Tournaments : : Story
Sunday, October 02, 2011

Sun Devils look back, look ahead

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

AUSTIN, Texas – On a beautiful, cloudless, Sunday afternoon in central Texas, Matt Thompson took a few minutes to both look back and look ahead.

Thompson, the head coach of the Perfect Game No. 2 nationally ranked (17u) Texas Sun Devils, had just watched his team ambush the ABC D-Backs, 15-0, in its final pool-play game at the PG WWBA South Qualifier. This particular game was played in ideal conditions on the field at Westwood High School.

Thompson had his team together for the first time since it won the PG 17u BCS Finals national championship in July in Fort Myers, Fla. The champion of the South Qualifier receives a paid invitation to the WWBA World Championship Oct. 20-24 in Jupiter, Fla.

The Texas Sun Devils, based in Beaumont, already have an invitation in hand to the WWBA World, but Thompson felt it was important to get his team – or most of it, anyway – together this weekend in anticipation of the trip to Jupiter in three weeks.

“We won’t use it so much as a warm-up. I’d like to say we’re going to shake off some of the rust and kind of get our competitive juices flowing again,” Thompson said. “Coming off winning the (17u BCS Finals) national championship, it was a great high to end the summer and then everyone kind of spread out and started doing their own thing.

“Now it’s kind of nice to get the group back together, start telling old stories again and having fun,” he continued. “Other than that, we’re making sure we don’t get anyone hurt.”

Thompson doesn’t have his full squad here. Like so many other teams in the field, there are issues with mixed class time – although the tournament didn’t start until Saturday morning – players taking their SATs and many of them playing football. He guesses he had about half his starting lineup from the BCS Finals championship team on hand.

Among the missing are Ole Miss recruits MIF Gavin Cecchini from Lake Charles, La., and RHP Ty Hensley from Edmond, Okla. Cecchini is No. 28 in the PG 2012 national top prospect rankings (No. 1 in Louisiana) and Hensley is No. 35 nationally and No. 1 in Oklahoma.

With those two presumably back in the mix, along with the addition of a few others, this is the group that will play at the PG WWBA World Championship Oct. 20-24 in Jupiter, Fla.

“This will be the group and we’re using this (the South Qualifier) as an opportunity to look at some other players to fill out our Jupiter roster,” Thompson said. “Jupiter is a different type of tournament, so you can never have enough pitching or enough hitters, and this has been nice. A couple of the guys that we’ve brought are outstanding players, so we’re happy we got a chance to get a look at them in this tournament.”

His roster is not void of talent here, however. Sunday’s lineup included OF Cameron Dishon, an Ole Miss commit, OF Charlie Yorks (LSU), OF/IF/RHP Kolby Copeland and MIF Max Dutto (California). Through the first three games, Copeland and Yorks were enjoying an MVP-caliber tournament.

Copeland, an uncommitted senior at Parkway High School in Bossier City, La., played a football game Friday night, and then drove more than 4 hours to get here in time for a Saturday morning game. In his first baseball game since being named MVP at the 17u BCS Finals, Copeland – ranked No. 84 nationally – went 3-for-3 with a home run, three RBI and two runs scored. Through three games he was 5-for-8 with two home runs, a double, eight RBI and three runs scored.

Yorks, the LSU commit and a senior at St. Louis Catholic High School in St. Charles, La., was 6-for-8 with a home run, two doubles, six RBI and five runs.

Looking back again briefly, Thompson agreed that winning the PG 17u BCS Finals national championship was a “signature” moment for his team. The Sun Devils had come close to winning Perfect Game national tournaments before, only to be stopped short of actually taking home first place hardware.

“Whether we were in the semifinals and it comes down to one play, or whether we were in the finals and it comes down to one pitch” his team came up short, Thompson said. “And then finally, there we are again and we got the pitch that we needed, we got the hit that we needed at the right time. There are so many great teams out there that come to Perfect Game events, so it really comes down to that one pitch, one hit, one ground ball fielded or not fielded.

“It was a huge relief knowing that we’re not snake-bitten; we’re not the Cubs.”

After Thompson spoke with Perfect Game, the Sun Devils learned they had not received one of the four byes into the quarterfinal round of the South Qualifier but instead would play the Austin Slam Senators in a first-round playoff game.

Houston Banditos Black, Frozen Ropes Texas, Dallas Patriots-Valdez and Action Baseball Club 17u White received byes into the quarterfinals.

And before he knew his team had not received a top-four seed, Thompson said he came into the South Qualifier fully expecting to be playing in the semifinal round at Disch-Falk Field at the University of Texas Monday morning.

“It will be great to be playing over at Disch-Falk and … we’re lining everything up so hopefully we get that pitch/hit when we need it,” he said. “Now, if we do make it to Monday, you’ll see the skeleton Sun Devils squad. We’ll be fielding a team of nine or 10 (players).

Thompson explained that several of his players have to get back to school, and those who are able to miss some class time will stay here and play.

“You’ll see nine or 10 kids fighting as hard as they can to win it, that’s for sure,” Thompson said.

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