Tournaments : : Story
Friday, November 11, 2011

Tough July leads to historic October

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game
The 2011 travel ball season couldn’t have ended on any higher note than the one Marucci Elite nailed over a 17 day period in October at venues in Fort Myers and Jupiter, Fla.

No screenwriter could have scripted it any better, not from a Marucci Elite perspective, anyway. Organization leader and head coach Chad Raley first took a young squad to the Perfect Game WWBA Underclass World Championship, which ran in Fort Myers from Oct. 7-10. From there, a more veteran Marucci Elite team entered the prestigious PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, which covered five days from Oct. 20-24.

On two October Monday afternoons separated by two weeks and about 120 miles of south Florida highway, Marucci Elite players, parents and supporters reached the Promised Land – twice. First was their second straight championship at the WWBA Underclass World Championship on Oct. 10, followed in lockstep by their first title at the WWBA World Championship on Oct. 24.

It was the first time any organization had won the two prestigious Perfect Game WWBA World tournaments in the same year.

“This has been an unbelievable ride. I’m really proud of these guys, and they have a tremendous amount of character. We’re definitely doing some good things here,” Raley said after his squad escaped Central Florida PG Royal, 3-2, in the championship game at the WWBA World Championship.

He was just warming up:

“We just had a great group of kids who were able to jell and come together as a team. … They’re all great kids, they listen and they’re all humble kids and they all had something to play for. We had one goal in mind and we achieved that goal.”

Ah, yes – Florida sunshine, comforting breezes and warm fuzzy feelings all around. And in reality, those events of October offered a much-welcomed change from the events of mid-summer and the hard truths Marucci Elite experienced in hot and muggy Marietta, Ga.

Raley runs the Marucci Elite organization out of the Marucci Elite Training Center in Baton Rouge, La. In the early part of July, he took his premier 17u team to the blockbuster, 218-team PG WWBA 2012 Grads or 17u National Championship at the East Cobb Baseball Complex in Marietta. Marucci Elite fully expected to contend for the title.

What followed was beyond belief. Marucci stumbled out of the gate, never recovered and finished pool-play with an almost incomprehensible 1-5-1 record.

“We completely laid an egg in pool-play. It was really a learning experience for me to see all the things we did wrong,” Raley recalled in a Nov. 10 telephone conversation with Perfect Game. “I don’t know if the team chemistry was really there, and that was the craziest tournament I’ve ever seen. We found ways to lose that I didn’t think were possible.”

He spoke specifically of an 8-4 loss to the ABA Braves in Marucci Elite’s fourth game when it squandered a 4-0 lead by allowing eight runs on just one hit.

“We had walks, errors, strikeouts getting by the catcher that let guys get on base,” Raley said. “It was one of those games where our pitching completely dominated the other team’s hitting yet they scored eight runs. It’s just kind of mind-boggling when you sit back and look at it.”

Something was definitely out of a whack, considering Marucci Elite’s status as a top-10 national program. The 17u team was 37-3 going into its WWBA 17u National Championship opener against Yak Baseball (West), a game it lost, 8-3.

“We kind of rolled into that tournament pretty cocky and arrogant,” Raley said. “We were feeling pretty confident and we really overlooked our first opponent. With that loss, it kind of punched us in the mouth and kind of shocked us.”

Marucci Elite limped out of Marietta on July 14 and with essentially the same roster in tow, arrived in Fort Myers for the start of the PG 17u BCS Finals on July 17. The team was able to collect itself amongst still high expectations and earned a spot in the 16-team playoffs after skating through pool-play at 6-0. But it lost its first playoff game to Palm Beach County PAL 17u and exited the tournament.

After the round of 16 showing at the 17u BCS Finals, Raley and his assistants went to work assembling rosters for October’s WWBA Underclass World Championship and WWBA World Championship.

Raley lifted top-ranked 2013 prospect Christopher Rivera from Fullerton, Calif. – a Cal State Fullerton commitment – off the WWBA 17u National Championship roster and put him on the WWBA World roster, bypassing the WWBA Underclass World all together.

Marucci’s 24 roster spots for the WWBA Underclass World Championship were filled by top 2013 prospects – and two 2014s – from 12 states and Canada, including six 2013s who had already made Division I commitments: RHP/MIF Alden Cartwright, Baton Rouge, La. (LSU); RHP IF Trey Lee Cobb, Broken Arrow, Okla. (LSU); OF/1B Jarret DeHart, Medford, N.J. (LSU); SS/RHP Dylan Manwaring, Horseheads, N.Y. (Wake Forest); SS Oscar Mercado, Tampa, Fla. (Florida State); and MIF/3B/RHP Spencer Trayner, Tampa, Fla. (North Carolina).

In that group, Mercado is ranked 21st nationally, Trayner 48th, DeHart 60th and Cobb 78th.

