Tournaments | Story | 9/15/2019

eXposure finds its fit out West

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Emilio Morales (Perfect Game)

GOODYEAR, Ariz. – When the field of 50 teams for this year’s Perfect Game WWBA Upperclass Fall National Championship Protected by G-Form was finalized a couple of weeks ago, one entrant stood out simply because of the city the program identified as its base of operations.

There just aren’t many teams that travel to the Phoenix area from east of the Mississippi River – or even east of the Colorado River, for that matter – for this event, which in 11 years has become a national stage for top programs from Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, Utah, Washington and other western states.

But eXposure Baseball, with its base of operations in Chattanooga, Tenn., is extending its reach westward and fielded a team – ia very competitive team – called eXposure West Fall in this year’s Upper Fall National, and the boys from Tennessee showed themselves very well, thank you.

There’s only one problem with that last statement, and it’s a big one. This roster was put together with players from all over the country with 10 of the 16 spots held down by class of 2020 prospects from San Antonio, Texas and points west. There is one player from Calhoun, Ky. – top-500 outfielder and Louisville commit Isaac Humphrey – but, alas, not a single one from Tennessee.

It’s a collection of players that came together for the first time over these last three days, got to know one another in what seemed like a matter of minutes, and then charged into the 14-team playoffs as the No. 7 seed after winning its pool championship with an unblemished 3-0-0 mark.

“The first day, we were kind of awkward but now it feels like we’ve been playing together since we were little,” standout outfielder/catcher/first baseman Emilio Morales told PG Sunday morning before eXposure West took on No. 10 MountainWest in a first-round playoff game on the Reds’ side of the Goodyear BallPark Sports Complex.

“We all got contacted by (eXposure) and then we all just came out here to play,” he said. “It feels like we’ve known each other for a long time; it’s a good group of guys out here.”

Brandon Turner, a former all-American at Mississippi State, Florida Marlins farmhand and owner of Turner Baseball Academy in Chattanooga, was coaching the team here this weekend. He told PG on Sunday that eXposure Baseball has been bringing teams out to Arizona three or four times a year and the directors and coaches have always tried to field highly competitive teams whenever they enter a tournament.

The Upperclass Fall National Championship Protected by G-Form marks the first weekend the guys on this eXposure West roster have actually shared a dugout with one another but that certainly wasn’t evident judging by the way they played during the run to the pool championship.

“With their personalities and everything it didn’t take long for them to click,” Turner said. “Basically what we do is we put together teams to come out here to play and then we’ll try to get them back together (a few more) times.”

EXposure teams have made appearances at the PG MLK West Championships in the past, so quite a few of these guys could be back in the desert in January 2020; the desert isn’t a bad place to be in January.

“Anytime you get to go play baseball where it’s warm it’s really nice, and all of these guys are really good kids; everyone I know on this team is a really good kid,” Mitch Jebb, a highly regarded middle-infield prospect, told PG. “It’s been great to meet new guys and learn more about the game and create new connections from around the country; I think that’s a real cool thing to be able to do.”

The roster was loaded with top-500 prospects and D-I commits from the class of 2020, including Morales, a Southern California commit from La Mirada, Calif., who is ranked No. 190 nationally, and Jebb, a Michigan State commit from Saginaw, Mich., who is ranked No. 295 nationally.

Among the other top-500s who performed at the tournament for eXposure West were Mason Ashcraft (Albuquerque, N.M., New Mexico commit); Darius Garcia (Albuquerque, N.M., Texas Tech) and Humphrey, the Louisville commit from Kentucky.

Robert Copozzi (Center Moriches, N.Y.) and Jack Nehls (Phoenix) are top-1000 prospects who have committed to Marist and New Mexico, respectively.

“A lot of us are really from all over the country but I feel like we’ve been playing together for a really long time,” Jebb said. “There’s just this connection and I feel like that’s what makes us a better team, just because we have that chemistry.”

After outscoring its three pool-play opponents by a combined 25-5 – good enough to earn that No. 7 playoff seed – the X-Men stared down a very talented Utah-based MountainWest team in the first-round of bracket-play but were eliminated by a 4-2 count in eight innings; the game was scoreless through seven before tie-breaker rules were put into play.

Jebb, Morales and outfielder Enzo Apodaca (Scottsdale, Ariz.) were among eXposure West’s top hitters over the four games, with Morales going 5-for-8 (.625) with three doubles, two singles and seven walks – good for an .813 on-base-percentage and a 1.813 OPS – five RBI, seven runs and two stolen bases.

“We’ve been playing real loose, playing our game and not being nervous,” Morales said before the loss to MountainWest. “We’re just going out there and having fun. … We want to play the best competition out here. I feel like that’s when we play our best and that’s when we really play our hearts out, and that’s good.”

EXposure West also got some outstanding pitching during their stay here in the desert, specifically from 2020 left-handers Darius Garcia and Cameron Hood, and 2020 righties Jack Wenninger and Marshall Durham.

“We tell them that this is for them,” Turner said. “We’ve got some uncommitted guys here and we’ve got other guys that are committed, but really truly for us it’s about development. And I tell them all the time, too, when we come out here we’re coming out here to win but at the same time if we don’t win, the development side of it and all of that is more important. And if the mindset is that you’re competing to win, your individual play is going to be even better.”

Turner understands all the distractions that are out there for these young men as they begin their senior year of high school and everything that goes on with that life milestone. He went through the whole college recruiting process, but things were different then in the respect that high school seniors didn’t just pick up and head to Arizona for a weekend of competitive tournament play.

“They’re fortunate because their families are able to do it and they’re able to come out here in the middle of school and play in Arizona where the weather’s great,” he said. “I think the neatest part about it is … they get to meet new people from different parts of the country, and I think that’s something they can benefit off of, being able to meet people that might come from different backgrounds.”

The goal of this team coming in was to play into Monday, when the PG Upper Fall semifinal and championship games will be played at the Goodyear Ballpark Sports Complex. It fell a little bit short, but that doesn’t mean these guys didn’t enjoy their time spent playing under the hot desert sun.

“Any baseball is good baseball; if you’re out playing you’re going to get better,” Jebb said. “You’ve got to stay loose; you can’t be tight. Baseball is supposed to be a fun sport, right, so you have to go out there and just have fun and play your game.”

Monday’s Championship Day pairings set

At the conclusion of play on Sunday, the PG WWBA Upperclass Fall National Championship Protected by G-Form was left with its final four while the PG WWBA Freshman Fall National championship Protected by G-Form had just two teams left standing.

The Upper Fall bracket went chalk, with No. 4-seed CBA Marucci 2020 (5-0-0) facing No. 1 Tomateros De California (4-0-0) in one semifinal and No. 3 Wilson Sandlot (5-0-0) going against No. 2 GBG Marucci Navy 2020 (4-0-0) in the other. Those games will be played on the Indians’ side of the Goodyear BallPark complex at 8:30 a.m. (MST) Sunday with the winners meeting in the championship game at Goodyear BallPark stadium at approximately 11 a.m.

Both quarterfinal and semifinal games were played on Sunday at the Freshman Fall, and No. 4 MBA Utah 2023 (4-0-1) and No. 2 GBG Marucci Navy 2023 (5-0-0) emerged to play in Monday’s 8:30 a.m. championship game at Goodyear BallPark.

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