Tournaments | Story | 9/19/2020

GRB Rays National find ways to win

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Vincent Trapini (Perfect Game)

MARION, Iowa – There is an overwhelming sense of unpredictability at a PG WWBA World Championship Qualifier tournament like the one being contested at the Prospect Meadows Sports Complex this weekend.

Teams competing at the 18th annual WWBA Kernels Foundation Championship know this reality first-hand. It’s impossible to write down a game-day script and then follow it to the letter simply because that isn’t the way baseball works.

The GRB Rays National, a squad out of the prominent Windsor, Wis.-based Greg Reinhart Baseball organization, learned that lesson in a very satisfying way after two days of play at the WWBA Kernels Championship. There is, it can be confirmed, more than one way to win a baseball game.

This talented team rolled into Eastern Iowa for the weekend and started things off by blasting Illinois-based ESP 2022, 13-3, Friday afternoon. The players then rolled out of bed early on Saturday morning and barely escaped the Kansas-based Central Scout Team, 2-0.

They were two games that played-out in completely different ways but at the end of the day the end result was two “W’s” and a whole lot of smiles.

“This group especially has a ton of talent,” GRB Rays National head coach Zach Ransom told PG on a chilly but sunny Saturday morning at Prospect Meadows. “I think we have a good shot at making a good run here with the pitchers that we have and the lineup we can roll out. The way we started out yesterday put us in a good spot moving forward.”

The GRB Rays National are in a good spot heading into Sunday’s 22-team playoffs. They have 16 prospects on their official roster from the classes of 2021 and 2022 (one 2023) that have committed to D-I schools and the vast majority have their names associated with a national PG prospect ranking.

2021 righthander Vincent Trapani is one of the kingpins on that roster. A 6-foot-1, 215 pounder and an Arkansas commit from Eau Claire, Wis., Trapani came into the tournament ranked No. 69 nationally in his class and thrives when he’s in the company of his teammates.

“We’re all very connected; we have really good, close relationships with each other,” he told PG Saturday morning. “I’m a little farther away from most of the guys on the team in terms of where I live but despite that we’re all really close. We just have a great bond and we love playing together.”

And the Rays National showed a little bit of everything in their two wins Friday and Saturday and their walk-off 2-0 win Saturday morning couldn’t have been more compelling. Pitchers for both the GRB Rays National and the Central Scout Team were dominant throughout and the game was scoreless heading into the bottom of the seventh.

Liam Moreno, a 2021 top-500 third baseman and a Missouri State commit, led the inning off with a line-drive double to center which at the time was only the Rays’ third hit of the game; it didn’t take long for them to get their fourth.

Up stepped 2022 outfielder Cuyler Zukowski, a top-500 prospect and Creighton commit, who connected on a first-pitch fastball and sent it out of the yard over the left field fence for a game winning two-run home run; the celebration in the Rays’ dugout was unbridled, to say the least.

“The tempo changed that last inning because we needed to get a hit, we needed to get a run to move on, so I think everyone was more aggressive,” Zukowski said postgame. “We needed to find our pitch and (I saw) a first-pitch fastball and was able to hit it over.”

Zukowski, who had singled in the fifth, also gave credit to Moreno for getting the belated rally rolling with his leadoff double: “With that, we gained some momentum in a positive way. That was really clutch by him.”

The Rays National were still in the game at that point thanks to a pair of outstanding pitching efforts. Trapani made the start and was brilliant, throwing four shutout, one-hit innings while striking out seven without issuing a walk; he struck-out two batters in each of the first two innings before striking out the side in the third.

“It was pretty cold but I just got a good warm-up in and went out and played with my teammates,” Trapani said. “I thought we did a great job of closing the game out; it was just a lot of fun.”

2021 righty Logan Schulfer was every bit as effective after coming in to work the game’s last three innings. A UW-Milwaukee commit ranked No. 285 nationally, Schulfer allowed only one hit while striking out three and walking one.

“We try to pair them together because there’s usually a good pro (scouts) following for those two guys, so we try to get them in the same game,” Ransom said of the Trapani-Schulfer one-two punch. “It’s nice when you can roll out 94 (mph) for seven innings.”

It’s certainly worth noting that Central Scout Team starter Michael Infranca, a 2021 lefthander, was pretty good in this one, too, throwing four shutout, one-hit innings with five strikeouts and a walk before being removed in the fifth.

It was the Rays National’s bats that took center stage in Friday’s 13-3 five-inning win with 11 hits total and pushing across 11 of their 13 runs in the first three innings.

2021 Nick Nowak (Madison College, HF) doubled twice, drove in two runs and scored another from his No. 9 slot in the batting order and No. 10 hitter Justin Hausser (UW-Milwaukee, HF) delivered a pair of singles, two RBI and three runs scored.

Moreno doubled, singled and drove in a pair, 2021 Carson Shepard (Ohio, t-1000) doubled and scored and 2021 Gabe Roessler singled and also had a pair of RBI. Brock Daniels, a 2021 shortstop and an Oklahoma commit ranked No. 117 nationally, went 0-for-2 but drove in a pair of runs on the strength of a sac fly and a fielder’s choice groundout.

The Rays National’s pitching was pretty good in this one, too, with 2021 right-handers Andrew Brockwell, Jason Starr and Austin Bestul combining on a three-hitter. Starr and Bestul pitched the fourth and fifth innings, respectively, and Starr struck-out the side in the fourth and Bestul struck-out one of the three batters he faced in the fifth.

The champion of the WWBA Kernels Foundation Championship receives a paid invitation to the WWBA World Championship in Fort Myers, Fla., Oct. 8-12 and that would be a big deal for many of the players on this Rays National team.

“With this group, there are some kids who will be playing with the Midwest Reds Scout Team down there already but for most of these kids their only real shot to go down there is with us,” Ransom said. “So it is a motivating factor for most of these kids.”

Among the prospects that played in these first two games, Trapani, Schulfer, Daniels, Carson Hornung (Missouri, follow), Trett Joles (Indiana State, HF) and Shea McGahan (Missouri, No. 456) are rostered with the Midwest Reds Scout Team in Jupiter; Moreno and Josh Caron (Nebraska, t-500) are rostered with the St. Louis Pirates.

Most of the players on this Rays National roster played on the GRB 17u team over the summer and have been playing together for three or four years now. Ransom called it a competitive team that has learned to feed off each other’s energy when they’re out on the field. That, in turn, creates a good environment in which everyone thrives.

“These guys are pretty loose as a group,” Ransom said. “They like to have fun but when they need to compete, they always do. Our pitching staff has been really good; almost every guy is 90 to 92 (mph). The lineup is pretty good, too, so it’s been pretty well-rounded.”

Zukowski summed it up by saying, “It’s great coming here every day, playing some good competition. The team atmosphere is great, the team chemistry is great; everything’s just great on this team.”

With the playoffs starting Sunday morning Ransom doesn’t worry about this team losing that competitive edge that has served it so well. Almost all of these guys will play college baseball (or perhaps, professionally) in the next couple of years so the expectation is they will maintain that edge and keep this train moving down the tracks.

“Perfect Game does a great job with this event; there’s a lot of quality teams and competition here,” Trapani said. “We know each game is going to be tough but we’ve played pretty well so far and we’re looking to make a run the rest of the tournament.”

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