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Tournaments | Story | 10/3/2019

BPC looks to make some noise

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Shane Solari (Perfect Game)

FORT MYERS, Fla. – Travel ball teams from programs large and small arrive at the Perfect Game WWBA Underclass World Championship every year with the same goals of winning a pool championship and making a deep run into the PG national championship tournament’s playoffs.

That’s what the 5 Stars, the Canes, the East Cobbs, the Elite Squads, the Florida Burns, the FTBs and the Team Elites of the world are shooting for. And although powerhouse organizations such as those – and many others – have already burnished their brand as consistent championship contenders, every coach and every player knows that winning never comes easy.

But they have, at least, traveled this super-highway before. Other, less established programs, are simply trying to make inroads into this exclusive community. They, too, know it won’t be easy, but their drive and their desire is just as intense, and their expectations are just as high.

The 18th annual PG WWBA Underclass World championship began its five-day run on fields in the Southwest Florida counties of Lee and Charlotte on Thursday, and New Jersey-based Baseball Performance Center (BPC) is in attendance hoping to not only make inroads but make some noise in the process.

“For us the whole goal of this is for these guys to show themselves off and (get exposure),” BPC co-founder/head coach Mike Adams told PG Thursday afternoon, speaking from the back quad at the jetBlue Park Player Development complex.

“Our goal is to come down here and put these guys in the best situation to show themselves off to the (colleges) and the coaches,” he said. “If we do that and have the guys play well enough and play together, hopefully that results in winning and making a deep (playoff) run.”

The BPCs got off to a good start in their Thursday opener, outlasting the Illinois-based Longshots Baseball Navy, 7-6. Third baseman Brody McKenzie delivered a two-run single as part of a four-run first inning and a solo home run as part of a three-run third, and outfielder Shane Solari came through with an RBI double in the third after driving in a run with a bases loaded walk in the first.

The pitching was also solid. 2021 right-hander Ethan Dodd did surrender six runs on nine hits in his four innings of work, but only two of the runs were earned; he struck-out five and walked two.

2021 lefty Braedon Scherer and ’21 righty Francis Wright were strong in relief, with Scherer pitching two perfect innings, striking out five and Wright a perfect seventh, with two strikeouts; all three pitchers’ fastball reached the upper 80s (mph) with Wright’s topping out at 89.

“It’s awesome to  come down here with these guys; they’re like all my best friends,” Solari said. “And it’s really chill down here – we can play, hopefully win some games and then just hang out.”

Former college players Ed Charlton and Mike Adams opened up an indoor facility inside a renovated oil truck storage garage in Pleasantville, N.J., in December 2017 and called it Baseball Performance Center. They soon began welcoming in young players from the South Jersey area, with Pleasantville sitting a short drive from Atlantic City.

Charlton, a 23rd round pick of the Reds in 2015, played collegiately at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark and Adams at Wagner College on Staten Island, N.Y. As former players not that far removed from their own college experiences – both men are in their mid-20s – they feel like they can talk openly with their young charges.

“We give them our advice,” Adams said. “We’ll tell them that this is where we view you at level-wise … and we help them reach out to guys, we talk to schools for them. We’ll put them in situations like this where everybody can watch them.”

The BPC team that is here this week was put together in the fall of 2018, so they’ve been together for a full year now. Adams feels like it’s a pretty good collection of ballplayers who are all juniors in high school, and he and Charlton have been enjoying the experience so far.

There are some very highly regarded prospects on the BPC roster, all from the class of 2021. Right-hander/first baseman Tommy Finnegan is a Vanderbilt commit ranked No. 116 in his class and shortstop/right-hander Justin Szestowicki a North Carolina commit ranked No. 254.

Left-hander Matt Nunan (Boston College commit), Wright (Wagner College) and Dodd are all top-500 prospects in their class; Solari is a top-1,000 who has committed to Villanova. The top prospect rostered with this team, No. 28 uncommitted right-hander/shortstop Chase Petty, didn’t make the trip because he is on an official college visit this weekend.

“All these kids, they’re a real close-knit group,” Adams said. “They play against each other in high school, they played together growing up, they work-out every single day together. That’s the best part. Not only are they down here playing but they’re going to enjoy themselves hanging out with their friends and making those relationships that will last forever.”

“I think it’s just really a hard-working group of guys,” Solari added. “Everyone goes into BPC every day and just gets after it day after day.”

There were probably around 30 college coaches/recruiters watching Thursday’s game which, of course, the is central purpose of the WWBA Underclass World Championship. Adams and Charlton know that schools from coast-to-coast will be paying very close attention to the happenings down here over the next several days, and they want their players to understand that, as well.

“It’s really just them realizing how good they actually are,” Adams said. “I think a lot of times they see all the commitments and the size and the heights (of other players) and it’s a little bit intimidating. But for these guys, we’ve done this for a whole year now so for them it’s still baseball and it’s still three outs in an inning.”

When going up against the top prospects – all those D-I commits filling the rosters of the powerhouse programs – Wright chooses to use it as a learning experience: “You’re playing kids from other states and you can see the different ways they play. You see more competition from all over the country,” he said.

Solari, the 6-foot, 175-pound Villanova recruit, told PG he thinks this team plays with a little bit of a chip on its shoulder because the players feel like folks from other areas of the country may underestimate the boys from South Jersey. But he is quick to point out there are some very good ballplayers from up in that neck of the woods and he puts his utmost trust in everyone on this roster, as do his coaches.

“This puts them on a platform against the best players and it allows them to bring their level of intensity up,” Adams said. “When they come down here we want to make sure they’re ready to show off the best version of themselves. “The main goal is to get these guys into college and help them develop themselves and continue playing baseball for as long as they can.”

Wright already has a commitment in hand, so he is really able to go out and compete with an air of relaxation about him. “At first it’s a little stressful, but then once you settle in you get used to it,” he said, “and It’s just smooth sailing from there.”

The sailing promises to be a little rougher from here on out, especially if BPC reaches the 32-team playoffs, which begin with first-round games on Saturday afternoon. But the boys from South Jersey are confident they can continue to make inroads with this program and continue to make some noise well into the weekend.

“These events are where the top dogs come so we’re coming down here and looking to not just win a couple of games,” Adams said. “We’re looking to win our (pool), we’re looking to make a deep run. We’re going to have the talent so it’s about these guys just taking it one play at a time and showing themselves off. …

“It’s eye-opening for us and for them and it’s a good thing; it shows you really where you stand as far the whole  country and not just your (region).”

For Wright, it’s really not all that complicated: “This is a great experience with a lot of teams, and hopefully we’re (good) competition and getting better as a player and a pitcher,” he said. “We just want to come out of here better than were coming into it.”

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