Tournaments | Story | 7/18/2021

Top Tier Uses Chemistry as Catalyst

Matthew Welsh        
Photo: Steven Milam (Perfect Game)
MARIETTA, Ga. -- The Top Tier Roos American recorded their fourth straight pool play victory in this year’s WWBA National Championship on Saturday morning after topping the 15u 6-4-3 Cougars 9-2 in seven innings. This most recent win has them tied for first in pool G of the tournament with three more games to play before playoffs. Through three days, the Roos have scored 39 runs and allowed only 10. 
Although eventually a decisive win, today’s feat for Top Tier was not immediately apparent. Starting pitcher Gabe Wheeler and his team found themselves down 2-0 after the first inning, courtesy of a two-run home run from the Cougars’ cleanup hitter Levi Clark
But in the following innings, Wheeler settled into the game and carried his team for a further 4 1/3 scoreless innings and six strikeouts. But like their pitching, Top Tier’s offense got off to a somewhat delayed start. 
In the game’s first three innings, in which they were held scoreless, Top Tier recorded no hits and only one baserunner. Then, second time through the order in the bottom of the fourth, Louisiana State commit Steven Milam stepped to the plate and smacked a leadoff double off the center field wall. The hit sparked the Roos’ offense, which then established itself over the final three frames. 
“We got off to a slow start and we had to adjust,” said designated hitter Aidan Miller. “The pitcher was throwing a little slow, so we had to sit back, and it took a couple innings, but once we got on it and started hitting it was good.”
Top Tier scored one run in the bottom of the fourth inning, two in the bottom of the fifth to take the lead and blew the game open with a six-run sixth inning. Cade Kurland’s two-strike, two-run double to left-center field plated the first two runs in the sixth inning blitz, and at the time, solidified a 5-2 advantage.
“The first two pitches I kind of swung through two curveballs, and I was kind of caught off-guard by those, so I just really tried to lengthen my stance, shorten up, and just react to the pitch,” said Kurland of his at-bat. “Luckily I found the barrel and knocked them in.”
Kurland and Miller are only two parts of a roster stacked with prospects. Miller himself is the nation’s 4th-ranked overall player, and is alongside the 9th-ranked Wesley Mendes, a left-handed pitcher committed to Vanderbilt. Add another three top-100 players and eight in the top-500 and Top Tier lists one of the best rosters not only in the tournament, but also in the country. 
However, unique to this team, despite the levels of talent, is a core of players with a shared experience in the game for nearly half a decade. This Florida team is no new club, put together on a whim to win a trophy; rather the players’ dream of winning this tournament together has been brewing for years. 
“It’s just our chemistry,” Kurland said on what separates this team from others. “Most of us have played together since we were 12 or 13, some of us longer. Once we get going and we’re hot, we don’t stop.”
And like other teams contending for this year’s top spot, Top Tier treats every game, especially those in pool play, as if they mean everything. That mentality has paid off in the team’s stay in Atlanta. 
“I think we approach these games very professionally. We take good at-bats, make good plays, throw top pitchers, and go win ball games,” Milam said. “I want the next guy to succeed just as much as I want to succeed. We’re all brothers here and we’re all fighting for this championship.”
Top Tier made clear their ambition is not only to post a solid qualifying finish, but to add to their Perfect Game summer trophy case, which already includes the 16u National Elite Championship which took place in late June. The Roos’ next game is scheduled for Sunday at 2:45 p.m. at Brook Run Park against De Fury. Successful results in their next three games, including against fellow unbeaten pool members Release Baseball on Monday, will guarantee the team a bracket berth and the opportunity to avenge their early tournament exit from one year ago.
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