MARION, Iowa – Four games. Twenty-two run-rule shortened innings. How has that worked out for the Illinois Dynasty Black 18U at this weekend’s PG WWBA Kernels Foundation Championship being played at the Prospect Meadows Sports Complex? Quite well, in fact, and thanks for asking.
The Shorewood, Ill.-based Dynasty Black 18U were the talk of the tournament late Sunday afternoon after winning a pair of playoff games by shutout and keeping their championship hopes alive at this long-running event.
Their performances Sunday came after they had also won their two pool-play games by shutout on Friday and Saturday. That means they will head into Monday’s semifinal round of this PG WWBA World Championship qualifying tournament having outscored their four opponents by a combined 33-zip.
The Dynasty Black 18U earned the playoffs’ No. 2 seed after posting a 22-0 run differential during pool-play, just a tick behind the No. 1 Cangelosi Sparks 2021 Black’s 27-0 showing. Both totals are impressive, to say the least.
“Our pitchers have thrown strikes and when the other team happens to put the ball in play we can field it and turn a double-play,” Dynasty Black 2022 head coach John Karczewski told PG on Sunday. “That’s what we pride ourselves on. We pitch and we play great defense and we get a little timely hitting to go along with some bunting and things like that. We play good baseball; our guys grind.”
Not surprisingly, perhaps, the Sparks 2021 Black also advanced to Monday’s final-four but they did allow three runs in their two wins Sunday so they are no longer unscored upon.
The No. 2 Illinois Dynasty Black 2022 (4-0-0) will face the No. 14 Canes Midwest Scout Team 21’s & 22’s (5-0-0) in one of the semifinals while No. 4 STiKS Academy (4-0-0) and the No. 1 Cangelosi Sparks 2021 Black (4-0-0) face-off in the other. Cangelosi Sparks teams have won the last three WWBA Kernels Foundation Championship titles.
The Kernels champion receives a paid invitation to this year’s prestigious PG WWBA World Championship (Jupiter) Oct. 8-12 in Fort Myers, Fla., but that wasn’t something that was on the collective minds of the Dynasty Black 2022 coming into the weekend.
“I’ll be honest. I don’t even know if my guys know about that,” Karczewski said. “We don’t talk about it because you’ve got to play one at a time and if you get a hiccup you ain’t going anyway. It would be nice, something to look forward to, but we’re taking it one game at a time. If it comes our way, then we’ll see.”
Something was certainly on their mind Sunday while they were taking care of business at Prospect Meadows, first beating No. 15 MN Icemen Baseball (Minnesota) 3-0 in a second round playoff game before dispatching No. 10 USA Prime National 2022 (Texas) 8-0 in five innings in the quarterfinals.
Both of the Dynasty Black 2022’s pool-play games were ended by the run-rule after five innings: an 8-0 win over the Recruits Baseball Club on Friday and a 14-0 win over the Gamers 2021 on Saturday; those two opponents totaled only two hits in 10 innings against the Dynasty Black.
Remember the name Cody Bledsoe, a 2021 lefthander. He threw three innings of one-hit, two-strikeout ball against the Recruits before coming back strong on Sunday (more on that after a bit). 2021 righty Will Morris and 2021 lefty Jack Stellano combined on a no-hitter against the Gamers 2021 with Morris throwing four innings, striking out eight and walking one.
Drew Buss, a 2021 righthander, threw a complete game three-hitter, striking out six without issuing a walk, in the second-round playoff win over the MN Icemen on Sunday.
“It’s been a great atmosphere,” Bledsoe told PG after the quarterfinal game. “Pitching has been great, hitting has been off the charts and we haven’t given up a run yet; hope to keep that (going).”
That’s a good segue into their quarterfinal contest against a very good USA Prime National 2022 squad out of Texas. Bledsoe, both unranked and uncommitted, got the start and shutdown the Prime National 2022 on two hits over his five innings of work, striking out five and walking none.
