Tournaments | Story | 10/6/2012

Midland, Moeller can be proud

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- When most folks across the country -- or at least those of a certain age -- hear mention of Cincinnati's Moeller High School, their first thoughts will inevitably drift toward the school's storied football program.

Moeller High put itself in the national sports conversation when the football program won seven mythical national championships in the 1970s and 80s. But as the 80s gave way to the 90s, and ultimately to the 21st century, the school's athletic successes have been much more prevalent on the baseball diamond then on the football field.

It's a fact that hasn't escaped current Moeller junior outfielder/first baseman Zach Shannon or the hundreds of scouts and college recruiters that have watched Shannon perform at four Perfect Game tournaments with the Ohio-based Midland Baseball organization since 2010.

Shannon, the nation's No. 25-ranked overall prospect in the high school class of 2014, is here this weekend playing with the Royals Scout Team/Midland at the 11th annual PG WWBA Underclass World Championship.

RST/Midland won its pool-play opener Friday afternoon and then had its second pool-play game of the tournament suspended by darkness Friday night while leading the Long Island Titans, 3-1, in the bottom of the fifth. That game was scheduled to be completed Saturday night. Before finishing the suspended game, RST/Midland beat Miami Chiefs Baseball, 3-0, Saturday morning.

"We're going pretty good so far with a bunch of new kids," Shannon said after Saturday's win. "The team has been working well together, we've been able to score some runs and the pitchers are doing a good job."

Brian Hiler has been associated with the Midland Baseball program since 1998 and has brought dozens of first-rate prospects to PG events through the years. He is the head coach of the team that is here this weekend.

"We have a lot of northern kids from Ohio, West Virginia, Indiana ... and we had some cramping issues and some hydration issues (Friday) but I think we're through that," Hiler said of the early stages of the tournament. "This is always a great tournament, especially for these young guys. It's so important to get down here, and the way Perfect Game runs these events and brings in all the colleges and the scouts, it's a great opportunity."

Hiler said he had already gotten some feedback that a couple of his players would receive college scholarship offers before they leave town.

"That's what it's about, getting these kids down here in front of these college," he said. "It's been good. It's a success. It's always a success when it's about the kids; when you get them a college scholarship it's a successful tournament win or lose."

Shannon, the Moeller standout, has already committed to Ohio State, but this is his second trip to the PG WWBA Underclass World Championship and he's glad to be here.

"I love coming down here and playing in front of all the college scouts; Perfect Game runs a great event down here," he said. "It's just fun being down here and seeing all the different talent from all across the country."

Shannon is one of two highly ranked prospects on the RST/Midland roster -- outfielder Alex Abbott (2014, Tifton, Ga.) is ranked 47th nationally and has committed to Florida. Unranked left-hander Trevor Simon is a Marshall commit.

Midland-affiliated teams have usually fared well on PG's biggest stages, with a pair of runner-up finishes at this event and back-to-back PG WWBA World Championship titles in 2006 and 2007 with the Reds Scout Team/Midland and the Braves Scout Team/Midland.

"In these fall tournaments, the college (exposure) is important, but you play to win," Hiler said. "We'd really like to bring home a ring from the Underclass, one of the few tournaments we haven't conquered yet. It's great competition down here and as the weekend wears on with kids coming and going with school (obligations), anything can happen."

This Royals Scout Team/Midland unit consists of players from nine states, with 11 players on the 19-man roster calling Ohio home, including Shannon. But Hiler reached into Georgia to snag Abbott, and into Florida to pick up twin brothers Austin and Ryan McCullers (both 2014, Tampa). The McCullers are the sons of former big-league pitcher Lance McCullers, Sr., and the younger brothers of 2011 PG All-American and Jackie Robinson Player of the Year Award winner Lance McCullers, Jr.

"We have a nucleus of about seven or eight guys that play fall ball together, but that's just getting together on weekends because they're back in school," Hiler said. "The rest of these guys just came together for this tournament."

Shannon developed and honed his skills in the Midland program after he threw a no-hitter and hit a home run in a game against a Midland team as an 8-year-old playing for another club. He joined the organization the next year and has been with it ever since.

"They've done everything for me that I could ever ask," he said.

The feeling is mutual.

"He's a gifted hitter. He's got the ability to hit the ball to all fields on top of the fact that he can hit the ball over the fence; he's got power," Hiler said. "He's a versatile guy -- he plays right, plays left, plays first base -- but I think what's going to carry him is his bat. He can really hit."

Shannon will also be on the roster of the Midland Redskins at the PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., at the end of the month. But when Shannon isn't playing for a Midland affiliate, he's playing for Moeller.

Moeller High School won an Ohio High School Athletic Association state baseball championship this spring, its third state title since 2004. The Crusaders also finished No. 45 in Perfect Game's final National High School Top 50 rankings. By comparison, the football program hasn't won an Ohio state championship since 1985.

Moeller is the alma mater of MLB Hall of Fame member Barry Larkin, future Hall of Fame member Ken Griffey, Jr., and the baseball playing Bell family -- father Buddy Bell (also a former big-league manager) and sons David and Mike Bell.

Shannon said his decision to give a verbal commitment to Ohio State was provided a boost when his life-long friend Jacob Niggemeyer (2014, Powell, Ohio) verbally committed to the Buckeyes when both boys were freshmen. Niggemeyer, a right-handed pitcher, is ranked 97th nationally in the 2014 class.

"I've played with Jacob ever since I was a little kid, and then he verbaled and I started talking to them," Shannon said. "It just got around to where I was up there every weekend going to football games and baseball games, and I just loved the campus and loved the coaches and it was just what felt right."

Of course, there's a very real possibility Shannon will never step foot in an OSU classroom. Perfect Game MLB draft guru Allan Simpson recently released a state-by-state list of the top college, junior college and high school prospects eligible for the 2014 MLB amateur draft, and Shannon got Ohio's highest grades.

He is projected as the top high school draft-eligible prospect, just ahead of his good friend Niggemeyer. He is also the only prospect from any of the state's colleges or high schools to earn a Group I classification, meaning he is projected to be selected in one of the first three rounds.

The 2014 draft is in the distant future. A much more pressing matter is winning the PG WWBA Underclass World Championship title Monday afternoon at jetBlue Stadium.

"That's the goal," Hiler said. "Once you get to the playoffs, anything can happen. If you can stay strong through your pool-play then you can throw it out there and see where the chips fall."

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