Tournaments | Story | 1/19/2020

Sunday/Fun Day at West MLK

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Braylon Bishop (Perfect Game)

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Playoff baseball usually brings out the best in the best of teams, and that was certainly both the beginning and the end of the story for the 3n2 Sticks Baseball 17u National Team on Sunday/Fun Day at the Perfect Game WWBA West MLK Underclass Championship.

It was also a very good day for 15 other teams in the West MLK Upperclass, Underclass and Freshman championships as they extended their stays in the desert into Monday, the official MLK national holiday.

The Sticks 17u National Team was dominant enough during pool-play on Friday and Saturday to earn the playoffs’ No. 5 seed and a bye into the second-round.

They made the most of the opportunity by blasting No. 12 North East Baseball-American, 13-1 in four innings on Sunday, which gave them a seat at the table for Monday’s quarterfinal round at the West MLK Underclass Championship, to be played at the Camelback Ranch MLB spring training complex.

The Sticks 17u Nationals actually trailed 1-0 heading into the bottom of the first inning but used 14 hits to score the next 13 runs with 10 coming in the bottom of the fourth, ending the game via the run-rule. It was quite a show and one that was staged on the White Sox’s side of the Camelback Ranch MLB spring training complex.

“We just kind of trusted each other and then strung a couple of hits together at the right time and capitalized on some of the mistakes that they made,” Sticks National Team 3-hole hitter Drake Varnado told PG postgame. “They left too many fastballs over the plate and we took advantage of it.”

But for Arkansas-based Sticks Baseball, this Sunday had the possibility of being even more of a Fun Day then it was already. The 3n2 Sticks Baseball 17u American Team one-upped its older brother by earning the playoffs’ No. 3 seed coming out of pool-play and also received a bye out of the first round.

The Americans couldn’t complete the delightful daily-double, however, falling to the No. 19 AZ Desert Cats, 8-6. But they could return to Arkansas knowing they had made a deep playoff run that no one really saw coming.

And so, one Sticks Baseball team survived to play on MLK Day while the other came up just short. Those outcomes were part of day that couldn’t have been any nicer weather-wise (sunny, highs in the mid-70s) and also ended with Monday’s quarterfinal pairings being set.

There were three second-round upsets according to the seedings, highlighted by No. 17 CCB Underclass White knocking off the No. 1 PFA Matadors by an 8-0 count. Monday’s pairings are:

No. 17 CCB Underclass White (3-0-1) vs. No. 8 Trosky National 2021 (3-0-0); No. 5 3n2 Sticks Baseball 17u National Team (3-0-0) vs. No. 4 Tri State Arsenal 2021 Scout Team (3-0-0); No. 22 Toros Baseball (3-1-0) vs. No. 19 AZ Desert Cats (3-0-1); No. 7 PNW Underclass Royal (3-0-0) vs. No. 2 3D Gold (3-0-0).

The Sticks Baseball 17u National Team’s start to their game with NEB-American didn’t go exactly as scripted. Brewster sent elite 2021 right-hander Keegan Allen out to make the start, but the No. 72-ranked Georgia Tech commit was at times both red-hot and ice-cold. He worked two hitless innings, getting all six outs via strikeout, but he also gave up an earned run because of the five walks he issued.

Not to worry. The Sticks’ bats came to life in the bottom of the first when they scored two runs to take the lead for good and three innings later they walked off the field with the 13-2 victory.

Where to begin.

Hunter Elliott, a No. 81-ranked Ole Miss commit, doubled twice, singled, drove in a run and scored two; Josh Pearson, a No. 73-ranked LSU commit, doubled, singled, had an RBI and scored a run; Braylon Bishop, an Arkansas commit ranked No. 5 nationally in the 2021 class, singled twice, walked, drove in a run and scored a pair.

Also, Texas Rian Cellers, a Mississippi State commit, singled twice, drove in a run and scored two hitting leadoff and Jordan Huskey, batting 11th in the order, delivered a  pair of singles and a pair of RBI. Varnado, a No. 29-ranked Arkansas commit, doubled and drove in three with a run scored and Oregon State commit Tanner Smith doubled with an RBI and a run scored.

