GOODYEAR, Ariz. – It was a team assembled to promote the cause of community service among outstanding student-athletes. It was also a team constructed to win. The SACSN National Team didn’t let its architects or team builders down en route to winning its first Perfect Game national championship in the first PG event in which the organization fielded a team.
SACSN National (SACSN is an acronym for Student Athlete Community Service Network) powered its way to the title at the 3rd annual Perfect Game/EvoShield National Championship (Underclass) behind the play of many of the nation’s top prospects in the high school class of 2015.
The Nationals held off the So Cal National Travel Team (NTT), 4-3, in a down-to-the-wire championship game played Monday afternoon at Goodyear Ballpark, the Cactus League spring training home of the Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians.
“In a perfect world we knew we had the team that could come out and compete, but in baseball anything can happen so you have to do it out on the field,” SACSN head coach and program founder Frank Torre Jr. said. “I can’t say enough about this team and how they really bonded and how they competed. They came up with the big hit, the big play, the big pitch when we needed it; it was just phenomenal. I’m so thrilled and proud to have coached these guys.”
“These guys” originally included seven 2015 prospects ranked in the top-56 nationally, but No. 1-ranked Daz Cameron from McDonough, Ga., had to return home on Sunday after playing in the team’s three pool-play games; he missed the four playoff games. SACSN National was able to claw its way to the title even without the ultra-talented Cameron, who hit .833 (5-for-6) with a home run and six RBI in the three games in which he did play.
The Nationals (7-0) scored three runs in the top of the third inning and a single run in the top of the fourth to take a 4-1 lead in the championship game, but So Cal NTT (5-1-1) plated two in the bottom of the sixth to move within a run. It would get no closer.
SACSN totaled seven hits from seven players in the title tilt, with Baylen Sparks (2016, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.) stroking a double and Lucas Herbert (2015, San Clemente, Calif.) driving in two runs. Left-hander Max Wotell (2015, Marvin, N.C.) got the start and allowed one run on four hits while striking out seven in four innings of work. Righty Triston McKenzie (2015, Royal Palm Beach, Fla.) threw two perfect innings of relief, striking out four.
The win in the championship game was the second of the tournament for the No. 52-ranked Wotell, who ended up allowing one earned run in nine innings (0.78 ERA) on three hits and six walks while striking out 17. He was also 7-for-17 (.412) at the plate with a double, triple, six RBI and four runs and was named the event’s Most Valuable Pitcher.
“This was a real good experience, coming out here to Arizona; I had never been out here,” Wotell said. “To play with these kinds of guys was a great experience all together and I’m really happy with the team winning the championship. The individual award is not as big a deal to me as us coming out here and winning that championship.”
There can often be chemistry issues when a group of all-stars is brought together for one weekend event, but both Wotell and Torre said the group bonded quickly.
“I love all these guys to death,” Wotell said. “I knew a few of them (before) coming out here but after spending a weekend with them, it’s one of the best experiences of my life. We all jelled pretty good and came together as a team and that was good enough for us to come away with a championship. That was the main goal for all of us.”
That attitude is something Torre sensed right out of the gate.
“I really felt it from day one,” he said. “They all know how to win, they know how to compete and they all that in common – that winning, competitive spirit. When you have that, you all kind of glue together pretty quickly because you all have the same goal.”
Kyle Dean (2015, San Diego), the nation’s No. 9-ranked prospect in the 2015 class, enjoyed a productive tournament for SACSN, going 9-for-20 (.450) at the plate with two doubles, five triples, five RBI, eight runs and a 1.192 on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS).
The tournament’s Most Valuable Player award was given to So Cal NTT’s Jack McPherson, a highly regarded catcher the team plucked out of Mountain Brook, Ala., for the event. McPherson was phenomenal, batting 11-for-23 (.478) with six doubles, two triples, a home run, 12 RBI, seven runs scored and a glossy 1.599 OPS. One of his triples came in the championship game.
