Tournaments | Story | 12/2/2011

RIPS keeps brewing up surprises

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game
At first glance, the boys from the Pacific Northwest may have seemed a little out of their element while they wandered around the East Cobb Baseball Complex in Marietta, Ga., for six days in late July of 2009.

The Washington RIPS Brewers were the only team from the Northwest in attendance at the 96-team 2009 Perfect Game WWBA 2012 Grads or 15u National Championship. The 14-man RIPS Brewers roster included a group of sophomores-to-be from the Seattle area, representing the Washington Brewers Baseball organization.

The RIPS Brewers – RIPS is a baseball training complex in Burien, Wash., where Washington Brewers Baseball is based – may have been a little wide-eyed on their first trip to the Southeast back in ‘09, but they were also undaunted. There was too much at stake.

“We were going down there to try to win that tournament,” RIPS Brewers owner/coach/instructor Aaron Horrocks recalled for Perfect Game in a telephone conversation this week. “Being in this as long as I have and getting the chance to do some of the Area Code (Games) teams and some of the different showcase events, you’ve kind of got a good feeling when you’ve got a good group of kids. And as it turned out, we had a lot of kids who already have a lot of really nice scholarships. … That tournament just really, really did us wonders.”

The RIPS Brewers stunned that WWBA 15u field by going 3-0 through pool play before posting wins in the first round, quarterfinals and semifinals of the playoffs. They finished as national runner-up, losing to the powerful Houston Banditos Black 15u, 15-10, in the championship game.

The RIPS Brewers 15u team that played in Marietta the summer of 2009 boasted a roster that included seven prospects in the class of 2012 who are NCAA Division I recruits: OF/LHP Jonny Locher from Burien (Stanford); RHP Taylor Jones from Kent, Wash., MIF Cabe Reiten from Spanaway, Wash., and C/RHP Lucas Gatley from Kent (all three Gonzaga); OF/LHP Landon Cray from Port Hadlock, Wash., and 2B/RHP Skyler Genger from Kent (both U of Seattle); and RHP Billy Sahlinger from Bellevue, Wash. (U of Portland).

The RIPS Brewers opened the tournament against the Pennsylvania-based Triple Threat Bearcats 15u, and Jones and Cray combined on a three-hit shutout in a 1-0 Brewers win. After that game, the Brewers bats came alive in 12-2 and 9-0 victories to complete pool-play.

They were on a roll and people were starting to take notice. They beat the Team D-Backs, host East Cobb Astros 14u and Homeplate Chilidogs 15u – all Georgia-based outfits – in the first three rounds of the playoffs to reach the title game against the Banditos.

“I remember that our first game was a 1-0 win and we barely hit the ball,” Locher, the nation’s No. 56-ranked outfield prospect in his class, said in a telephone interview with PG this week. “From then on, we got really hot, and the more we won the more you could hear the buzz around the whole tournament, like, ‘What’s this team from Washington doing, beating up on all these teams from Georgia … and the other southern teams.’”

The run ended with the title game loss to the Banditos Black 15u, a team that was in the process of building a pretty salty reputation of its own. Corpus Christi, Texas, outfielder Courtney Hawkins and Spring, Texas, middle-infielder C.J. Hinojosa – both 2011 Perfect Game All-Americans – were on the Banditos’ 15u roster that summer. So were 1B/2B/3B Austin Dean, LHP/OF Travis Hennessey and SS/RHP/IF Dustin Theiss, all from Spring.

Hawkins, Hinojosa, Dean, Hennessey and Theiss were all on the Houston Banditos Black squad that won this summer’s PG WWBA South Qualifier, and Hawkins, Hinojosa and Theiss were on the Banditos team that finished in the top-eight at the PG WWBA World Championship in October.

The boys from the Evergreen State stayed right with their counterparts from the Lone Star State.

“The main core of that team came together as 14-year-olds and we would do really good around the Northwest, and then we would go to the tournaments down in Arizona and we never really put it all together,” Locher said. “We knew we had a lot of talent and when we went over to Georgia, we definitely earned ourselves a lot of respect.”