“Like Drake (Varnado) said, they left way too many fastballs over the plate and we capitalized,” Elliott said. “We knew we were the better team going in, and we just had to play a clean game.”

2021 righty Grayson Gates came on in relief of Allen in the top of the third and threw two scoreless one-hit innings, striking out four and walking two.

Most of the guys on the 17u National Team roster have been with Sticks Baseball since they were 14 years old, including the highly regarded Bishop and New Mexico commit Rhett Jaggers, among others. It became evident early on that this was going to be a special group.

For this weekend, the Sticks National Team picked up Varnado, and No. 68-ranked 2022 third baseman Colton Sims is another Arkansas commit rostered with the team.

“Anytime those Razorback commits can get together – and it seems like every January and October they want to play together – and it’s hard to turn down good players,” Sticks Baseball founder/manager Chase Brewster said Sunday.

He went on to tell PG that he and his staff have been really proud of everyone on this National Team roster dating back to their play during the summer and fall. The outfielder Bishop, he said, has been playing especially well but he’s come to expect that from a top national prospect who has been a team leader since he was 14 years old.

Brewster also told PG that 2021 shortstop Aidan Garrett is as good as any player his age in the state of Arkansas and also heaped praise on the talented Cellers, who hit in the leadoff spot on Sunday.

“And Rian Cellers, if he’d come to all the (PG) events and the showcases, he’s a top-100 player for sure,” he said. “So this is kind of another one of their coming-out parties to get ready for a big summer on our national team.”

Brewster first brought one Arkansas Sticks Baseball team to the PG West MLK Underclass Championship five years ago, and in subsequent years he and his staff found they were having to turn away talented kids who wanted to participate because the roster was full.

At that point, Sticks Baseball decided it was going to make the West MLKs an annual event and bring as many kids to Phoenix in January as possible just to help them get a jump-start on their spring high school seasons. So this year they decided to bring two underclass teams to the event and they didn’t disappoint.

The National Team is the older group a majority of the prospects from the class of 2021 while the 17u American Team features more 2022s, including No. 62-ranked outfielder and Arkansas commit Cooper Dossett. Four American players, including Dossett, have already committed to D-I schools but Brewster said 10 or 12 others have offers but haven’t made a decision yet.

“We were fortunate enough to have a lot of good players and to have two teams get a bye was a blessing for our program,” Brewster said.

The way the West MLK Underclass schedule is set-up, the two teams that reach the championship game Monday afternoon will be playing in their third game of the day. These guys with the 3n2 Sticks Baseball 17u National Team like their chances of pulling off one very special trifecta.

“We’ve been able to swing the bats, throw a lot of strikes and not make many errors on defense; that’s the key to winning really,” Elliott said, before adding that he’s more than ready to play three games and bring home a championship. “We have the pitching, so we’ll see.”

“We’ve just got to play as a team,” Varnado added. “Three games, that’s a lot for one day, so it’s going to take the whole team.”

Semifinal pairings set for West MLK Upperclass, Freshman

It was also Sunday/Fun Day at the PG WWBA West MLK Upperclass and Freshman Championships, which completed their quarterfinal-round games Sunday afternoon to set Monday’s semifinal pairings.

The Upperclass quarters featured three upsets according to the seedings, including No. 8 NorCal Baseball Red escaping No. 1 New Level Prep, 7-6. No. 3 eXposure West Prime and No. 4 NEB Prospects also went by the wayside courtesy of No. 6 North East Baseball National and No. 5 MidSouth Prospects 2020, respectively. Here are Monday’s semifinal pairings:

No. 8 NorCal Baseball Red (3-1-0) vs. No. 5 MidSouth Prospects 2020 (4-0-0); No. 6 North East Baseball National (4-0-0) vs. No. 2 Trosky National 2020 (4-0-0).

Quarterfinal games were also wrapped-up late Sunday on the Freshman side which resulted in these semifinal pairings for Monday: No. 6 Dirtbags Black 2023 (3-0-1) vs. No. 2 LVR (4-0-0) and No. 4 PNW Freshman Navy (3-0-1) vs. No. 1 Trosky National 2023 (4-0-0).

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