One of the top 2013 prospects on the Underclass roster who had not committed at the time of the tournament was catcher Andrew Dunlap from Houston. Dunlap was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player after collecting three game-winning hits, including a solo home run and a grand slam. He finished with nine RBI.

Playing with an organization that had won the same event a year earlier, Dunlap entered the tournament brimming with confidence.

Chad (Raley) called me earlier this month and he told me how they won it last year,” Dunlap said after Marucci Elite beat Chet Lemon’s Juice, 9-6, in the championship game. “It sounded like we had a pretty good squad so we were all expecting to be here.”

Other top 2013 prospects on the Elite Underclass roster who also had not committed at the time included C/3B/RHP Adrian Chacon from Tampa (No. 54 nationally) and RHP Trevor Clifton from Knoxville, Tenn. (No. 121). MIF/RHP/OF Blake Hennessey from Ponte Verda, Fla., is the No. 20-ranked national prospect in the class of 2014.

Four prospects that were part of the Marucci Elite championship team at the WWBA Underclass World Championship in Fort Myers – Chacon, Dunlap, Hennessey and Mercado – also filled roster spots on the championship team at the WWBA World Championship in Jupiter.

Marucci Elite’s Jupiter roster listed 25 prospects, including Perfect Game All-Americans OF/RHP Andrew Pullin and RHP Cody Poteet, Oregon and UCLA recruits, respectively. Sixteen other roster spots were filled with Division I recruits.

Eight of those were taken by prospects that were also part of the disappointing effort at the WWBA 17u National Championship in Marietta in July and five also played in the 17u BCS Finals. Those players included Rivera, Poteet, LHP/1B/OF Hunter Devall, Clinton, La. (an LSU commit); RHP/OF Gabe Gunter, Crestview, Fla. (Virginia Tech); Ty Moore, Baton Rouge, La. (LSU); RHP/INF Hunter Newman, Bloomington, Ga. (LSU); MIF Chase Nyman, Pascagoula, Miss. (Mississippi); and LHP/1B Kyle Twomey, Placentia, Calif. (Southern Cal).

Moore, Nyman and catcher Michael Barash from Boca Raton, Fla. (LSU) were Marucci’s position players named to the WWBA World Championship All-Tournament Team.

Marucci Elite pitchers RHP Marcus Brakeman of Tierra Verde, Fla. (Stanford), Newman, Poteet and Devall were also named to the all-tournament team.

Moore was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player after hitting .350 (7-for-19) with five walks, five runs scored and three RBI. He obviously relished the opportunity he was given to play for Marucci Elite at the WWBA World.

I had a couple of other teams … that wanted me to come and play for them, but you can’t beat Marucci. They offer the best teams and it showed today,” Moore said after the championship game victory. “It’s not always about putting together the (PG All-American) or the Team USA roster, it’s putting together a bunch of kids that go out and mesh well together and put some runs on the board.”

Brakeman was named Most Valuable Pitcher after throwing eight scoreless innings and picking up a win and a save while striking out eight and walking one. The other three all-tournament pitchers were equally effective: Devall threw 7 1/3 innings and picked up two wins with a 2.86 ERA and nine strikeouts; Newman pitched five scoreless innings and struck out 10 while picking up one win; and Poteet was 1-0 with a 2.47 ERA and 10 strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings.

The team came together and won a championship, and Raley credited the result to something else taken from the July debacle in Marietta.

The biggest thing that I learned (in Marietta) as a coach was how important team chemistry was,” he said. “It was a wake-up call and I’ve got kind of brand new formula for building teams now.”

It was at the WWBA Underclass World Championship in Fort Myers where Raley first put his “new formula” into use. He said he had reached the conclusion he had too many players in the dugout and finding them all adequate playing time was becoming a burden.

I wanted to try to carry the bare minimum of position players that I could so that everybody’s in the lineup at some point in time and they’re consistently seeing a lot of pitching and we’re not rotating guys in and out,” Raley said. “I thought that worked really well in both (World) tournaments because we only had one or two position players sitting on the bench each game.”

Raley is already well into his planning for 2012. During the Nov. 10 conversation, he said he had just about finalized his 17u roster and would begin work on the 16u and 15u rosters. He plans on taking a team’s worth of players to the National Underclass Showcase-Main event in Fort Myers Dec. 28-30.

We’re looking forward to a good year and hopefully we can keep this momentum rolling,” Raley said.

He didn’t just now start thinking about the 2012 season. His thoughts were already on the future in the slap-happy moments immediately following Marucci’s WWBA World Championship title game victory.

We just want to keep winning championships,” Raley said in Jupiter. “We want to keep winning championships and keep building the organization and make Marucci proud of us – just keep playing the game the right way.”

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