Tournaments | Story | 10/6/2012

KBC enjoys the fun and games

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- When right-hander Clinton Hollon made his Perfect Game debut at the 2010 PG WWBA 2011 Grads or 17u National Championship as a fresh-faced 15-year-old wearing a Kentucky Baseball Club uniform, little did he know he would soon become the face of the organization.

Today, Hollon is a senior at Woodford County High School near his hometown of Lexington, Ky., and the Kentucky Baseball Club -- or at least its underclass team -- is finding out what life without Hollon is like as it plays this weekend at the PG WWBA Underclass World Championship.

Hollon, a 2012 Perfect Game All-American who PG projects as the No. 33 overall prospect (No. 10 among high school seniors) in the 2013 MLB amateur draft, hasn't played for a KBC underclass team since he was at this event as a high school sophomore in 2010. That doesn't mean the gregarious teenager and University of Kentucky commit isn't missed.

"He's such a good kid and we miss not having him here, and he's another kid who is just a fantastic competitor," KBC head coach Kevin Clary said Saturday afternoon at the jetBlue Player Development Complex. "He leads by example on the field and he's a high-energy guy, and we definitely miss him, for sure."

There might be a chance Hollon will be pitching for the Kentucky Baseball Club at the PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., at the end of the month, but the group of youngsters that are at this underclass event this weekend seem eager to make names for themselves.

"First of all, we're blessed to even be here and I want our kids to appreciate the opportunities they've been given," Clary said. "We talk about embracing the opportunity for the exposure; that's why we do this. We've seen probably 200 to 250 (college) coaches already since we've been down here and our kids have gotten a remarkable amount of exposure, and that's why we do this."

Winning provides a nice by-product from gaining exposure. KBC won its three pool-play games Friday and Saturday by a combined score of 26-5 and became one of the first squads at the 168-team tournament to secure a spot in the 42-team playoffs, which are scheduled to begin Sunday morning.

The Kentucky Baseball Club won its final pool-play on Saturday afternoon, 4-3, over SF Elite Underclass Red, thanks to a Hollon-like effort from right-hander John Hisel (2014, Lexington, Ky.) Hisel, an uncommitted prospect ranked 146th nationally, took a no-hitter into the seventh inning before settling for a six-strikeout three-hitter.

KBC had 10 hits in the game, all singles. Devin Hairston (2014, Lexington), an uncommitted top-1,000 prospects, had three of those singles and scored twice, and Trevor Putzig (2014, Louisville, Ky.), an unranked and uncommitted prospect, drove in three runs with two singles. Putzig hit 5-for-7 (.714) with a double and five RBI in KBC's first three games.

The only player on the roster with a NCAA Division I commitment is infielder Devin Hairston (2014, Lexington, Ky.) who has committed to (where else?) the University of Kentucky.)

The Kentucky Baseball Club got its start in 2006 and each year has solidified itself as one of the more respected organizations in the country. This summer KBC fielded six age-group teams from 13u through 18u, and Hollon isn't quite yet its most famous alumnus. That alumni list includes Ben Revere, a 1st-round draft pick of the Twins in 2007; Zack Cox, a 1st-rounder by the Cardinals in 2010; and Robbie Ross, a 2nd-round pick of the Rangers in 2008.

The organization is based in Nicholasville, Ky., and draws most of its players from Lexington, the home of UK. It accepts no players from outside of the state of Kentucky.

"We're not a trophy team," Clary said. "We don't fly guys in; we just want to build up baseball in our area and build up the talent in our state."

And limiting the area from which KBC brings in its talent has not really affected the talent level of the organization's teams. Shortstop Daniel Neal (2015, London, Ky.) is ranked 55th nationally in his class, and right-hander Lincoln Henzman (2014, Lexington, Ky.) -- who hasn't thrown yet this weekend -- is ranked No. 138 in his class.

"Lexington is considered a basketball town because of the University of Kentucky basketball team, but it's a youth baseball hotbed," Clary said. And it should not be forgotten that UK's baseball team finished 45-18 last year after having its season brought to an end in an NCAA Regional.

"These kids just embrace that," Clary said. "They're a great bunch of boys to be around, they show up every single day, they never want to stop practicing; they want to keep going. ... They like to play, they like each other, they have a sincere chemistry with each other and they're a joy to be around."

The Kentucky Baseball Club unit that has advanced into the playoffs at the PG WWBA Underclass World Championship is made up of prospects that played for either the KBC 15u or KBC 16u teams over the summer. They came together this fall, and this is the fourth and final tournament the team will play in. It gives them one last shot to impress the scouts and college coaches.

"They understand they have to come down here and put their best foot forward and just play their game," Clary said. "They need to just do what they do naturally, and some people are going to like you and some people aren't.  We just have to find the right fit for each kid."

Clary also likes the fact that a tournament like this introduces his Kentucky contingent to players from the country's four corners, along with all that that area in the middle. He likes that his kids can judge themselves against best talent from the rest of the country while also competing for a PG national championship trophy and championship rings.

Winning might not be the only thing at stake here, but it certainly is important. Everyone wants to be identified as a winner.

"The college coaches, not only do they look for talent, but they look for winners," Clary said. "Guys that are in a winning program know how to handle themselves, know how to come to the park each day and grind it out and they look for guys that compete. And when you compete, more times than not you'll end up winning.

"We'd like to win the whole thing, but we realize that we probably don't have enough arms to finish the deal," he continued. "Our main goal is exposure for the kids, our second goal is to win the tournament, and the third goal is to have as much fun as humanly possible."

That last part is easy, even without fun-loving Clinton Hollon.

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