MARION, Iowa – When a team comes into a high-profile Perfect Game tournament not even a week removed from winning a previous high-profile PG tournament at the same complex, it often finds itself wearing a bit of a target on its back.
That was the scenario Waukesha, Wis.-based STiKS Academy 2023 walked into Saturday morning at the Prospect Meadows Sports Complex as play belatedly got underway at the 26-team PG Sophomore Midwest Select Championship.
The STiKS 2023 were back in action just five days after they had captured the championship at the PG WWBA Sophomore Midwest Labor Day Classic, also played at the Prospect Meadows complex over the long Labor Day weekend. They went 5-0-0 in claiming that championship, picking up some valuable confidence along the way, but they came in here knowing it was no time to relax.
“We were feeling pretty good about ourselves but we knew we couldn’t take this weekend off,” top 2023 prospect Ethan Brown told PG on Saturday. “We had some pretty good close games last week, especially in the championship game that was coming down to the end but we felt pretty good after last weekend.
“Now we have to know to stay high-energy but also stay composed,” he added. “We have to be able to come out and just do our jobs.”
With the full slate of games rained out Friday night, the STiKS 2023 were finally able to open against the Angels out of Parker, Colo., on Saturday morning, although rain continued to fall throughout the game.
A three-run top of the third gave STiKS a 3-2 lead it held until the bottom of the sixth when the Angels were able to tie the game before the game was ended by the 2-hour time limit. The outcome left both teams with an 0-0-1 record to start pool-play.
Hitting lead-off, Brown doubled twice, singled and scored a run and Thomas Curry doubled, drove in a pair of runs and scored another.
Adam Schilz, a 6-foot-2, 165 pound 2023 righthander, threw the first three innings, allowing two runs on two hits with five strikeouts and a walk, before giving way to the bullpen. 2023 righties Brown, Jonah Conradt and Myles Rewolinski threw the last three innings and did what was needed.
“Adam Schilz did a great job; he’s been good the last two weeks,” STiKS 2023 head coach Trevor Cho told PG Saturday. “And then everybody that came out of the bullpen did a good job. … I thought our bullpen really kept us in the game there because in conditions like this it’s tough to get things going offensively.”
Cho wasn’t talking out of the side of his mouth when he commented on how well Schilz has been pitching in September. He earned Most Valuable Pitcher honors at the PG WWBA Sophomore Midwest Labor Day Classic after pitching a five-inning, 13-strikeout no-hitter against the Sioux Falls Elite.
“It felt pretty good,” Schilz said Saturday, speaking of that outing. “I just wanted to throw well and just get outs, and that’s what I did. I felt a lot of confidence but I tried not to be over-confident (today). You try not to think about it and just go out and pitch the next game.”
In their second pool-play game Saturday, the STiKS 2023 ambushed Iowa Select Hanrahan 2023, 18-0, in three innings. Tyler Butina slugged a grand slam in the win, Brayden Pleau delivered a pair of singles and five RBI, Schilz (a lefthanded hitter) singled twice, drove in a pair of runs and scored three others, Ej Kuster doubled, drove in a run and scored three and Ethan Hindle singled with two RBI and a run scored.
The STiKS 2023 came in here this weekend playing without a couple of their top 2023s: righthander Dylan Questad, a Notre Dame commit ranked No. 370 nationally, and outfielder Ryan Drumm, ranked as a “follow.”
There are several other players on this roster who have caught the eye of PG’s scouting department and they made an immediate impact on Saturday. Thomas Curry is a 2023 catcher/third baseman ranked as a top-1,000 nationally, third baseman/righthander Ethan Brown is a “high-follow” and shortstop/outfielder Ethan Hindle is a “follow”.
Cho said that Drumm wasn’t able to be here this weekend because he got a little banged up at the Labor Day event, but under normal circumstances it is Drumm who sets the tone hitting in the leadoff spot. He called both Hindle and Curry Division-I caliber players and said all of his pitchers have all been throwing “lights-out” this month.
If Cho worries about anything with these young players it might be that they become too focused on securing a D-I scholarship and subsequently don’t fully appreciate their travel ball experiences. He lets them know that he’s played college baseball (at St. Cloud State and UW-Whitewater), he’s played in high-profile summer wood bat leagues, he’s played with and against prospects who are going to make a lot of money in the game, and he also played travel ball.
