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Tournaments  | Story  | 9/14/2013

Winning with a mission

Jeff Dahn     
Photo: Perfect Game

GOODYEAR, Ariz. – The group of top 2015 prospects with hometowns as far-reaching as Waxhaw, N.C., and Poway, Calif., was assembled to compete at this weekend’s Perfect Game/EvoShield National Championship (Underclass) with two formidable goals: win a PG national championship and promote a foundation that encourages young baseball players to become involved in their communities.

After two days, three games and the completion of pool-play at the 64-team event being played on the spring training practice fields at the Goodyear Ballpark Complex and Camelback Ranch, the SACSN National Team remained on course to nail both objectives.

The Student Athlete Community Service Network (SACSN) was formed two years ago by Frank Torre Jr. in alliance with the Joe Torre Foundation with the stated mission of showing student-athletes that the organization is a “great way to build leadership qualities, build volunteer hours, network within your community and ‘stand out’ during the college application process.”

“The whole mission of it is to get student-athletes out in their community and out doing good things off the baseball field as far as performing community service in many different facets,” Frank Torre Jr. said Saturday morning before SACSN’s second pool-play fame of the tournament. “We put together this team to try to make it a national thing and we reached out to some of the best players in the country, and they all supported the idea.”

The team is a powerhouse, perhaps one of the better underclass teams assembled for a PG national championship tournament. The original roster included eight prospects found in the top-56 of the PG 2015 national rankings, although there were several of those that didn’t play in the team’s first three games. The SACSN National Team won its pool and enters the 16-team playoffs on Sunday.

Defining success on the baseball side of the equation is much more tangible than trying to determine if the team is getting the SACSN message conveyed. There’s no doubt the all-star squad is getting it done on the field.

“For me, personally, coming all the way from Florida and having the opportunity to coach this collection of talent makes me pretty excited,” Torre said.

They opened pool-play Friday with an 8-3 win over the Play Hard Angels out of Pasadena, Calif., and then moved into full-throttle mode with a pair of shutout wins on Saturday:

The National Team downed the So Cal Cubs Scout Team out of Woodland Hills, Calif., 8-0 in five innings, behind a five-inning, one-hit, 10-strikeout outing from Max Wotell from Waxhaw, N.C. A left-hander, Wotell is ranked No. 52 nationally in 2015 class. That was followed by an 18-0, four inning blasting of the Rampart Rams (Colorado Springs, Colo.) in which right-hander William Guay from Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., threw a four inning no-hitter, striking out eight.

After 16 innings of work, five SACSN pitchers had allowed three earned runs (1.32 ERA) on five hits with 30 strikeouts and 10 walks.

The team hit .429 (30-for-70) with eight extra-base hits and 1.137 OPS in its first three games. Top-ranked 2015 prospect Daz Cameron from McDonough, Ga., went 5-for-6 (.833) with a home run, double, six RBI, four runs and a 2.409 OPS in those three games.

“Obviously, it’s exciting to be down here with this team,” Cameron said. “It’s a great group of talent and hopefully we’ll win some more games. Hopefully we can get to the championship.”

Hunter Sanicky of North Palm Beach, Fla., went 4-for-4 with a triple and a 2.500 OPS and Baylen Sparks from Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., was 5-for-9 (.556) with a double and a 1.380 OPS.

“I’ve really been looking forward to this,” Torre said. “To see that kind of talent and their baseball instincts, we really appreciate to have this opportunity though Perfect Game and to come out here and enjoy just watching them play the game.”

Frank Torre Jr. is the son of former big-leaguer Frank Torre Sr. and the nephew of former big-league player and manager Joe Torre. He starred at the University of New Orleans and was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1999 MLB amateur draft, and after a short minor league career called it quits. He was out of baseball for eight years before taking over the coaching duties at Dwyer High School in Palm Beach County, Fla.

“Baseball is baseball and anything can happen,” Frank Torre Jr. said. “When you get kids this talented you’re trying to get them prepared for college or professional careers but at this age you still have to do some coaching and teaching.”

Identifying any successes on the SACSN-community service side of this coin and what messages other players might be receiving is more difficult. SACSN’s central mission isn’t lost on a lot of these players; they recognize that they were hand-picked for this duty and are appreciate that they were included.

“It’s an honor to be a part of this and it’s also kind of nice that it’s not 120 degrees today,” Poway, Calif.’s Kyle Dean said with a laugh Saturday morning. Dean is ranked No. 9 nationally. “It’s an honor to be representing the Student Athlete Community Service Network and to meet some other players from around the nation and get to be their friend, and see some other competition out there; it’s awesome.

“Obviously, we want to win, but you also want to meet some new people. We want to get the word out about SACSN because it’s a great foundation.”

Ryan Cole McKay, a 6-foot-5, 205-pound right-hander from Spring Branch, Texas, who is ranked 28th nationally and hasn’t pitched yet at this event, recalled the excitement he felt when he received the invitation to be a part of the SACSN National Team.

“I looked at the roster and I saw all the guys on it, and there are some real good guys,” he said. “We have some real good coaches with us, too, so I think we’ll win the whole thing. I think for how new we are (as a team) we (understand) each other since we’re on the same level.

“God has blessed us a lot to be able to come out here and we’ve got a great team. We seem to bond well together, so it’s been real good.”

Some of these top prospects knew one another before being placed on this team and others are getting to know each other for the first time.

“With these kids, they’ve been involved with Perfect Game but I was surprised with how many times they’ve already crossed paths and how many of them knew of each other or even knew each other,” Torre said. “There’s already a nice little bond between them.”

They’re winning ballgames. They’re getting the word out about SACSN. Now they only need a pair of wins Sunday to reach Monday’s final four.

“This is a great (opportunity) to come out and play against some great competition and play some good ball,” McKay said. “I’ve known some of these guys just by playing against them (at other PG events) and obviously they’re all really good; we’ve got a lot of good talent on this team.”