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Tournaments | Story | 7/20/2019

Arkansas Prospects pave path

Cory Van Dyke        
Photo: Ethan Bates (Perfect Game)

HOOVER, Ala. – Deep in the heart of the south at the Hoover Met Complex, 34 of the best teams across the 17u travel baseball landscape have been competing to take home the title of the 2019 WWBA 17u Elite Championship.

At the conclusion of Saturday’s action, Rawlings Arkansas Prospects-Menard was one of four teams remaining. 

After winning their pool with a 3-0 start to the tournament, the Prospects entered bracket play as the No. 3 seed and faced the Louisiana Knights. Ace Akers has pitched a gem up unto that point, shutting out the Knights through six innings while holding on to a 1-0 lead. However, the Knights scored two runs in the top of the seventh and took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the inning.

The Arkansas Prospects could have easily been dejected knowing they were just three outs away from a win, only to have it snatched away suddenly. Instead, the Prospects immediately roared back. With runners on second and third, Houston King singled in the tying-run. Three batters later with the bases loaded and two outs, Joe Reid connected on a single up the middle to walk it off for the Prospects.

“I knew all I needed to do was hit one hard somewhere where nobody else was at,” Reid said. “Got lucky and executed.

“It says a lot about us. We’re all about the next man up. We had a lot of guys in line that inning that were able to make it happen. The bottom of our lineup came through.”

The comeback rally encompassed the fighting spirit that has come to define the Arkansas Prospects while adding a much needed boost to the team in the process.

“From a confidence standpoint, I think that did a ton for the kids,” head coach Andy Menard said. “These guys are scrappy, they don’t quit, they compete every time they go on the field. To be rewarded and have a timely hit there to walk off a very talented Louisiana Knights team was big for them.”

The Prospects carried that momentum into the quarterfinals matchup against VBA 17u Black with a 7-0 victory to advance to the semifinals.

Ethan Bates shoved on the bump, finishing with a complete game shutout. He scattered three hits and two walks while striking out eight.

“Ethan fills the zone up with three pitches all day, every day,” Menard said. “He’s done it all year and he’s a good guy to run out there.”

Using a fastball that sat in the mid 80’s and ran up to 88 mph, Bates pounded the strike zone on both sides of the plate. His best swing and miss pitches were changeup and breaking ball that he utilized to keep the VBA lineup off balance the entire game.

“I just kind of went up there and tried to stay in my zone and execute pitches low,” Bates said. “Just throw nasty stuff.”

Throw nasty stuff is exactly what the Arkansas commit did. While Bates’ performance on the mound pushed the Arkansas Prospects into the semifinals, it’s been his hot streak at the plate that continues to raise a few eyebrows.

Bates is now batting 7-for-14 at the plate this week with 5 RBIs from the No. 2 hole. He added two hits and an RBI to help his own cause in the quarterfinals win.

“He’s done a phenomenal job offensively and on the mound and defensively all summer for us,” Menard said. “He’s been such a big part.”

As a two-way player, Bates showcases an extremely high IQ by using his knowledge as both a hitter and a pitcher to gain an upper hand on his opponents.

“It really helps me as a pitcher and a hitter because I know what pitchers like to do,” Bates said. “I know what hitters hate whenever pitching. It helps. The best of both worlds.”

In the 7-0 triumph, it was a five-run second inning that gave Bates the run support and helped power the team toward the shutout. Davis Shackelford doubled in two runs, and Mitch Austin followed with a two-RBI single of his own before Bates collected his own RBI.

“Guys were seeing the ball really well,” Menard said. “Jumped on a few pitches and found some holes and put up some early runs. It kind of opened it up early which gave them a little breathing room.”

Through the five games thus far, the Arkansas Prospects have surrendered just five runs. It’s the same formula that the team used to advance to the quarterfinals of the 2019 WWBA 17u National Championship earlier this month. The Prospects allowed just 14 runs in that tournament that began with 376 teams, finishing with an 8-2 record before falling to the eventual champions, Canes Nationals 17u.

Needing two more wins tomorrow to walk away as champions, the Arkansas Prospects will continue to rely on that strong pitching and defense mixed with timely hitting along the way.

“Pitching and defense has been outstanding,” Menard said. “Same thing we’ve been doing all week. Pitch, play defense, figure out a way to score a few runs and see what happens.”

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