“Looking back on my career, travel baseball is definitely way up there in the experiences that I’ve had (and) I think they kind of have that mindset, too,” Cho said. “While they’re here in this travel circuit they want to go out with as many championships as possible.
“That’s what separates this group from any other group is just them wanting to leave a legacy and build something at STiKS that’s special and that they can look back on when they get to college baseball.”
The STiKS 2023 started building that legacy with their championship performance last weekend at an event in which things just started to click for them against many of the top programs from the states of Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri and elsewhere.
They did have a couple of big-time scares at the Labor Day Classic, however, with the first coming in the first game of the playoffs when they faced P2P Millers 16U Boxwell. P2P Millers jumped out fast, building a 6-1 lead through three innings, but STiKS Academy battled back.
It scored a single run in the top of the fourth, took the lead with a five-spot in the fifth and marched to a 10-6 win after plating two more runs in the sixth and one in the seventh.
There was more drama in the championship game when the STiKS 2023 went into the top of the seventh trailing the Cangelosi Sparks 2023 Black, 2-1, but rallied for three runs in the frame to escape with a 4-2 victory. Cho told PG they were down to their last strike three times during the rally.
“It’s obviously great to win and go 5-0 but I think that the way that we went 5-0 is more impressive because we just kept battling back; when we needed it the most, that’s when we came through,” Cho said. “With this group being sophomores, I think winning a tournament like that with all the top teams going at each other, establishes a lot of confidence for the next two, three years when we’re going to be battling each other all the time.”
The players on this STiKS 2023 learned a lot about the game of baseball while experiencing the highs and lows of PG tournament bracket-play. The ability to show resiliency is both earned and learned and these guys are better for having gone through it. And they’re enjoying it every step along the way.
“It’s very fun; everyone is involved,” Schilz said. You’re not afraid if you’re doing something wrong, they’ll tell you to stop and it keeps everyone in the game. … I’m very proud of being with STiKS. I’m very happy to be a part of (this) and I’ve learned so much.”
SUNDAY’S PLAYOFF PAIRINGS WERE SET FOR BOTH THE PG Sophomore and Underclass Midwest Select Championships by the end of a long day of play on Saturday and championship day promises to be filled with non-stop thrills and spills from mid-morning right through late evening.
Adjustments needed to be made in the Sophomore MW Select schedule which resulted in the playoffs two play-in games (1st round) being moved from Saturday night to 10:15 a.m. on Monday.
One of those first-rounders features a rematch between the No. 9-seeded Angels (Colorado) and No. 8 STiKS Academy 2023 (Wisconsin); the first meeting Saturday ended in a 3-3 tie. The other play-in pits No. 10 Velocity 16u (Wisconsin) against the No. 7 Midwest Future Prospects 2023 (Illinois).
No. 1 US Elite Missouri-Waterman and No. 2 Illinois Lightning-Hart received byes directly into the quarterfinal round and will play the winners of the first-round games. No. 5 Cangelosi Sparks North-Black (Illinois) faces No. 4 The Replacements (Wisconsin) and the No. 6 St. Louis Pirates 2023 (Missouri) and No. 3 29ers Baseball 2023 Black (Illinois meet in the other two quarterfinal contests.
Semifinal games will follow the quarters and the Sophomore MW Select championship game is scheduled for 5 p.m. in the south (Perfect Game) quad.
Prospect Meadows’ north quad will host bracket-play in the Underclass MW Select Championship with quarterfinal play set to begin at 10:15 a.m.; the semis are slated for 12:30 p.m. and the championship game for 2:45 p.m.
The St. Louis Pirates (Missouri) earned the No. 1 seed and squares-off with the No. 8 Nebraska Prospects in one of the four quarterfinals. The other quarterfinal pairings include No. 5 Midwest Halos 2022 Red (Wisconsin) vs. No. 4 CGB (Illinois); No. 6 Iowa Select Obermuller 2022 vs. Elite Baseball Training 17U Varon (Illinois) and No. 7 Iowa Select Dubuque vs. the No. 2 29ers Baseball 2022 Black (Illinois).