Tournaments | Championship | 12/30/2002

5. Baseball America Wins World Championship

Perfect Game Staff        
West Palm, FL - For the second time in three years Baseball America took home the title. It was far from easy, but in the end the BA talent was undeniable. The team lost its first game of the tournament and just barely made it into the championship round. Over 500 major league scouts and college coaches attended the event, which has become the top scouting attraction in baseball. 72 of the most talented teams from all over USA, Canada, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic came to Jupiter with hopes of winning the championship rings and displaying their skills. Jared Hughes RHP (CA) who threw up to 96 mph and dominated was named the #1 prospect at the event. Team mate, Ryan Sweeney LHP/OF (IA) was named the tournament MVP.

The following story appeared in Baseball America.

By Allan Simpson
October 28, 2002

JUPITER, Fla.--Baseball America's bats were strangely silent throughout most of the Perfect Game/Baseball America World Wood Bat championship, but they suddenly came alive when it counted most.

BA scored four times in its last at-bat in a 4-1 win over Team Puerto Rico in the semifinals, then had its biggest scoring output of the tournament in the championship game as it beat the South Bay (Calif.) Sharks 8-2. Prior to that BA had scored only 18 runs in six-plus games.

An all-star team of many of the top high school players in the Draft Classes of 2003 and 2004, BA relied on another strong pitching performance in the final, this time by righthander Matt Bush (Mission Bay High, San Diego), who normally played second base or shortstop and was making his first pitching appearance of the tournament. Bush, the No. 2-ranked player in the High School Class of 2004, worked the first six innings against South Bay, striking out seven while allowing four hits. Righthander Jeff Allison (Veterans Memorial High, Peabody, Mass.), a projected first-rounder next June, finished up. In eight tournament games, BA pitchers gave up only one earned run--in its final game.

"I said from the start that we had enough pitching to win this tournament," BA coach Johnny Rodriguez said. "Fortunately, our bats started to come around at the end. Our pitching kept us in every game."

It was the second championship in three years for Baseball America, which was the pre-tournament favorite but didn't even finish first in its own pool in the preliminary phase of the 72-team competition. Consequently, it was relegated to a No. 19 seed in the 36-team championship bracket, which began Sunday.

In order, BA beat the No. 14 Austin (Texas) Baseball Club 2-0, the No. 3 seed Team Florida USA 6-4 and the No. 22 seed All-Star Baseball Academy (Pa.) 2-0 before finishing off No. 31 Team Puerto Rico and the No. 12 Sharks.

Baseball America two-way star Ryan Sweeney (Xavier High, Cedar Rapids, Iowa), who excelled on the mound, at the plate and in the field, was named the tournament MVP.Sweeney pitched a three-hitter in the semifinal win against Team Puerto Rico, then drove in two runs with a single and double in the win over the Sharks in the final.

"He did it all for us," Rodriguez said. "He hit, and he pitched against a team that I didn't think anybody could beat, because of all the drums and the music that were going on in the background." Overall, Sweeney had 13 hits in eight games and allowed no earned runs in 10 innings. Playing five games in little more than 24 hours to finish the tournament, Sweeney, understandably was as exhausted as his teammates. "All our arms are a little sore at this point," Sweeney said, "but I just sucked it up and pitched. I'm the type of pitcher that gets a little better as I go, so I felt pretty good in the fourth and fifth innings."

Puerto Rico broke a scoreless tie in the fifth inning when catcher Brian Opdyke (Catalina Foothills High, Tucson) threw the ball into left field on a steal of third, allowing the runner to score. Sweeney then beared down and showed his best stuff of the game, including an 88-mph fastball. As well as he pitched, Sweeney was in danger of losing his second game of the tournament until BA rallied with four in the bottom of the sixth. Sweeney's single loaded the bases with none out, and Jared Kubin (Oakton, Va., High) followed with a game-tying sacrifice fly before Opdyke broke it open with his two-run single. BA then erupted for 11 more hits in the final against South Bay, putting the game out of reach with two runs in the fifth and sixth innings.

