Tournaments | Story | 12/13/2019

Crawdads Prove Balance Wins

Blake Dowson        
Photo: Theo Gillen (Perfect Game)

The 13u Crawdads by Yeti Baseball Club shows up to every tournament it plays in expecting to win.

Win its first game, win its pool, win the whole thing.

“We go into every tournament, doesn’t matter where it is, expecting to win,” head coach Josh Sanders said. “We feel like we’re one of the top three or four teams in the nation.”

There are a couple reasons Sanders thinks that, and is quite rational in doing so.

For one, the Crawdads begin each game with Theodore Gillen digging into the batter’s box. In 11 Perfect Game contests this fall, Gillen hit .552 with 11 singles, three doubles, and two triples. He added nine RBI, 13 walks (adding up to a .698 on-base percentage) and 21 stolen bases in those 11 games.

The 2019 13u Select Festival participant does it all for the Crawdads, including logging some time on the mound, where he threw 1 1/3 scoreless innings for Sanders this fall.

Perfect Game doesn’t rank players at the 13u level. Sanders took the liberty of doing that work, however, for his star shortstop.

“We’ve seen every best player in the country and as far as gamechangers go, I think he effects the game with his overall skillset and his five tools more than any other position player in the country,” he said. “He’s a gamechanger. I’d venture to say for a guy who’s not just a pure pitcher-type, who’s just mowing everyone down, for a position player he changes the game more than anyone else in the country.

“He’s a great hitter from a contact perspective, but he also has a ton of power. He’s probably the fastest kid in the country. If he gets on first base, even against the best players in the country, with pitchers who are quick to the plate and throwing hard…if you let him get on base, it’s a triple. He’s going to steal second and third and score for us. And he’s a phenomenal defensive shortstop.”

It’s hard to commit to just walking Gillen to get away from him for a couple reasons. One, he’ll just steal second and third, like Sanders said. Two, he has three guys hitting behind him in the lineup that all hit at least .429 in Perfect Game events this fall.

Joshua Atomanczyk, the main catcher on the team, hit .483 in 11 games for the Crawdads. He notched eight RBI across 14 hits, including four doubles, which tied for the team lead with Orlando Jose Gonzalez, Jr, who was one of the other top hitters on the team, with a .462 average.

Gonzalez is a pitcher first-and-foremost. He led the team in innings (and just about every other category) in PG events. In 13 2/3 innings, Gonzalez, a 6-foot righthander, struck out 25 hitters.

And then there is Julius Ramirez, the thump in the lineup, who hit .429 in the six games he played with the Crawdads this fall.

“All different types of guys,” Sanders said of the three. “Josh is the heart and soul of the team from a leadership perspective...In stature he’s not the biggest guy. But he’s got so much athleticism to him and he’s always batting in the middle of our lineup. He’s as consistent as they come with squaring the ball up. [Gonzalez] is just a huge talent. He projects more as a pitcher, but he really swings it well. He’s an ace who can really swing it…Julius is the strongest kid we know. He has the most pure power on the team…He really changes the lineup for us. He usually hits in the four-hole for us and provides a dimension for us, whether it be with wood or BBCOR, that’s hard to find.”

It is hard to look up and down the Crawdad lineup and see three outs. The thing is, when teams do figure that out and dig into the box themselves, it is time to deal with a pitching staff that had a 0.95 ERA in 66 innings during PG events this fall. That was good enough to rank 15th out of 443 teams.

The Crawdads had five pitchers with an ERA of 0.00 who threw at least three innings – Atomanczyk, who tossed 9 1/3 of those innings, James Gatlin, Vinny Cano, Ramirez, and Sage Sanders.

That’s not to mention the work Gonzalez did on the mound, or Mario Suaceda, who boasted a 2.17 ERA over 9 2/3 innings, second-most on the team.

Collectively, the team allowed an opponent’s batting average of just .180, while they themselves had a team average right at .300.

“We’re blessed with really, really deep arms and really good defenders,” Sanders said. “We’ve got guys who are pool play guys who project to probably be Power 5, Division I guys. The guys we have that haven’t hit their growth spurt yet, they’re extremely competitive and extremely crafty. They know how to play and pitch better than a lot of guys. We’re blessed with a whole roster of pitchers. We’ve got 10 guys out of 13 on the roster that I don’t hesitate to throw out there anytime and I know I’ll get good, competitive innings out of them. I’m hugely impressed with our arms.”

So, it’s easy to see why the team shows up to any tournament it plays in expecting to leave with a title.

The Crawdads travelled to West Palm Beach for the WWBA 14u World Championship with such expectations. A 3-0 pool play record, while outscoring opponents 26-12, got it into the championship bracket.

Run differential in pool play gave the team the No. 7 seed and a matchup against No. 2 seed Cannons Baseball Academy 2024 American. The result was a 10-1 Crawdad win, with Gillen knocking in three runs on three hits and Gonzalez throwing all seven innings while striking out 11 hitters.

Baserunning mistakes and a couple ill-timed errors proved to be too much to overcome in the semifinal of the tournament, however, and the Crawdads lost to USA Prime National 14u, 3-1, despite outhitting them, eight hits to one.

The sour taste of losing that game lasted more than a month, Sanders said, but was made a little better when the team went to Tomball, Texas to play in the 2019 PG 14u South Fall Championship.

“We were looking forward to seeing how the pool play games turned into the bracket, and we were able to see who we were facing up against in the bracket,” he said. “Our other [Yeti] team was in that tournament and they’re a really strong team, and we ended up on opposite sides of the bracket which is always great. Fortunately, we were both able to run through our sides of the bracket and both make the championship.”

The Crawdads outscored its pool play opponents 22-1 and earned the No. 3 seed. A 6-5 first round win and 5-1 second round win got them to the championship game, where they beat tournament No. 1 seed Crawdads Red, 9-1 behind two RBI each from Atomanczyk and Gonzalez, while Ramirez gave them 5 2/3 strong innings on the mound, striking out seven.

“We went into that tournament knowing we were one of the top teams there and probably the best team there,” Sanders said.

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