Tournaments | Story | 10/11/2019

USA Prime Ready For All Takers

Blake Dowson        
Photo: Jackson McKenzie (Perfect Game)
2019 WWBA Freshman World Championship Event Page

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- USA Prime National 15u coach Brandon Gowins talks to his team a lot about it, and it comes into play when the team travels to tournaments like the WWBA Freshman World Championship.

With so many highly-ranked players on their squad – nine top-100 players in total – they are almost always going to be the hunted and almost never going to be the hunter.

“We’ve got a target on our back, but that’s what we want,” Gowins said. “We want them to be comfortable being uncomfortable. We want them to embrace having that target, because that’s what it’s going to be like when they’re at Mississippi State and LSU. There’s going to be 10,000 people there, so this is good for everybody to be hunting us.”

Derrick Mitchell (No. 7 in the 2023 class), Walter Ford (No. 15), Austen Roellig (No. 19), Nikolas Sanders (No. 21), and Steven Milam (No. 26) were all 14u Perfect Game Select Festival participants. Mitchell and Ford are committed to Arizona State and Alabama, respectively, and the others have interest from the same level of programs.

It’s an impressive group of talent.

Jackson McKenzie is the No. 34 player in the 2023 class. He was a 14u PG Select Festival participant, as well. He got the ball on the mound to start the Freshman World on Friday night and hit third in the USA Prime National lineup. He’s already got an impressive resume, which comes with a big ol’ ‘X’ on his back.

He said he’s grown accustomed to that, though, and now can lead his teammates through it with experience to draw on.

“I’ve always been bigger my whole life, so I’ve always felt like I’ve had a target on myself,” McKenzie said. “So to be with these teammates, the coaches told us that every team is going to treat our games like the championship, so that’s fun.”

Power Baseball 2023 White gave them everything they could handle on Friday night, with USA Prime winning by a score of 3-1. Walks were the culprit for Power Baseball, as they only gave up one hit in the entire contest.

The difference? Behind the arm of McKenzie, Kade Anderson, Milam, and Chris Smith, USA Prime didn't give up a single hit.

"Anytime you have Jackson McKenzie and Kade Anderson, those are two horses right there," Gowins said. "I’d probably put those two arms against anyone in this tournament.”

This is a team built to play with pressure like they got from Power Baseball, and really seems to welcome it.

That comes from leadership from the top players on the team, which is paramount for any squad that wants to make deep runs in tournaments like these. Long, talent-rich tournaments surely will have adversity sewn in.

It’s up to those leaders, especially at the freshman level, to work their teammates through it.

Gowins said they have those players in spades.

“You have the alpha males like Jackson [McKenzie] and Nikolas Sanders and those guys,” he said. “They’re mature beyond their years and they set the tone for the rest of the group on taking care of their business. They do the little things. We talk to them every day and their goal is not to get a Division I scholarship, their goal is to be starting as a freshman wherever they go. That starts now.”

That’s not to say these kids are robots. Put more emphasis on the ‘kid’ and less on the ‘robot.’ Most of the team hung out on the beach during a delay in play on Friday due to rain that moved through the West Palm Beach area.

Naturally, they look at rankings. They know they have a bunch of top guys on the squad.

It would be pretty easy to think this tournament is theirs to win. It helps to have some role models to look up to, and in that respect, they have some pretty good ones who have come through the program.

“They’re 14, 15 years old, so they’re just like any other kid,” Gowins said. “For the most part they get it, and they’ve seen some of our older guys that have come through and been around, like the Bobby Witts of the world. If you’re going to be in that top one percent, it’s a lot of self-motivation that doesn’t need to come from the coach.”

McKenzie gets it. He’s been ‘the guy’ for a while now, and takes that role with all the responsibility it comes with.

Gowins said he doesn’t ever need to get on his players because McKenzie beats him to it if something needs to be said.

He wants to win this tournament for his teammates, he said, because there’s nothing better than winning a championship with teammates who have become good friends over the years.

“It’s an honor to be a part of this,” McKenzie said. “I’ve always wanted to play with my buddies and I’ve played with a lot of these guys from the [PG 14u] Select Festival. So it’s awesome to play with them.”

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