JUPITER, Fla. – As much as a top-tier prospect like Arjun Nimmala loves playing baseball, there reaches a point where he might think, you know, enough is enough.
Nimmala and his Ostingers Baseball Academy 2022 teammates were playing their 23rd inning of the day late Monday afternoon, this one at the Roger Dean Complex Stadium in what was the eighth inning of the championship game at the PG WWBA World Championship.
There are few bigger tournament stages in all of prep-level amateur baseball and it was a moment to be savored. Florida-based Ostingers BA was in a dogfight with the North Carolina-based Dirtbags Scout Team, the scored tied at one with two-out in the bottom of the extra inning.
Nimmala knew teammate Eli Kapkowski was waiting on third looking for any excuse to start racing toward home with what would be the winning run.
And lo and behold, Nimmala came through with a single that chased Kapkowski home with the decisive run and the No. 4-seeded Ostingers Baseball Academy 2022s (8-0-0) escaped the No. 23 Dirtbags Scout Team (6-2-0) by that final 2-1 count to claim the program’s first WWBA World Championship title.
“I had in my mind that it was time,” Nimmala told PG postgame. “Everyone dreams of that same moment and luckily I saw a curveball out of (the pitcher’s) hand and I came through for the team. That’s not my accomplishment, that’s the team’s accomplishment for all the hard work and for all that we did to get to this point.”
It was the type of championship game not often seen in Jupiter in that it was a pitcher’s battle from start to finish. That’s unusual because teams that are playing their eighth game in four days – and on Monday their fourth game in about eight hours – are generally running out of quality pitching.
Yes, the first three games these teams played Monday were shortened to five innings but gutting out 23 frames of playoff baseball between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. is a lot to ask. The fight came right down to the wire, but at the end of the day only one champ could be left standing.
“It kind of goes without saying that this event is the biggest of the year, and I’m just really, really happy for these guys,” an emotional Jim Osting, the program founder and this team’s head coach, said postgame. “We teach winning, we teach how to play the game the right way and we went about it the right way this week and finished on top.
“It’s a testament to the program and what the guys that have been there before us have done. They laid the ground-work and these guys are kind of coming through and reaping the rewards but also leaving the program in a better place.”
The starters for both teams were lights-out on the hot and windy day and, for that matter, the guys who came on in relief weren’t too shabby themselves. Ostingers BA ’23 right-hander Preston Rogers threw six, five-hit, one-run innings, striking out five without a walk. 2022 righty Ethan Phillips came in for the last two innings and didn’t give up a run on two hits, striking out one; he didn’t walk anyone either.
The Dirtbags 2022 righty Josh Foulkes allowed one run on three hits and struck-out three in his five innings of work. 2023 right-hander Luke Stevenson was pretty good right up until the eighth, allowing the one run on two hits with three strikeouts in 2 2/3 innings.
What was truly amazing was the pace at which these guys worked. The first three innings were in the books after 30 minutes and the first five took just over an hour. Had the game ended in the regulation seven innings, it would have been a 1 hour, 40-minute affair.
“That pace kind of fits what we do. We go throw strikes and play really good defense,” Osting said. “Preston Rogers threw a lot of strikes...and with the wind blowing in, that’s kind of a big deal too. You know what kind of game you’re going to have when the wind’s blowing in and you’ve got wood bats and everybody’s playing their fourth game of the day.
“We haven’t crushed the ball by any stretch of the imagination. We had a couple of games where we scored some runs but our pitching has kept us in it. We’ve thrown a lot of strikes and our defense made a lot of really good plays this weekend.”
Ostingers BA 2022 started the scoring in the bottom of the fourth when Ethan Petry was issued a leadoff walk and wasted no time stealing second. Two outs later, Dylan Lapointe delivered a line drive single to left field that plated Petry and OBA 2022s had a 1-0 lead.
“We do kind of go by manufacturing,” said OBA’s Marek Houston, who singled twice and was the only batter in the lineup with multiple hits. “We get those big hits – we’ve got those big hitters – but we also like to manufacture runs. Today there has been some close games, some real battles, and this game was kind of like the final one.”
The Dirtbags Scout Team knotted it up in the top of the sixth when David McCann hit a fly ball to deep center that just eluded the glove of the OBA center fielder and McCann ended up on second with a double. One out later, Joe Specht brought him home with a line-drive RBI single into center and it was all tied-up.
The ‘Bags out-hit OBA 7-4 led by Mac Gillespie’s three singles; McCann doubled, singled and scored a run.
Houston, a 6-foot-3, 180-pound ’22 middle-infielder and a top-500 Wake Forest commit who is a senior at Venice (Fla.) High School, was named the MV-Player. He finished 9-for-20 (.450) with seven singles, two doubles, two RBI, four runs scored and two stolen bases for just a solid all-around performance on a monster platform.
“This is very special,” Houston said. “I joined this team last fall and I really (developed) a close bond. I hang out with these guys and I talk to these guys all the time. I even play (against) them in high school, so it’s pretty cool coming out here and winning this with these guys.
“This is something to be proud of,” he added. “I will definitely look back at this in a couple of years and think of this team, think of these guys and how we battled and how we came back this last game.”
Dirtbags' 6-foot-3, 165-pound 2022 left-hander Ethan Walker, a senior at Salem (Va.) High School and a Longwood University commit, was named the co-MV-Pitcher. Walker worked eight innings over two appearances, allowed two earned runs (1.80 ERA) on eight hits and struck out 11 while walking three.
Walker shared the award with Richmond Braves 18u Platinum’s Levi Huesman because what Huesman did was likely the story of the tournament. A 6-foot, 180-pound left-hander out of Hanover (Va.) High School and a Coastal Carolina commit ranked No. 82 nationally, Huesman threw seven two-hit, shutout innings, striking out 17 against no walks.
Jim Osting pointed out that this OBA roster features a nice mix of ‘22s and ‘23s and they’ve discovered a unique chemistry where everyone plays for the team, as Nimmala eluded to earlier. He repeated that it’s a testament to the program and what the coaches and directors teach and making sure the players understand the game is much bigger than just one individual.
Simply put, if a guy goes up there and has really good at-bat and grinds it out for his teammates and his buddies, a lot of really good things are going to happen.
“Jupiter week is obviously special,” Osting said. “Our program tried to get to this tournament for eight or 10 years and now we’ve been here for the last three; last year we finished in the top-eight. I think we’ve arrived as a program. We’re not huge; we don’t have five teams per age group, we have one team per age group, and we go out and play our butts off.”
You don’t have to convince the man of the hour, Arjun Nimmala. He and his teammates came out on Monday playing on the biggest stage any of them had ever been on and won four straight pressure-packed playoff games. They had the mindset that anything less than winning was unacceptable and no matter how tired they were, they knew they could persevere.
And he just happened to be put in the position to make it all become a reality.
“I was just trying to get a good pitch to hit; I wasn’t trying to do too much, for sure,” Nimmala said. “A walk-off home run and walk-off single are the same exact thing and all I was trying to do was get a base-hit and win it for the team.”