Tournaments | Story | 10/10/2019

NEB National goes its own way

Jeff Dahn     
Photo: Garet Guillemette (Perfect Game)

JUPITER, Fla. – They arrived here on Florida’s central Atlantic Coast from their homes in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, New York and New Jersey, Michigan and Ohio, and Texas and California.

They have made commitments to institutions of higher learning that represent all of the Power 5 conferences, Ohio State and Michigan, Kansas State and Texas Tech, LSU and Vanderbilt, Boston College and Duke, and Southern California and UCLA among them.

Welcome to the world of Massachusetts-based North East Baseball, which has its aptly named North East Baseball National team competing at this week’s Perfect Game WWBA World Championship.

It’s a unique approach to building a roster that NEB founder/owner/director Scott Patterson, national recruiting coordinator/head coach Jeff Sullivan and director of player development Mike Abraham have tried and tested, looking for the right combination that may one day lead to a Jupiter championship.

“We’re built to try to win the tournament,” Sullivan told PG late Thursday morning shortly after NEB National had completed a scheduled exhibition game with Pennsylvania-based US Elite 2020 National and before its pool-play opener with the Georgia-based 643 DP Cougars. “We build the roster with speed, power and defense and try to mix and match the right guys in.”

NEB National’s roster is as deep as any at this event and boasts 26 players ranked as top-500s or better in their classes; 25 have committed to D-I universities and colleges. There is a preponderance of prospects from the eastern part of the country at this event, but it still has very national feel to it.

“We stayed closer with our core guys this year. We had a really good summer so we wanted to bring them back together,” Sullivan said. “Obviously, we filled (the roster) in with high-level guys who weren’t coming to the tournament, but our core group of players this year is the best we’ve had in a while so we decided to stay with them down here.”

The top 2020 prospect on the roster according to the PG rankings is catcher Garret Guillemette, a Southern California commit from Yorba Linda, Calif., who comes in at No. 221 nationally.

He seemed very comfortable in the NEB National dugout on Thursday and embraced the fact that he was surrounded by so many new friends.

“Honestly, I Iove it; it gives us a chance to build some chemistry with each other,” Guillemette said shortly after NEB’s pool-play opener was in the books. “We all play baseball, we’re all the same type of person, we all get up in the morning and do the same routines and everything. The (positive) attitudes are there, and it’s baseball; you’ve got to have fun.”

Top 2020 shortstop prospect Drew Woodcox, a Texas Tech commit from Houston who is ranked No. 349 in his class, was right on board with his California teammate.

“One thing that I like about it is you get to talk to a bunch of different people from around the country,” he said, also at the conclusion of the pool-play game. “You get to meet different commits and see what they’re like. It’s cool making some new friends so when you play them in college or wherever you see them, it’s cool because you’re going to meet them again.”

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this roster is the fact that it is stocked with 18 primary pitchers, which usually bodes well at the PG WWBA World Championship. In their exhibition game victory Thursday morning, Sullivan marched five pitchers out to the mound, several of whom are uncommitted. It all comes down to exposure, exposure, exposure.

“We have more PO’s than most teams because we do expect to make a run,” Sullivan said. “If we don’t, that’s fine, but we expect to make a run and (I believe) to win this you have to have 15 or so arms. The uncommitted kids that threw in the scrimmage … if we can make it (through the weekend) then they’ll throw back again. The goal is to get them college looks and then be available to make a run and get them more looks.”

In its pool-play opener Thursday, Sullivan sent 2020 right-handers Matt Joyce (top-500, Coastal Carolina), Bobby McBride (t-1000, UConn) and Nick Conte (No. 371, Duke) out to the bump and they combined on a nine-strikeout, six-hitter.

Unfortunately for the NEB Nationals, the 643 DP Cougars scored six unearned runs on their way to a 7-4 victory, certainly not the best way for the Nats to kick-off the tournament. It’s also not necessarily a deal-breaker when it comes to advancing the to the playoffs; it’s only one game, after all.

