JUPITER, Fla. – The Thursday of Jupiter Week has long served as opening day at the Perfect Game WWBA World Championship, but the slate that day traditionally consisted of exhibition games during the early afternoon with a smattering of pool-play games that night.
The field was expanded to 92 teams this year, so that format went by the wayside. There were still several exhibition games played Thursday morning, but pool-play was underway in full-force by the 10:30 a.m. time slot and by the end of the day, 38 pool-play games were in the books.
It’s the new reality, and one of the many positives that came out of it on Thursday was the inclusion on the schedule of some very intriguing day-one matchups and some very interesting results. Did anyone really see Home Plate Chili Dogs-Searcy 3, Canes National 2 materializing on a Thursday afternoon?
At roughly the same time the Dogs were downing the Canes, two of the top teams from Pool L were also going at it on Field 7 on the Marlins side of the Roger Dean Complex. That’s where Tennessee-based Knights/eXposure Baseball was playing the national MLB Breakthrough Series 2020 in an opener that would give the winner an inside track to claiming the Pool L championship.
Adding to the intrigue was the fact that the Knights/eXposure were sending PG All-American 2020 right-hander Ryan Hagenow to the mound and the MLB Breakthrough Series was set to counter with elite 2020 righty Miles Garrett.
“I’m playing with a bunch of new players today and the Breakthrough Series, I know they’re good, so I’m just going to go out there and try to do my thing; if they hit me, they hit me,” Hagenow told PG during a short conversation before the game’s first pitch. “I’ve been excited for the opportunity; it’s definitely going to be fun. I know they’re a good team and I’m just excited to show what I can do.
“I know I have a good defense behind me ready to make every single play, so that’s not even a worry,” he added. “It’s really not as much pressure as it seems, it’s only as much pressure as you make it.
No, of course not, no pressure at all, even as roughly 50 golf carts carrying scouts of every ilk jockeyed for prime viewing locations around Marlins 7. And the pitchers weren’t the only players of interest. Both rosters are stocked with top national prospects from the classes of 2020 and 2021, so the evaluators knew they were in for an intense two hours of note-taking.
When those two hours and seven innings had expired, no one left disappointed, except for the players and coaches from the Knights/eXposure Baseball. Garrett, a 5-foot-11, 160-pound right-hander from Stone Mountain, Ga., who attends national powerhouse Parkview High School, had delivered five innings of two-hit, shutout baseball while striking out seven and walking one in the MLB Breakthrough Series’ 2-0 victory.
“I was feeling electric out there, to be honest,” said Garrett, a Vanderbilt commit ranked No. 138 nationally. “I’m with my boys, this is my last tournament and I was just trying to get them to the (championship) to be honest.
“We’ve got to take it a game at a time, a pitch at a time, so I’m just thinking if I throw strikes and force weak contact (my defense) is going to make the plays regardless.”
Hagenow, a 6-foot-5, 208-pound No. 43-ranked 2020 righty from Knoxville, Tenn., who attends Farragut High School and has committed to Kentucky , was pretty darn good himself. He allowed one earned run on three hits with six strikeouts and a walk in 3 1/3 innings.
“Ryan Hagenow is going to be on a strict pitch-count,” Knights/eXposure Baseball head coach Brandon Turner said pregame. “We understand what we’re here for, what we’re here to do, so as much as we want to win we would could probably just roll him out there and have him throw 90-100 pitches and be in real good shape.
“But for us, we’re worried about Ryan first so we’re going to keep on a really strict pitch-count and we’re trying to keep it in perspective of what we’re here for.”
The MLB Breakthrough Series totaled six hits in the win, with Ian Moller collecting a single and an RBI and D'Andre Smith delivering a double. The Knights/eXposure finished with four hits, which included doubles from both Jaden Rudd and Gehrig Ebel.
“It was definitely a well-pitched game on both sides,” said Tom “Flash” Gordon, one of more than a half-dozen former big league players and coaches who help coach the Breakthrough Series team. “Both teams had good defenses and both guys pitched very well, and of course that was expected.
“And Miles (Garrett), that’s what he does. He’s been that guy we’ve been able to go to … and when you see what Miles does, he goes after it whole-heartedly.”
Garrett, the Vandy commit, didn’t seem that intense in his postgame comments, although anyone who watched him pitch would be foolish to question his level of intensity.
“Keep the ball down and whatever happens, happens,” he said of his approach. “If they hit me, whatever, I’m going to do my job; I’m mentally ready, I’m physically ready. I feel like I did my job today and my boys had my back and we won; that’s all that matters to me. We’ve just got to keep it going over this weekend.”
Getting the win over this outfit out of Tennessee was huge. The team is a combination of players from the highly regarded and respected Knights Baseball and eXposure Baseball programs and they’re not here to roll over for anyone, as this result showed.
“A bunch of us have a lot of similar backgrounds I feel like; just kind of like the Southeastern culture,” said Ebel, a top-500 2020 catcher and a Virginia Tech commit who also happens to have been given a great baseball name (Gehrig) by his parents. “We all already have a lot in common and I feel like that will help us a lot to mesh and get through the week together.”
Turner, the eXposure Baseball head coach who played at this event more than 15 years ago, said he told his players before they even arrived on Florida’s central Atlantic Coast, that the coaches would do everything they could to make sure their experience here is a beneficial one, wins or losses aside.
It’s an opportunity for his players to showcase themselves on high school baseball’s biggest stage and put themselves in a good position as they head into their prep seasons in the spring. But, he tells them, they also came here to win.
“When I played in it back in 2003 – I remember showing up and that was my first taste of it – It was kind of like, wow, this is different than any other event,” Turner recalled. “Since we’ve been doing this the last two years, yeah, it’s second to none. We call it the grand finale of whole year and with Perfect Game doing all this, it’s impressive that they can put together an event like this.”
The Series’ Garrett is a competitor’s competitor, and when he saw that Hagenow was going to be taking the mound opposite of him, he was thrilled to have the opportunity to dual with the PG All-American. And as the golf carts continued to stack-up four, five, six-deep, he smiled and went about his business.
“I love it, but I don’t really think about that stuff to be honest,” he said. “It’s just a game, and I’m just playing it and having fun. No matter what happens I’m going to represent God at the highest standard and I’m going to do what I’ve been doing since I was little.
“That’s really all it is in the end. Winning’s fun and as long as we’re winning, I’m good. All that other stuff, it’s going to fall in place.”
And with that, players from both teams collected their things and left the Roger Dean Complex intent on getting back after it when pool-play resumed on Friday.
“After this first game, win or lose, we’re just going to keep trying our hardest after that,” said the Knights/eXposure’s Jared Dickey, a top-500 2020 outfielder and a Tennessee recruit. “We’ve got to make a run for it somehow.”