Tournaments : : Story
Friday, September 21, 2012

Desert sun feels fine to So Cal NTT

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The So Cal National Travel Team that opened play at the Perfect Game/EvoShield National Championship (Underclass) on Friday doesn't boast a roster that is quite as "national" as some of the So Cal NTT teams from the past.

In fact, while there are two players from Defiance, Ohio, and one from Valirco, Fla.,  the remainder of the players on the 14-man roster are all California prospects. Considering the entire So Cal NTT organization has players from 17 states on age-group teams from 10u to 18u, that's a bit of anomaly.

The group head coach Brooks Walling brought here for this tournament is playing together for the first time. It is a basically a collection of So Cal NTT's 14u, 15u and 16u teams that the organization fielded over the summer.

"We'll see how this week goes and it will prepare us for next summer," Walling said before So Cal NTT trounced Colorado Baseball Academy, 14-0 in four innings late Friday afternoon at the Goodyear Sports and Recreation Complex. "We'll treat this as a kind of a tryout period."

The "tryout period" started for So Cal NTT at a 48-team PG tournament that will crown a national champion early Monday afternoon at Goodyear Ballpark. Games will be played Saturday and Sunday at both the Goodyear complex and the Peoria (Ariz.) Sports Complex.

Based on reputation alone, So Cal NTT enters the tournament as one of the favorites. The roster includes four players from the team that won the the14u PG WWBA West Memorial Day Classic here in the Valley in late May, and also includes two players that are high school juniors (class of 2014) this year.

"That experience is huge," Walling said. "Anytime you can win and can bring that to a new team and a new group of guys, we expect you to lead the way. And having the older guys here, the juniors, who also play up on our 18u stuff, it's huge having them and it's a good mix."

Catcher/third baseman Clay Pittman is one of those 2014s and also one of the players from Defiance, Ohio. Pittman got hooked up with the So Cal NTT for the first time at the 2011 15u PG BCS Finals in Fort Myers, Fla.

He has now played in 10 events with the organization, seven this summer, including the 16u Perfect Game World Series in Marietta, Ga., and the 16u PG BCS Finals in Fort Myers, Fla.

"I love the coaching, I love the guys and it's just a great environment," he said Friday. "I was just researching everything and looking for better teams to play on and (my family) sent out an email, and we went down to Florida to play with (So Cal NTT)."

Pittman said it was easy to fit in with all the other players on the team.

"I don't think anybody is really hot-headed or anything like that," he said. "Like I said, it's a great environment and it's easy to get along with everybody. It's been a very good experience ... (and) I'm really excited to be here. These facilities are great; these are some of best fields that I've ever played  on."

Pittman certainly enjoyed himself Friday while playing on a practice field used by the Cincinnati Reds during spring training. He was 3-for-3 with a double, triple, three RBI and two runs scored in a game that So Cal NTT posted 10 runs in the first inning and never let its foot off the gas.

Since this is the first time this group has played together -- although it was impossible to tell that during their PG/EvoShield Under tournament-opener -- Walling said getting the team to mesh and play together on the same page is one of the first tasks that must be taken care of.

"It's a big challenge, but over time it only takes one or two games with these kids. It's fine with them," Walling said.

Right-hander/third baseman Jonathan Longtin (2015, Covina, Calif.), LHP/1B Nick Sprengel (2015, Placencia, Calif.), RHP/3B John Titus (2015, Crowley Lake, Calif.) and 1B/RHP Josh Tullus (2015, Trabuco Canyon, Calif.) are the four players that were part of the 14u WWBA Memorial Day West Classic championship team.

Sprengel was named the tournament's Most Valuable Pitcher and Longtin was named to the All-Tournament Team.

"It was really good; it was like a break-through almost because I had been working up to that point," Sprengel said of the experience. "Over the last couple of years I've really started to expand and get better."

Playing in a tournament in the Phoenix area at MLB spring training facilities in late September is a real treat for the players, even as the temperature climbed over 100 degrees on Friday and is expected to do so again throughout the weekend. There are plenty of college coaches and recruiters in attendance and since no one on this So Cal NTT roster has made a college commitment yet, that's another big reason for being here.

"These (PG tournaments) have definitely helped out," Pittman said, adding that during his high school season in Ohio, "you can't really get this exposure like you do  in Florida and places like this. This is great."

Walling agreed:

"I think it's good for the kids, especially for the kids back east because of the weather they have" he said. "Being out here on the West Coast is definitely huge for them. This gives them a college atmosphere, especially the way we run our program drawing from all the states and all that fun stuff."

After Friday's big win, the mission at hand is to continue to win, impress the college recruiters and be prepared to be playing Monday morning.

"Our goal is to at least reach the semifinals every time we come to one of these (PG tournaments)," Walling said.

"I think we come into every tournament trying to win it. We just try to play the best we can play and hope for the best," Pittman said.

And finally, from Sprengel:

"I started out playing with So Cal last year and I've been playing with then over since. I always hope that we're able to come in (to these tournament) and do well."

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