Woodcox tripled, 2020 Ryne Guida (t-500, Stetson) doubled and 2020 Luke Beckstein (t-500, Kansas State) singled to account for NEB’s three hits. Guillemette, Brett Anderson (Hartford) and Mark Black (No. 313, St. John’s) each drove in a run without the benefit of a base-hit.

“We need it to start from inning number-one,” Guillemette said of the players having each other’s backs. “We all pick each other up whenever something doesn’t go someone’s way; we’re always the first ones to back him up.”

But the game proved that NEB National has the pitching depth to contend here. 2020 top-500s Nathan Haberthier (Ohio State) and Jack Clemente (La Salle), and 2021 top-500s Asa Runge (College of Charleston) and Jack Cebert (Stetson) are scheduled to get their turns on the hill on Friday. 2020s Hunter Owen (No. 243, Vanderbilt) and Ryan Zimmer (t-500 Michigan) are slated for Saturday.

They’ll have to be at their best and the NEB National hitters better heat up their bats. They’re scheduled to face LSU commits Brody Drost and Connor Simon from Team Louisiana-Sheets on Friday and Florida commits Anthony Ursitti and Matthew Prevesk from FTB Tucci 2020 on Saturday.

“The biggest thing is to play like no one’s watching,” Guillemette said, anticipating a horde of scouts to turn out for each one of  those games. “Just have some fun, play loose, always stay loose in the dugout. Don’t overthink the game of baseball because baseball doesn’t have to be that hard.

“I was at this tournament last year and I was all nervous,” he added. “Now I’ve just got to play loose because it’s baseball and you’re going to fail 70 percent of the time. … But it’s baseball and you’ve got to have fun.”

When the team was assembled in person for the first time – like it was before Thursday morning exhibition – there really isn’t any profound, deep message delivered by Sullivan, Patterson or anybody else on the staff.

Two hours, they say. Just give us everything you’ve got for two hours, play hard and show us you are a competitor. The play here is going to be competitive and it’s going to be a whole heck of a lot fun, and two hours of effort is all we’re looking for.

“I think that makes it a more loose environment,” Sullivan said. “They come out and play, and if you make a mistake trying to make a play or trying to take an extra base, it is what it is. You’re not going to get reamed-out when you come back to the dugout.”

While the North East Baseball “front office” personnel are being forthcoming in their desire to win the Jupiter championship, Sullivan is also forthcoming in his belief that the PG WWBA World Championship needs to be treated as a showcase event, as well.

The roster was constructed with the idea of giving every player as many “scout looks” as he can possibly get and with four guaranteed games, every player on the roster will play and play a lot. “No one is going to come and sit on the bench. It’s a showcase for the scouts but we also want to make a run,” Sullivan said.

North East Baseball has made plenty of runs in the past and has a couple of PG WWBA tournament championships on its resume; it always plays well at the PG WWBA West MLK championships played in Phoenix every January.

The pool-play loss on Thursday hurts but crazy things happen in this game and not every pool championship is won by an undefeated team. “We just need to keep our same approach; play calm, play clean,” Woodcox said, speaking of the next two games on their schedule.

The roster may seem far-flung in terms of geography but just one day in Sullivan already likes the rapport these teammates enjoy. Most of these players are used to becoming acclimated with new teammates based on their previous travel ball experiences and putting a quality team like this together is becoming second nature to the North East Baseball brain trust.

“It’s a very loose environment” within the program, Sullivan said. “Everyone that comes in, we have fun and we try to win. Everyone plays and no one leaves having had a bad time. Say there’s a 2019 kid that’s really good, he had a good experience and he knows a 2020 that’s really good and he doesn’t have a team here. That kind of keeps it going now and it makes it a lot easier.”

He then looked around at the hundreds of golf carts making their way around the Roger Dean Complex, each one carrying MLB front office personnel and scouts, or college coaches and recruiters. It can be kind of overwhelming.

“There’s nothing better than this,” Sullivan concluded. “This is the most important week of our travel ball tournaments by far. With five-hundred scouts, the goal is to get these kids look and so, yeah, it’s the best environment in the (amateur) baseball world and it’s not even close.”

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