Horrocks agreed:

“I thought we had a pretty good group in that ’12 class, and as I brought them up through 13s and 14s they did real well around here,” he recalled. Horrocks said a turning point for the organization came in 2008 when he had taken basically the same group to the Battle in the South 14u tournament in Harriman, Tenn. Although the RIPS Brewers finished just 1-4, it was a valuable experience.

“We lost those four games by a combined five runs,” he said. “I think that tournament kind of set the tone for that next year … and after that we just kind of turned the corner.”

Horrocks formed the Washington Brewers Baseball organization in the mid-80s with a 13- and 14-year-old team, and the RIPS Brewers program fielded eight teams ranging from 12u to 18u in 2011. That number will grow to 10 teams in 2012.

A couple of prominent RIPS Brewers alums are outfielders Josh Sale and Ryan Brett, both from Seattle. The Tampa Bay Rays selected Sale with the 17
th overall pick in the first round of the 2010 draft and then snagged Brett in the third round of the same draft.

The club picks and chooses its Perfect Game tournaments, but plays regularly in Seattle-area leagues like the Sandy Koufax League (13u/14u), Mickey Mantle League (15u/16u), Northwest Select League (18u Brewers) and Seattle Premier League (18u RIPS). The RIPS Brewers players have taken part in several PG events individually, however, Locher in particular.

Locher missed the 2010 summer season with a knee injury that required surgery, so this summer was very important for him. In addition to his participation in the Area Code Games and at the PG WWBA 18u National Championship, he also performed at the PG National Showcase and the PG Northwest Showcase. He ran a 6.66-second 60-yard dash at the Northwest Showcase to set an event record.

“I’m so lucky to have been given the opportunity to go to all these places, and not a lot of guys get to do that,” Locher said. “It’s a product of hard work and it’s a product of good parents and good coaches.”

Horrocks decided to send a team to the WWBA 2011 Grads or 18u National Championship back in Marietta this summer, and it became a reunion of sorts. With Jones, Locher, Reiten, Sahlinger, Cray, Gatley and Genger in tow, Horrocks rounded up fellow 2009 RIPS Brewers 15u alumni 1B/LHP Kyle Castillo, OF/RHP Quinn Eldridge, SS/3B Jacob Kelliher and 2009 WWBA 15u National Championship MVP OF/LHP/1B Trevor Lane, and headed back to Georgia.

That 18u roster also included left-hander Andrew Summerville from Seattle and catcher Joe Wainhouse from Kent, two of Washington’s top prospects in the class of 2014.

There was no repeat trip to the championship game for the RIPS Brewers, as they finished 3-2-1 in pool and consolation round play.

“We’ve all stayed together; we’ve lost a couple here and there and we’ve added some more players but there have been probably eight or nine guys who have stuck together,” Locher said. “We all became really close.”

Locher, Jones and Reiten weren’t finished playing together after the WWBA 18u National Championship. The three were teammates on the KC Royals entry at the Area Code Games in Long Beach, Calif., in early August and again with the Northwest Scout Team at the PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., in late October.

The KC Royals squad at the Area Code Games – which finished 5-0 in Long Beach – was made up of players from Washington, Montana, Oregon and Idaho, and the Northwest Scout Team – which finished 1-1-3 in Jupiter – included players from Washington, Montana, Oregon and British Columbia.

“We know we have good ballplayers; there are a lot of good ballplayers in the Northwest, and on the national level, we don’t feel like we get any kind of credit. I think the (college) coaches around here know we’ve got some good ballplayers, and usually when we go to the national stage we always put on a good show,” Locher said.

“I think if you ask anyone from the scouting side about the difference between our kids up here versus kids that get to play all year round – I mean, they know what a southern (California) shortstop is,” Horrocks added. “There is not as much up-side on a player from up here because (the scouts) know, ‘Hey, they’ve got to fight the weather up here, they don’t get to play baseball all year round. I think that stigma as been lifted a little bit, more than even three to five years ago, but these kids do get a little overlooked.”

No one can say with any certainty if the Washington RIPS Brewers Baseball program will ever send another team to the championship game at a Perfect Game national tournament. It is certain, however, that the Brewers earned a good measure of respect with their performance in Marietta back in 2009.

“Really, no one gave us any type of credit” going into the tournament, Locher recalled. “It was a pretty special tournament because we knew we had a good team but that was the first time that we got to show it.”

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