we try to get the best players, and we usually do a good job of that.”

Evasick, who also holds the position of Director of Operations for the University Place, Wash.-based Pacific Northwest Regional Baseball organization, was right-on regarding the makeup of this PNW Underclass Royal roster, at least if the opener was any indication.

In an opening statement, 2021 left-handed hitting centerfielder Cameron Hoiland smashed a loud, first-inning grand slam over the right field fence just to set the tone, and the Under Royal sprinted past Roseville, Calif.-based CBA Northern California Underclass Gold, 13-1 in four innings, to begin what they hope will be a four-day stay in the desert. Let the good times roll …

“I’ve been looking forward to this event for a few months now,” Washington commit and top-500 ranked 2021 outfielder Kyle Fossum told PG. “It’s always a great event to come down to and have a good time with the ‘crew’ and have a good time with the teams you’ve played against for a while; it’s just a great experience.”

There were a lot of contributors in PNW Underclass Royal’s 11-hit victory early Friday afternoon, including Hoiland, who finished with the four RBI and two runs scored, and Fossum, who doubled, drove in a run and scored twice.

Wilson Weber singled, doubled twice, drove in a pair of runs and scored two; Spencer Scott singled, doubled, drove in a run and scored a pair; Kamanu Nahaku singled with two RBI; Jake Larson doubled and scored a pair; Carson Lydon singled with an RBI and two runs scored.

2021 right-hander Hyatt Utzman worked three scoreless, one-hit innings, striking out four and walking two; 2021 lefty Caden Vire allowed an unearned run on one hit in the fourth and got all three outs via punchout.

Fossum, Larson and Lydon are all top-500 2021s, and Weber, Kai Francis (Gonzaga commit) and Harrison Howell are ranked as top-1,000s; Scott has committed to Portland.

“We try to get kids that are really competitive,” Evasick said. “Being committed and playing college baseball is great but being competitive and being tough and being able to travel … we try to get kids that want to go to stuff like that.

“That’s what it’s going to be like in college baseball … so we want the kids that are going to go compete and want to go play the best competition whether they’re committed or uncommitted right now.”

PNW Regional Baseball likes to get its young players acclimated to that kind of routine early in their careers, so it introduces the idea of travel baseball to players as young as 11 years old. As a result, some of these guys have already been with the program for six or seven years with at least another year to go.

In early August each year, the organization puts on what is called the PNW Games in Seattle where the program’s coaches and directors – including PNW Regional Baseball founder Rhett Parker who, as always, is actively involved this weekend – can start to identify the players who are competitive self-starters. PNW has two other teams here this weekend, PNW Freshman and PNW Underclass Navy.

“They want to win, they want to go play and they want to get better, and those are the kind of guys we get,” Evasick said. “So our message to them is just to come down here and be ready to play.”

A lot of these players put a lid on their summer seasons in early August and then started back up with fall ball in September; they will continue to play through October. Winter can come early in Oregon and Washington where these guys live, so most will shut it down during the colder months while continuing to train indoors.

And, of course, there are players who don’t make the trip at all, especially pitchers, based on their own throwing programs or maybe even because the schools they’ve committed to might have asked them to shut it down now and pick it back up after a month or two.

“We try to make sure what we’re doing is in the best interest of everybody: the players and the colleges and the kids and the families,” Evasick said. “We want to make sure we’re doing right by them.”

The 17-year-old Fossum is essentially a PNW lifer, having joined the program when he was 12 years old. His association with the group has already paid dividends, as his commitment to the Washington Huskies attests.

“I’ve been playing with this group of kids for a long time – we’ve all grown up together – and we’re all expected to what we always do with this team,” he said. “We’re going to put all that hard work and all the effort that we have into this tournament right here.”

Larson, a  2021 shortstop from Covington, Wash., is one of the few players on the roster who has played with only a handful of the other rostered guys, but he welcomes that because it gives him the opportunity to make even more friends within his own baseball community.

He enjoys their company; he enjoys their competitive nature and he really enjoys standing alongside them while they collectively represent the Great Northwest.

And, of course, he likes watching some of top players from the other states represented here go about their business. The experience offers a whole new perspective on what lies ahead moving forward and helps him realize that he is truly competing on a national stage and not a regional one.

“A lot of these guys, they get this kind of weather the year around and we don’t,” he said. “This is the kind of thing we can take advantage of, where we can come down here and we can just enjoy what we have. We don’t talk about it, but we know what kind of expectations we have of this group.”

Added Fossum: “All of these teams down here are very well-respected ballclubs and we’ve been playing against them for quite the while now,” he said. “It’s nice to come down here and see the people we’ve always played against and see how they’ve grown as well, and just go out and compete. … We’re all just easy going, and we’re here to play the game, here to play hard.”

Evasick agreed with his players, calling this event a “good opportunity” for each one of them to not only play alongside some of the top players from the Northwest but to play against top guys from warm-weather states like Arizona and California.

He pointed out that most of the players who come through the PNW Baseball program will one day be competing against each other in college or, if they happen to end up at the same school, they might be competing against one another for playing time. Evasick said it’s a good way for them to both build relationships while also building for their futures.

“Anytime you get to play against people who do a really good job with the kids in getting the right people involved with their training” is a good thing, Evasick said. “It’s really fun to see people from different regions when we go to events like this, for sure.”

The PNW Underclass Royal players were certainly enjoying the region of the country commonly known as the Desert Southwest on Friday, eagerly soaking up the sunshine as the temperature climbed upward towards 100 degrees.

Larson has been here in January for the PG West MLK Championships a couple of times but prefers this tournament’s placement on the calendar because it lines up perfectly with the start of fall ball back home. And, by facing some top live pitching over the next three or four days he can get a good idea of where he’s at heading into his winter training regimen.

Evasick encourages every player on this roster to take the same approach:

“Hopefully the guys who don’t have the success that they were planning on having can take away some of the things that they need to work on during the offseason to get to where they need to be, committed or uncommitted,” he said.

“Hopefully guys get some opportunities and get some colleges that see them and will follow up with them, and hopefully they walk away having an idea for a plan for what they’re doing in the winter and the spring next year.”

And remember: PNW Regional Baseball always tries to put together the best collection of players it can find, and it usually does a pretty darn good job of that.

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