“My mindset was just to go out there and play like I normally do,” he said. “This is just a normal game to me; you can’t make it any bigger than it is.”
The Dynasty Black 18U also unpacked their bats once again in this one, rapping out 12 hits with everyone from the top to the bottom of the order contributing.
Leadoff hitter Jack Irwin – who had two of his team’s three hits against the MN Icemen – tripled, singled and scored a run; No. 2 hitter Tylor Phommachanhom contributed a pair of singles and scored twice; Gavin Arseneau, the No. 3 hitter, tripled, singled twice, drove in three runs and scored two others.
Camden Karczewski, batting fifth in the order, tripled, singled and drove in two; Matt Stariha, the No. 9 hitter, singled twice and both drove in and scored a run. That’s outstanding production from top to bottom, although it’s apparent these guys could be inserted just about anywhere in that order and be productive.
“Before the (first) game we talked and we knew that it was going to be two tough games and we’re going to come in with everything we’ve got, just a lot of energy and that’s what we did,” Arsenault said postgame. “Now we’re moving on to Monday.”
He wasn’t finished with his thoughts on this team:
“The pitching has been amazing and we’re playing really good defense behind them,” Arsenault said. “We’re looking to bring that into tomorrow and hopefully win a championship. … We were expecting being the final-four and playing on Monday. We’re excited for the opportunity.”
Coach Karczewski couldn’t be any prouder of this team. The field at the 18th annual Kernels Foundation Championship is as strong this year as it’s ever been but, like his players, Karczewski is not at all surprised the Dynasty Black 18U are in Monday’s final-four
“We have a phenomenal group of parents and guys, and even the guys that just pitch for us they come out and they show up and they hang with us,” he said. “These guys stay focused. They’ve been together for a while and it’s a great group; there’s nothing like them.”
The Dynasty Black 18U have made an effort to go out and play against some of the strongest competition as possible throughout this very unusual 2020 summer and fall travel ball seasons and won a lot of games, Karczewski reported. But the team still is very much of an unknown on the national scene and he’s hoping their final-four showing can alter any of those misplaced perceptions.
“These guys are some of the best,” he said. “They’re not the biggest, they’re not the fastest but they’re great baseball players. We have quite a few commits and we’ll have more even after this weekend. The colleges are talking to me and I imagine most of them will be signed by Christmas.”
Any friends, family, scouts and curious onlookers in attendance at the Meadows for Sunday morning’s first-round playoff games got an early look at the quality of play the day would feature.
One of those first-round matchups pitted the Indiana-based No. 14 Canes Midwest Scout Team 21’s & 22’s and the No. 19 Hitters 2021’s out of Wisconsin, both among the pre-tournament tournaments to win the whole thing.
The Canes ultimately prevailed, 3-1, and advanced all the way to the semis, where they’ll face the Illinois Dynasty Black 18U. This was such a well-played game, with great pitching, solid defense and timely hitting – all the familiar cliches – it could have served as a worthy substitute for Monday’s championship game.
The Canes 21’s & 22’s righthander Holden Groher, a 2021 Butler commit, was on top of it, allowing one run and striking out six in the complete game four-hitter. After falling behind 1-0 in the first inning, the Canes took a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the fourth on a two-out, two-run single from Reese Harmon
They added a single run in the fifth on a one-out RBI single from Dominic Decker that came after Gallien Coupet led-off the frame with a double.
Just like that the table was set for a great day of playoff baseball that didn’t disappoint. And there at the end it could be argued convincingly that the Illinois Dynasty Black 18U provided one of the best feel-good stories of them all.
“We always have high expectations anywhere we go,” Bledsoe said. “Just play well, show it off. … We need to keep playing, keep doing what we’ve been doing,” Bledsoe said. “Just keep playing the same way.”
It won’t be easy, of course.
“Any team that’s still left hanging around (Monday) is going to be a quality opponent,” Karczewski said. “We’ll throw it out there and see what we can do.”