Tournaments : : Story
Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Team NW moves from SW to SE

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

MARIETTA, Ga. -- State of Washington catcher/right-hander Brendan Illies has only performed at two Perfect Game events in his young life, and they've both taken place since July 24.

A week ago, the 15-year-old sophomore at Puyallup High School who calls Edgewood, Wash., home, was pitching and catching for Team Northwest at the 17u Perfect Game World Series in the Phoenix suburb of Peoria, Ariz. This week he's back with kids his own age, playing in the inaugural 15u PG World Series at the East Cobb Complex.

The lack of experience hasn't dampened his enthusiasm for what lies ahead in this brave, new world that suddenly surrounds him.

"It's something new every time going to those events and playing against the best of the best," Illies said Tuesday afternoon after Team Northwest routed the Dulins Dodgers, 11-1, in its tournament opener. "It's really all I want to do -- I want to go far and I want to play hard against the best. Getting that experience as much as possible and having the chance of playing against those guys is just amazing."

Team Northwest director of operations and head coach Mike Brooks has logged a lot of miles in the last two weeks working on getting his players from the Northwest as much as exposure as possible.

He has teams here this week in the 14u, 15u and 16u PG World Series' and will be head coach for the 15u team here this week -- he has other coaches within the organization acting as field managers for the 14u and 16u squads.

Brooks did coach Team Northwest to a final four finish at last week's 17u Perfect Game World Series in Peoria, Ariz., and along with Illies jetted to Atlanta from Phoenix the day after that tournament concluded. All of the other players on the three teams here this week flew down from the Seattle, Tacoma and Portland, Ore., areas.

Coordinating all the logistics of getting four teams to four tournaments in two large metropolitan areas thousands of miles from their home-base in Washington fell upon Brooks.

"Some of my administrative skills had to take effect," Brooks said with a laugh after coaching the 15u's to victory. "There are three teams worth of kids, players and parents to communicate with, but I think  we're up and running."

After the game, Brooks gathered his troops and told them that by beating a team from the Tennessee-based Dulins Dodgers organization, they had "represented the Northwest very well." He said he learned a lot about his young team -- many of whom he was seeing play for the first time -- and there was still a lot the youngsters needed to learn about the game.

"You need to understand that your value at the next level is going to based on what you can do to help your ballclub win games," he said. "It doesn't  matter if you're the best athlete out there or if you can hit the ball 500-feet, it's going to be what you can do to help your ballclub win games."

Brooks then spoke at length about the ability to bunt and run the bases effectively.

It's that kind of teaching that is sure to get these prospects from Washington and Oregon noticed on a national stage, primarily by college coaches and recruiters.

"We want to get these kids the exposure while making a name for the Northwest, as well," Brooks said. "We haven't really been to these events as a group; we've had some good kids from our area come (with other teams), but we're here to make a name for the Northwest as well as the boys individually."

One of those prospects making a name for himself is Illies. As the only 2015 on Team Northwest's 17u roster, he kept a cool head when Brooks put him into pitch against the mighty Houston Banditos in the fourth of seven pool-play games at the 17u PG WS.

Illies promptly threw five no-hit innings at the Banditos before giving up a pair of two-run home runs in the sixth and seventh in a 4-3 Team Northwest loss. He allowed only four hits and struck out five, and came out of the outing unfazed.

"He's very mature; he's very smart," Brooks said. "Right now his arm's healthy and he can catch, he can throw; he's an extraordinary kid."

Brooks marched him out there again for Team Northwest's 15u PG WS opener Tuesday and Illies didn't disappoint. He pitched a complete game two-hitter without allowing an earned run and struck out eight. Tyler Ludlow (2014, South Kitsap HS,, Port Orchard, Wash.) and Logan Knowles (2014, South Kitsap., Port Orchard) each doubled and drove in two runs, William Mansfield (2015, Mercer Island, Wash., HS) also drove in two and Kade Kryzsko (2014, Kentwood HS, Covington, Wash.) swatted three singles.

Illies said he came into this tournament with the same expectations that he took into the 17u PG WS a week ago.

"Hit well, pitch well, throw well. There's not much more to  it than that, really," he said.

Illies is that rare pitcher/catcher combo who last year was named to the USA Baseball 2012 National 16u Team as a catcher.

"You've seen how he pitches, well, as a catcher he's top-notch. He's actually one of the best catcher's in the country. He's the one everybody's looking at and all the schools are already on top of him," Brooks said.

"I'll keep doing pitching and catching until I have to make a decision," Illies said with a broad, contagious smile. "I'll go all the way into the majors (doing both) if I have to; I'll go as far as I can."

Brooks said that Team Northwest being selected for the four PG World Series' tournaments has been a real feather in the organization's cap. These prospects from the Great Northwest are getting an opportunity to play against teams from all over the country -- most notably the baseball-crazy Southeast -- to see how their games match up.

After the top-four finish at the 17u PG WS, Brooks made a concerted effort to get his younger teams in the right frame of mind as they prepared to come to Georgia.

"There was a real nice story on the PG website on our 17u team which I forwarded to everybody  saying, 'Hey, now you have to carry on the tradition,'" Brooks said. "They know, and they're all excited about the opportunity to show what they can do."

In a couple of days, Illies will be an alum of two elite PG tournaments with many more certain to come. And no one appreciates that fact more than he does.

"I'll be playing with these guys for years and years now, just by getting out here and getting this exposure," he said. "Meeting new kids from all over the country is pretty awesome."

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