Tournaments | Story | 9/30/2020

WWBA Under World ready to rumble

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Cole Young (Perfect Game)

FORT MYERS, Fla. – When the Perfect Game WWBA Underclass World Championship was in its infancy in the early 2000s, the East Cobb Astros were the undisputed masters of the universe. EC Astros teams won four of the first five PG WWBA Underclass World titles from 2002 through 2006 with the championship claimed by Chet Lemon’s Juice in 2003 as the only outlier.

Over the last 13 years, as other travel ball organizations began establishing themselves and there was more parity among the ranks, it became increasingly difficult for one program to win back-to-back WWBA Underclass World titles, let alone three in a row like the Astros won from 2004-06. The lone exceptions came in 2010 and 2011 when Marucci Elite squads went back-to-back.

The 19th annual PG WWBA Underclass World Championship begins its five-day run on Thursday, Oct. 1 with nearly 200 teams competing for the championship. Games will be played at MLB Spring Training complexes and on various other fields in both Lee and Sarasota counties.

While it’s true no program has won consecutive championships at the WWBA Under World in nine years, there is one nationally prominent program that feels like it has the firepower to end that streak this year.

The Canes National 17u won this event a year ago in walk-off fashion with a 1-0 championship game victory over the Scorpions 2021 Founders Club. It was the first WWBA Underclass World championship for Canes Baseball, an organization that won three straight WWBA World Championship (Jupiter) titles from 2013-15.

The Virginia-based Canes program has two prominent entries in this year’s 197-team field with the Canes American and the Canes National. While both rosters feature a boatload of highly regarded class of 2022 prospects, it is the National’s that jumps off the page with 17 of the rostered prospects ranked  in the top-159 nationally and 10 of those ranked in the top-57.

Canes National head coach Brian Hucks is wrapping up his fourth year with Canes Baseball. He spent the three previous seasons working for the Canes South program and 2020 is his first on the National side.

“When (Canes owner) Jeff (Petty) called me about taking over this program, obviously I was very excited about getting the chance to coach some extremely talented players,” Hucks told PG during a telephone conversation late last week.

“You always worry when you’ve got players that are all nationally ranked players … but I was just blown away from the first tournament at how well these kids play together,” he said. “They generally care about each other and they want to win.”

The Canes National class of 2022 teams have played at an exceedingly high level over the last three summers, claiming titles at the 2018 PG WWBA 14u National Championship, 2019 PG WWBA 15u National Championship, 2019 PG 15u World Series and, most recently, the 2020 PG WWBA 16u National Championship.

Lefthander Tristan Smith (No. 8-ranked, uncommitted), outfielder Roman Anthony (No. 27, Ole Miss), outfielder Nathan Fink (No. 48, Virginia), righthander Matthew Matthijs (No. 104, North Carolina), catcher/corner-infielder Lamar King (No. 159, East Carolina) and catcher/outfielder Adam (AJ) Shepard (t-500, Indiana) played on all five of those PG national championship teams.

Other highly ranked 2022 prospects on the Canes National roster include lefthander Jackson Ferris (No. 15, uncommitted), shortstop Cole Young (No. 17, Duke), first baseman/outfielder Xavier Isaac (No. 18, uncommitted) and infielder Dominic Hellman (No. 24, Oregon). Young was named the MVP at both the 2019 WWBA 15u and 2020 WWBA 16u national championships.

“There’s no egos with this group,” Hucks said. “It’s been an absolute pleasure just to be around these kids and there’s a reason why they’re so successful.”

Success is certainly not guaranteed here this weekend, with dozens of other teams poised to challenge for the WWBA Underclass World Championship title.

The FTB/SF Giants Scout Team 2022 – a program that won the Underclass World in 2016 – comes in with top 2022s like catcher/corner-infielder Luke Heyman (No. 20, Florida), outfielder Mason Neville (No. 41, Arizona) and middle-infielder JeanPierre Ortiz (No. 42, FIU), and 2023 third baseman Walter Ford (No. 16, Alabama).

The East Cobb Astros 17u boast the talents of outfielder Kaden Martin (No. 25, uncommitted), middle-infielder Alvin Keels (No. 50, Miami) and righthander Sullivan Brackin (No. 64, Florida), all 2022s, and 2023 outfielder TayShaun Walton (No. 5 Miami).

Other highly ranked 2022s in action this week include Cannons Baseball Academy 2022 American lefthander Brandon Barriera (No. 5, Vanderbilt), Georgia Bombers 17U Magliozzi outfielder Riley Stanford (No. 10, Georgia Tech), Gamblers Elite 2022 shortstop Nazier Mule (No. 12, uncommitted) and Dirtbag TapOut third baseman Tucker Toman (No. 14, LSU).

Also, South Charlotte Panthers 2022 righthander Eli Jerzembeck (No. 23, South Carolina), Eagles Baseball outfielder Roman Anthony (No. 27, Ole Miss), Trosky National 2022 righty Jackson Cox (No. 30, Oregon), Flood City Elite-2022’s outfielder Paxton Kling (No. 34, LSU), Sandlot Scout Team 2022 shortstop Jackson Holliday (No. 36, Oklahoma State) and On Deck O’s outfielder Calvert Clark (No. 40, Clemson).

There are also younger teams boasting rosters of top 2023s and 2024s that expect to contend as well. 5 Star 16u White, fresh off a playoff appearance at the PG WWBA Sophomore World Championship, features third baseman Cam Collier (No. 2, Louisville), righthander James Hays (No. 8, Georgia), outfielder Drew Burress (No. 15, uncommitted) and catcher Riley Jackson (No. 17, Florida State), all from the class of 2023.

The East Cobb Astros 16u Texas Orange come in with 2023 infielder Dylan Cupp (No. 13, Mississippi State) and 2023 first baseman Jackson McKenzie (No. 49, Mississippi State) on board along with 2024 outfielder Michael Mullinex (No. 13, uncommitted) and 2024 corner-infielder Jax Phillips (No. 53, Georgia).

Power Baseball 2023 shortstop Braden Holcomb (No. 9, Vanderbilt), South Charlotte Panthers outfielder Walker Jenkins (No. 10, North Carolina), Tri State Arsenal 2022 Founder’s Club outfielder Owen Egan (No. 19, UCLA) and CBA Bulldogs National shortstop Austen Roeling (No. 20, Arizona) are among the many other standouts from the class of 2023.

Banditos Scout Team 2022/23 catcher Cade Arrambide (No. 5, Florida), Eagles Baseball third baseman Anthony Tralongo (No. 17, uncommitted) and Texas Twelve Maroon 2022 catcher Nolan Traeger (No. 27, TCU) join Mullinex from the EC Astros 16u Texas Orange as the other top-30 2024s in the field.

There is just going to be a whole lot of talent in one place for five days running, more than enough to keep the hundreds of scouts in attendance hopping from field to field.

“For me, this is the equivalent of the WWBA (national championships) in the summer,” the Canes’ Hucks said. “It’s a really large event and anytime you have an event that big it’s going to draw out all the big names. I look forward to seeing my guys compete against the very best so I’m really excited about it.”

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