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Tournaments | Story | 6/19/2021

NEB Comes Back For More at 18u BCS

Sam Warren        
Photo: Hunter Carns (Perfect Game)
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- As BCS season gets underway on Florida’s Gulf Coast, 24 teams from across the country began to vie for the coveted 18u BCS National Championship on Friday morning. While this is many squads’ first major tournament together, one team is not only experienced, but has championship history in the BCS.
 
Northeast Baseball National enters this year’s 18u BCS National Championship confident. Not only did they make it to the championship game of last weekend’s Perfect Game 18u National Elite Championship in Hoover, Ala., but they enter the BCS as reigning champions, winning the 18u division in 2020. While many of the players on the championship roster were 2020 graduates and are off in college ball, NEB still retains a few experienced players from last year’s squad. Dakota Stone, one of the players who carries over from last year’s roster, says this year’s team might be even better.
 
“We’ve got a lot of dudes,” Stone said. “We’ve got a lot of hard workers. This team definitely has a lot more power than last year’s team, and we’ve got some big bats that can mash.”
 
Among those “dudes” include Stone himself, the 108th-ranked player in the class of 2022 and a Jacksonville commit, as well as 2021 top-500 players Joey Spence (Notre Dame commit), Logan Maxwell (TCU commit), Jack Cebert (South Florida commit), Orlando Pena (Coastal Carolina commit) and Ty Batusich (Western Kentucky commit). Hunter Carns, the 101st-ranked player in the 2024 class, also joins his older counterparts on the BCS roster. As they entered the tournament, Stone had some words of advice as an experienced champion for the newcomers.
 
“We just have to battle every inning,” Stone said. “It’s hard to stay in the game for these six games and into the semifinals and championship. If we stay locked in, we have a good shot.”
 
To begin their quest to repeat as champions, NEB put on a good showing. Going 2-0 in their first day of pool play, the Hudson, Mass.-based team beat the South Florida Braves, 16-5, in their first game and Gametime Prospects 18u Black, 9-6, in their second. After a successful day on the field, head coach Steven Barnes said his players were completing the tasks at hand.
 
“Our guys are doing what they are supposed to do,” Barnes said. “They are doing what they are capable of. It’s just a matter of consistency and everyone doing their job.”
 
NEB came out hot to start their weekend. After drawing a leadoff walk, Maxwell advanced to third base on a balk and passed ball. Brennan Baker then walked as well, setting up Elijah Dukes with runners on the corners. Dukes rose to the occasion, pulling an RBI single to right field, plating Maxwell and the game’s first run. An errant throw then allowed Baker to score and set up Batusich to drive home Santiago Barcelo with an RBI double. Batusich finished off the scoring in the first, scampering home on a wild pitch and giving NEB a 4-0 lead to begin the game.
 
NEB kept their foot on the gas in the second. After Austin Turja lined a single to center, Maxwell clobbered a homer to deep right-center, extending the NEB lead to six. 
 
Adding one run in the third on a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch, NEB stayed on the attack in the fourth as Maxwell drove an RBI triple to left field, scoring Turja, who led off with another hit by pitch. Baker returned the favor for Maxwell, plating him with an RBI triple of his own. Dukes then kept the line moving, shooting an RBI double to center to score Baker. After Batusich walked, Dannon Smith drove home Baker with an RBI single. The NEB onslaught continued as Batusich scored on a wild pitch, then Stone plated Smith giving the squad six runs in the inning. By the time the fourth had ended, NEB had mounted a 13-0 lead. Barnes said he was proud of the way his bats performed against the Braves.
 
“We had some timely hitting,” Barnes said. “Some of our guys had huge days at the plate. We just played hard and hit the ball well.”
 
However, NEB pitching struggled to find the zone in the bottom of the inning, allowing the Braves to stage a four-run comeback. NEB quickly answered back in the fifth, as Maxwell lined a leadoff single and Carns poked an RBI double to deep left, scoring Maxwell. After a Dukes single loaded the bases, Barcelo finished the NEB offensive output, slapping a two-RBI single to center. While the Braves got back one run in the inning, Dukes struck out two batters in the fifth to close out the game, finishing off a 16-5 NEB win.
 
Despite their dominant performance in their first game, NEB ran into some struggles in their second against Gametime Prospects 18u Black. After both offenses stayed silent through the third, the Gametime offense exploded in the top of the fourth, posting six runs in the inning. While Gametime’s rally was a punch in the mouth, Barnes never lost confidence in his squad.
 
“We kind of expected a comeback,” Barnes said. “We were barrelling balls the first three innings. They were just going right at them. We knew we were bound to find holes and have a big inning.”
 
The crooked number may have been the inspiration the NEB offense needed, however, as they came alive in the bottom of the inning. Maxwell kicked it off with a leadoff single, and after stealing second, he scored on a misplayed Baker ground ball to third. Then, after Dukes blooped a single over third, Barcelo poked an RBI single into shallow left to score Baker. On the next pitch, Batusich shot an RBI double to deep center, putting him and Barcelo in scoring position. Smith then took advantage, lining a two-RBI double to left. Finally, Owen Boyce strung together another RBI double to complete the rally, tying the game at six and evening the game back up. Stone believes that the early deficit was what his team needed to knock off their complacency at the plate.
 
“We got down 6-0, and we all knew that we had to start picking up things,” Stone said. “Logan Maxwell started with a barrel, and we just kept going on from there.”
 
While both sides quieted in the fifth, the NEB bats clutched up in the sixth. Dukes reached on an error to lead off the inning and was later moved over on a Batusich single to center. After the duo completed a double steal, Smith delivered when it mattered most, smacking a single that scored Dukes, Batusich and himself after some poor Gametime defense. With a newfound three-run lead, Baker struck out two in the seventh and closed down a 9-6 win for NEB. As their offense clicked into gear, Stone says that the team developed a next-man-up mentality.
 
“We just wanted to keep passing the bat and keep the thing going,” Stone said. “We just rallied and rallied and believed in each other. We just kept picking, getting on base no matter what, and that led us to get that win.”
 
As the team’s BCS play furthers down the line, Barnes knows that NEB will have a target on their back for their current and past success. Barnes believes that his team’s name is circled on many schedules, but he knows that that won’t phase his roster or their championship hopes.
 
“Everybody is after us,” Barnes said. “We like that, and we’re looking forward to that. We know we’re the team to beat here and that whoever wants the championship has to come through us.”
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