"This was an impressive achievement for these kids," said Rodriguez, a manager in the Florida Marlins farm system, "because everyone in this tournament was gunning for Baseball America. Everyone threw their best pitcher at us and went all out to beat us. But our kids knew they were supposed to win, so they played hard. They didn't want to be embarrassed by losing."

For Baseball America and South Bay, the final game was a case of how you finish, not how you start. Both teams dropped their opening games of the tournament on Friday and stormed to the final with six straight wins.

Sweeney, in fact, was the loser in Baseball America's 1-0 loss to the Colorado Rockies Scout Team with the only run of the game scoring on a controversial play. A line drive appeared to hit Sweeney on the foot and kick straight up in the air. It was caught on the fly by BA second baseman Lance Zawadski (St. John's Prep, Ashland, Mass.) who doubled off the base runner at second. Or so he thought. The runner believing the ball had hit the ground first, broke for home and scored on the play. The umpire ruled in the runner's favor, resulting in the game's only run. Sweeney then threw out two runners at the plate from right field in Baseball America's next game, a 1-0 win over Cincinnati's Midland Redskins and it never lost again.

South Bay, which brought its regular club team intact to the tournament, lost its opener to the East Cobb (Ga.) Astros. The highlight of its comeback was an upset of the No. 1-seeded Gold Coast (Fla.) Yellow Jackets 1-0, in the semi-finals. Former Team USA national youth team standout Andy Beal (Peninsula High, Palos Verdes, Calif.) worked the first six innings of that game. But the Sharks had little pitching left for the final as they used five pitchers against Baseball America.

Gold Coast, made up of players from 10 high schools in and around West Palm Beach, earned the No. 1 seed by going 3-0 in pool play, while allowing just one run. It then won three more games in bracket play to reach the semi-finals before falling to the Sharks.

Interestingly, the two semi-final winners hold a unique distinction. As 15-year-olds, Sweeney and Beal were recognized by Baseball America's annual Baseball For The Ages program, which identifies the best player in the nation at each age level. Sweeney was the 15-year-old winner in 2000; a year later, Beal was acknowledged at that age after pitching Team USA to the World Youth title.

The two starting pitchers in Monday's championship game were also members of this year's Team USA national youth team, that finished second in an America's qualifying tournament in Venezuela. Bush fared better than Sharks righthander J.T. Trelatsky (Agoura High, Agoura Hills, Calif.), who lasted only an inning. Trelatsky was pulled after allowing two runs, but he had just saved the Sharks win over Gold Coast by pitching a scoreless seventh.

BA, the 2000 champion, never got untracked offensively until the final eight innings Monday, but it got outstanding pitching throughout the tournament--especially Monday.

Righthander Quentin Andes (Cibola High, Albuquerque, N.M.), pitching in his third game in four days, went the distance in shutting out the All-Star Baseball Academy 2-0 on a three-hitter in Monday's opener.

"That was a key win for us," Rodriguez said, "because it enabled us to save the rest of our pitching staff for the next two games. It allowed us to save Bush and Allison for the final."

Opdyke also played a key role for Baseball America on the final day. He contributed the big hit in the win against Puerto Rico and caught all three games in 90-plus heat because the team's other catcher, Justin Brashear (Barbe High, Lake Charles, La.) was forced to return home a day early.

But no one performed as well as Sweeney, a possible first-round pick next June who has verbally committed to San Diego State, where new coach Tony Gwynn has assured Sweeney that he would be able to play both ways. "I enjoy doing both and would like to continue doing both as long as I can," Sweeney said. "Coach Gwynn has assured me that I can do both. I really swung the bat well here."

In other quarter-final games played Monday, Team Puerto Rico erupted for four runs in the top of the seventh to beat the California Blaze 6-3, the Sharks beat the Florida Crush 6-2 and the Yellow Jackets topped the Riverside ABD Bulldogs 4-1.
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