Tournaments : : Story
Thursday, August 02, 2012

15u PGWS eye-opener for Devils

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

MARIETTA, Ga. -- Banks Faulkner was once the head baseball coach at South Carolina's largest high school and is currently the pitching coach at the state's second largest high school. Throughout a coaching career that began in 2004, he has always worked with players at the varsity level -- primarily 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds.

Faulkner was at the East Cobb Complex Thursday morning in charge of a slightly younger cast of prospects. This week he is the head coach for the Diamond Devils squad that is competing at the 15u Perfect Game World Series, which features 16 of the top 15u travel clubs from across the country.

"It's really been eye-opening for me because having coached older kids my whole life, it gave me an appreciation of how good baseball is at this age," Faulkner said after his Diamond Devils squad beat Team California, 7-2, to improve to 3-1 with three more pool games left to play.

"We faced a kid (Wednesday), a 15 year old left-handed pitcher, that was throwing 88 to 90 (mph), and there weren't any guys like him in our state last year. To see a kid that is 15 years old who could maybe mix into a college rotation right now is pretty impressive."

The Devils were pretty impressive themselves through the first four games of pool-play, and stood alone in second place in Pool C behind unbeaten Team Northwest (4-0) before another round of games later on Thursday.

Faulkner and some other coaches within the South Carolina-based Diamond Devils organization -- founded by John Rhodes in 1993 -- put this team together with kids from four or five other teams within the organization, and they got together for one four-hour practice last Saturday before coming to the 15u PGWS

All but one of the players on the Devils 15u 20-man roster is from South Carolina and they attend as many as 15 different high schools.

"We just sort of took some kids that we felt like fit the best and we came together and put in all our stuff, and we've just sort of been learning as we go," Faulkner said. "We screwed up a few things ... and that's really the thing different  about travel-ball -- we're sort of teaching the game on the fly a little bit."

Through the first four games, the Devils have been led at the plate by a pair of 2015 prospects who physically are polar-opposites of one another, but the 5-foot-8, 170-pound Dalton Pate and 6-5, 185-pound Kep Brown have one thing decidedly in common: they both can rake.

Pate (Hanahan, S.C.) hit .667 (8-for-12) with three doubles and seven RBI; he stroked a pair of doubles and drove in five in Thursday's win over Team California. Brown (Mount Pleasant, S.C.) was 7-for-11 (.636) with two triples, a home run, five RBI and four runs scored.

The Devils' pitching was less than stellar through four games with eight pitchers combining  to surrender 28 hits, 11 walks and 12 earned runs in 26 innings (3.23 ERA) while striking out 21. Bradley Brown (2014, Beaufort, S.C.) pitched five innings of four-hit ball and gave up one earned run Thursday morning.

"It's been a great experience for our kids," Faulkner said of the team's participation in the World Series. "This is the first time they've done one of these ... and you've got to bring it every day. Every team you play down here is going to be really good so it's not hard to get your kids motivated."

The Diamond Devils organization also has teams playing in both the 14u and 16u PG World Series, which are running concurrently with the 15u event this week. There are 16 teams in the 16u PGWS and 12 in the 14u PGWS and all six semifinal games and three championship games will be played at the East Cobb Complex on Sunday.

It should come as no surprise that three Diamond Devils teams were invited here this week. The organization and Perfect Game have enjoyed a great relationship and the Diamond Devils 17u team won the 2010 PG WWBA 17u National Championship right here at the East Cobb Complex.

"It's definitely the best organization in South Carolina and it's definitely one of the top ones in the Southeast," Faulkner said. "The Diamond Devils have always been very competitive nationally and they've had teams that have come here and won Perfect Game events.

"It just speaks for the quality of the kids that we have in our state," he continued. "I think South Carolina high school baseball is really underrated nationally. I think with the success of South Carolina and Clemson and some of the other schools from around the state, it's sort of bringing the state into the spotlight."

Faulkner is the pitching coach at Lexington (S.C.) High School, the second largest high school in the state with an enrollment of about 3,300. He was previously the head coach for one season (2011) at Wando High School, the state's largest school, but left to return to Lexington, his alma mater.

As a high school coach, Faulkner has been around the college recruiting scene, but he is once again getting his eyes opened at the 15u PG World Series. He said that when he first got into coaching no school was looking at 15-year-olds but during his first couple of days down here he had already been approached by two coaches asking about a couple of his players.

"It just keeps getting younger and younger ... and it's definitely changing," he said. "I'm always looking for things to motivate kids, and it's a great motivator. When they know (the college coaches) are watching them, it does nothing but make my job easier."

The Diamond Devils 15u played teams from Georgia, Tennessee, Washington, California and Florida its first three days here and still has games pool-play games remaining against teams from Indiana and Texas. If they advance to the four-team playoffs, they could conceivably meet teams from Louisiana, Illinois or New Jersey.

The 15u PG World Series is truly a national event and one Faulkner thinks can only benefit the young prospects involved.

"I think it makes them know that they have to work harder because there's always somebody somewhere that's better than them," he said. "They're probably a big fish in a small pond in their hometown, and everybody's the best player on their high school team, but when you get out here and you see guys from all over the country, it's opened my eyes just to see how good baseball is.

"I told them we're coming down here to win a ring and that's the only expectation I have," Faulkner continued. "You start to see them talk about it and they 'tweet' about it, and it's really kind of neat; it's a chance to win a (national) championship and I told them that there are a lot of people who go through their lives and never win a championship."

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