Tournaments | Story | 10/4/2012

Upstate pushes for 'next level'

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Gam

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Drawing from a perspective gained after seven years of operating the South Carolina-based Upstate Mavericks, Chris Nall didn't hesitate before answering a question posed by Perfect Game early Thursday evening.

Nall was standing just outside one of the dugouts at Terry Park's George Brett Field waiting out a short rain/lightning delay before the start of the 11th annual PG WWBA Underclass World Championship.

While discussing the Mavericks organization that Nall started with one team in 2006, he was asked by PG what he would consider to be a more successful weekend: taking home the WWBA Underclass World Championship national title trophy on Monday or having a couple of his young players receive scholarship offers from any of the dozens of schools that will be represented here?

"Obviously, you want to win as many games as you can, but our goal from Day 1 was to get guys into college," Nall said. "We've now put over 225 kids in college or professional baseball since 2006, and our goal at the end of the day is to get guys to the next level.

"If we come down here and we go 0-and-4 I'm not going to be very happy on the ride back, but if we go 0-and-4 and four kids get offers to play at the next level, then we've done our job."

The Upstart Mavericks, loaded with a roster of class of 2014 prospects that Nall called young even for high school juniors, got their tournament off to a rollicking start, beating the South Florida Stingers, 14-6 in five innings, Thursday. Nall not only brought a roster loaded with players from South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee here this weekend, he also brought high expectations.

"Absolutely, we're excited about it," he said. "We've got a young but talented group, and we've thrown the ball and pitched the ball and played defense really well this fall, and we've picked up a couple of kids to help us offensively, so we're excited to see what happens. We're just hoping to compete at a high level."

Nall wasn't able to bring two of his top outfielders to southwest Florida this weekend due to football obligations. K.J. Bryant (2014, Taylors, S.C.), a South Carolina commit, and Shy Phillips (2014, Hartsville, S.C.), who has committed to The Citadel, both stayed home to play football Friday night for Wade Hampton High School and Hartsville High School, respectively.

He did have talented right-hander Katon Harwood (2014, Asheville, N.C.) in the dugout, however, and the Clemson commit started Thursday night's game. "We've got some guys here that I think are going to help us get to where we want to go," Nall said.

While those three players have already made verbal commitments to D-I universities, the Mavericks' highest ranked prospect, catcher Griffin Helms, has not. Helms, a junior at Norcross High School from Duluth, Ga., is ranked the country's No. 140 overall prospect and is playing in his first tournament with Upstate, having spent the summer with the East Cobb (Ga.) Royals.

His fall team is the 17u/18u East Cobb Astros and he is expected to be on an East Cobb roster at the PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., later this month.

"I'm just so pumped to get down here and finally be able to play, because this is the biggest tournament around for underclassmen," Helms said. "I'm going out with a team that I'm not used to, and it's going to be fun meeting new people and getting to see new stuff. I want to play well and play my game and not get too anxious about the scouts, and slow the game down and play hard."

It's a tournament like this one -- which attracted college coaches and recruiters from an estimated 50 schools to Thursday night's 10-game schedule -- that prospects like Helms live for. It's getting to be a way of life for Helms, with previous appearances at nine PG tournaments and three showcases, including the 2012 PG National Games in San Diego in August. He can't wait to get out in front of the college coaches and the professional scouting community.

"Tournaments like this are always really helpful because (the scouts) get to see you play and they get to see how you act during a game, whether you're doing good or bad," he said. "These tournaments are really good, and so are the (PG) showcases ... and they give you a lot of exposure because that's where the best players in the nation are going to be."

Helms said the key to impressing the scouts is not trying to do too much. He's confident they will recognize a strong work ethic and a high baseball IQ even if a prospect isn't at his best during a particular game.

"I realize that it's not about always playing well -- you don't have to go 4-for-4 with four home runs -- as long as you hustle on and off the field, play hard and play with intensity. They'll see that and they'll see that intensity, and they'll see what you can do," he said. "If you play hard, good things are going to happen."

The Upstate Mavericks have represented themselves in stellar fashion at Perfect Game tournaments throughout the organization's seven-year history and will have a top upper class team at the PG WWBA World Championship Oct. 25-29 in Jupiter, Fla. Nall said these two PG October tournaments are the highlight of his organization's yearly schedule.

"We go to this one and we go to Jupiter, and they're both phenomenal. We love the events that (PG) puts together," he said. "When you get 160 teams at an event there are going to be challenges and it's tough, but it's fun to see how you're going to compete compared with a bunch of other teams from across the country. And it's fun for the guys to get away from home and play in a bigger atmosphere."

There are 168 teams here this weekend hoping to be playing for a PG national championship at Fenway South at the jetBlue Player Development Complex late Monday morning. The Upstate Mavericks certainly hope to be there, but Nall also looks at the bigger picture.

"Obviously we come in expecting to win; you can't go into a tournament not (expecting to win)," he said. "I want to compete at a high level and I want the kids to play hard and I want them to get seen by scouts; that's our ultimate goal at this point.

"We want to compete and see how deep we can make it, but at the same time it's a great opportunity for the kids to get seen and have a chance to play at the next level."

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