“This was a good experience and I had a lot of fun,” he said. “We played good, we were just one run away. I didn’t really have any expectations because I didn’t know any of these guys, so we came out here and we just played and we did well. I felt like we came together and got to know each other better and our team chemistry was really good. We weren’t the most talented team but we came out here and did very well.”
Dean, Danny Casals (2015 Miami), Nick Anderson (2015, Sugar Land, Texas) and Franco Camacho (2015, West Palm Beach, Fla.) all had two hits and Dean and Anderson each drove in a pair of runs and SACSN held on for an 8-6 win over the Southern California Bombers 2016 Black (4-1-1) in a semifinal Monday morning.
SACSN, which totaled 11 hits, held what turned out to be an insurmountable 8-1 lead after three innings, but the Bombers 2016 Black chipped away with four in the top of the fourth and one in the seventh before running out of time.
Humberto Castaneda (2016, Southgate, Calif.) was 2-for-4 with two RBI, and Devin Castro (2016, Temecula, Calif.) and Andy Thomas (2016, Murietta, Calif.) each had two hits to lead the Bombers’ 10-hit attack.
The SACSN National Team breezed through pool-play with a 3-0 record and outscored its opponents by a combined 35-3. The Nationals toppled the San Diego Show Blue, 6-3, in the first-round of the playoffs and earned their spot in the semifinals with a 7-0 win over GBG Marucci Navy in the quarterfinals. Things just clicked for SACSN the entire tournament.
“The big thing was the two-out hits, and also the pitchers who threw earlier in the (tournament) were able to come back and give us what they could,” Torre said. “We were obviously keeping them safe, but they were able to go out and throw strikes when we needed it, and that’s the hardest thing in these tournaments, is to be able to come back a second time and still be sharp.”
The Bombers 2016 Black, one of the youngest squads in the tournament, went 2-0-1 in pool-play. They needed eight innings to beat Mountain West, 4-1, in the first-round and eight more to escape CBA Marucci 2016 in the quarterfinals.
Derek Reilly (2015, Anaheim) smacked a two-run double in a three-run top of the seventh to lead So Cal NTT to a 4-2 win over the Colton Nighthawks 2015s (5-1) in a semifinal game Monday morning. Left-handers Kalab Fossum (2015, Lake Forest, Calif.) and Ryan Lefner (2015, San Juan Capistrano, Calif.) combined on a nine-strikeout five-hitter, with Fossum working five innings, allowing three hits and striking out six.
Colton right-hander Andrew Quintero (2015, Colton, Calif.) threw a complete game four-hitter, striking out seven. The Nighhawks’ Matthew Hardy (2015, Corona, Calif.) had an MVP worthy tournament, batting 8-for-17 (.471) with four doubles, three home runs, nine RBI, five runs and a 1.735 OPS.
So Cal NTT reached the semifinal round of the tournament after finishing 2-1 in pool-play; beating Trombly Baseball, 5-4 in eight innings, in the first-round of the playoffs; and then topping the So Cal Cavs, 7-2, in the quarterfinals.
The Colton Nighthawks 2015s were 3-0 in pool-play, outscoring their three opponents by a combined 24-1. They beat Gravel Baseball (Illinois), 4-2, in the playoffs’ first round and whipped GBG Marucci White, 10-1, in the quarterfinals.
At the end of the day Monday, the entire PG/EvoShield Underclass experience was a win-win for the SACSN squad.
“Obviously, we won on the field but we’ve also had more people want to know about we’re doing and ask questions about SACSN,” Torre said. “Hopefully, as we go back to our communities and we do more and more, make it more of a national thing and get more people involved throughout the country.
Would they like to attempt a repeat in 2014?
“Absolutely,” Torre said. “We love it and we’ll be back.”
2013 PG/EvoShield National Championship (Underclass) runner-up: So Cal NTT
2013 PG/EvoShield National Championship (Underclass) MVP: Jack McPherson, So Cal NTT
2013 PG/EvoShield National Championship (Underclass) MV-Pitcher: Max Wotell, SACSN National