Tournaments : : Story
Saturday, August 04, 2012

Smooth road for Gravel Baseball

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

MARIETTA, Ga. -- Gravel Baseball 15u head coach Sam Sorce might just have the most intriguing baseball background of anyone you can find who never played the game at the major-league level.

An incredibly versatile player, Sorce helped the Miami Hurricanes to the 1982 College World Series National Championship primarily as a right-handed pitcher and designated hitter. He is best known around Coral Gables, Fla., however, for playing all nine positions in a single game against St. Leo on April 29, 1981.

The Texas Rangers selected him in the 24th round of the 1982 amateur draft and he went on to play five minor league seasons, a stint during which he also played all nine positions at some point in time.

Now the 52-year-old Sorce is trying to pass some of that versatility on to a talented group of 15-year-olds that are making a run at a Perfect Game national championship.

Chicago-based Gravel Baseball had its final pool-play game at the 15u Perfect Game World Series cancelled by rain at right about lunchtime on Saturday, but it was of no consequence to the Gravelers. They had already clinched a spot in Sunday's four-team playoffs by virtue of winning five of their first six pool-play games.

"This week has been great. This is our second Perfect Game tournament here this year and they do a great job," Sorce said in a telephone conversation Saturday afternoon after a downpour cancelled all the games at the East Cobb Complex and sent a handful of games with playoff implications over to Cartersville for completion.

"The competition's fantastic, the exposure's fantastic and the Perfect Game tournaments are always well-run; the kids just love it," Sorce said.

The 15u PGWS final four finally fell into place late Saturday after a rain-soaked and rain-delayed Saturday afternoon. As the runner-up in Pool F, Gravel Baseball (5-1) will play Pool E champion Team Northwest (5-1) in the second semifinal at 11:30 a.m. on Field 3 at the ECB Complex. The first semifinal matches Pool F champion Marucci Elite (5-1) against Pool E runner-up Dallas Patriots Valdez (5-2) at 9 a.m. on Field 3.

Marucci got the nod as pool champion based on its 15-0 drubbing of Gravel Baseball on Wednesday.

Gravel Baseball participated in the PG WWBA 2015 Grads or 15u National Championship here last month and looked poised to make a strong championship run. It went 7-0 in pool-play and beat the Dallas Patriots 15u Valdez in the first round of the playoffs, but were tripped up by the Georgia Roadrunners Blue 15u in the second round.

The Gravelers avenged that loss with a 9-4 win over the Roadrunners on Friday.

Gravel Baseball started World Series play by beating the Houston Banditos Black, 6-5, on Tuesday and sailed into their first of two games on Wednesday. That's when disaster struck with the 15-0 pounding at the hands of Marucci Elite.

""That was probably the worst loss that we've ever had -- I know for this team it has been -- but you get games like that," Sorce said. "They were swinging the bats, and you just get games like that. I would like to see them again."

If that happens, it would be in Sunday afternoon's championship game. But Gravel put that encounter aside and went to win four straight and earn its position in the semifinals.

The Gravel Baseball organization was started in the Chicago area by businessman Al Oremus as a team called Prairie Gravel which was a semi-pro outfit made up of older players, most of the ex-professional players or college players. Prairie Gravel lists among its alumni major-leaguers Curtis Granderson, Tom Gorzelanny and J.A. Happ.

Sorce, who is in the U. of Miami Sports Hall of Fame, played for the older Prairie Gravel team in the late 1980s and early 1990s and then took over as the coach of the younger teams in 1994 when his sons started playing.

This current team has four members who have been playing for Sorce since they were 9-years-old: Chris Botsoe (2015, Clarendon Hill, Ill.), Matt Barahas (2014, Burbank, Ill.), Buck Domabyl (2014. Brookfield, Ill.) and Jack Oremus (2015, Western Springs, Ill.).

Botsoe, who suffered a broken nose during an at-bat in Friday's game, has had a terrific tournament; he was 10-for-19 (.526) with a pair of doubles, five RBI and five runs scored in the six pool games. Ako Thomas (2015, Chicago) hit .500 (9-for-18) with two doubles, a triple, four RBI and eight runs, and even though Charlie Donovan (2015, Clarendon Hills, Ill.) was only 4-for-20 (.200), two of his hits were doubles and he has a team-high six RBI.

The Gravelers have struggled on two fronts: they can count only 13 extra-base hits among the 48 safeties they have at the tournament, and the pitching staff owns a suspect 5.73 ERA. They outscored their six pool-play opponents only by a combined 39-34 count.

But they've proved they can compete against the best in the country and they're not afraid to get on an airplane and seek out that top competition. Oremus, the owner of the Joliet (Ill.) Slammers of the independent Frontier League, provides all the funding for the team's travels.

"We've been traveling for awhile, and last year we did two or three Perfect Game tournaments and some other tournaments, so we've been competing against these teams," Sorce said. "We've played the Georgia Roadrunners four times now, we've played the Dallas Patriots a couple of time now, so when you start playing the same teams you go to these tournaments and you start seeing the same faces."

Now, if only this team can assume some of Sorce's versatility.

THE 14U PERFECT GAME WORLD SERIES FINAL FOUR was set after the completion of last six pool-play games Saturday morning -- before the rain hit -- but nothing was really set in stone until the final outs were recorded in at least two games.

The East Cobb Astros (4-0-1) won the Pool A championship despite a 6-6 tie with Team Northwest (2-2-1) Saturday morning and will face Pool B runner-up Tri-State Arsenal (3-2) in the second semifinal at 11:30 a.m. on Field 2 at the ECB Complex. Pool B champion Dallas Patriots Stout (5-0) play Pool A runner-up Houston Banditos (4-1) in the first semifinal at 9 a.m., also on Field 2.

The Dallas Patriots Stout and the East Cobb Astros had clinched playoff berths after Friday's play at the 14u PGWS, but the other two spots -- the two runners-up in each pool -- weren't decided until Saturday morning.

The Houston Banditos held on for a gut-wrenching 2-1 win over the St. Louis Gamers (2-3) to grab the second berth out of Pool A, and the Tri-State Arsenal advanced into Sunday despite a 12-3 loss to the Diamond Devils (1-3-1). FTB/Team Warehouse also finished 3-2 in Pool B play, but Tri-State got the berth because it beat FTB/TW, 10-2, on Thursday.

"Our pitchers threw strikes, our defense made plays, but we didn't score when we needed to," Banditos head coach Robert DeLeon said after his club's close call with the Gamers. "But our goal was to get to Sunday, and coming into this tournament we knew it was going to be tough. This tournament here is filled with many, many good teams and you have to play good to win."

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