High School : : General
Friday, March 15, 2013

IMG crushes way to Cleats crown

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

MESA, Ariz. -- It's tempting to call it just another case of "Manny being Manny" but that has too many negative connotations. This was simply Manny Ramirez Jr. doing what he's done time and time again at high school tournaments and Perfect Game events throughout his prep career.

Doing a terrific impression of his old man back when Manny Ramirez Sr. helped the Boston Red Sox to a pair of World Series Championships in 2004 and 2007, Ramirez Jr. crushed a grand slam and a two-run double to push IMG Academy to a 9-1 win over Desert Ridge High School in the championship game of the Cleats Sports Classic Invitational Thursday night at the Gene Autry Sports Complex.

The championship victory capped quite a tournament turnaround for IMG Academy, which limped into the 12-team playoffs as the No. 11 seed after finishing 1-3 in pool-play. But led by Ramirez Jr., IMG's bats took off and it outscored its four playoffs opponents by a combined 48-16.

"I think we were probably in the toughest pool of the three and really, the way I calculated it, we were three hits away from being 3-1," IMG head coach Jason Elias said after the title game. "All year long these guys have been battling and they've been so stinking  close and I knew it was coming -- I just didn't know when. Fortunately the bats just erupted over these last four games."

The championship game pairing was set after IMG Academy beat Williams Field High School (Gilbert, Ariz.), 12-4, and Desert Ridge (Mesa, Ariz.) beat Notre Dame Prep (Scottsdale, Ariz.), 6-3, in Thursday's semifinals.

The Cleats Sports Classic Invitational started on Monday with 15 teams divided into three pools. Eleven of the 15 schools came from within the Phoenix Metropolitan area, and were joined by Tucson (Ariz.) High Magnet School; Bradshaw Mountain High School from Prescott Valley Ariz.; Victor Valley High School from Victorville, Calif.; and IMG Academy, based in Bradenton, Fla.

IMG is a private academy that trains and educates young athletes in seven sports, baseball being one of them. It doesn't contend for Florida high school state championships and instead competes in tournaments across the country. The roster that IMG brought here this week featured players from nine states and Mexico.

"We're hoping to make our mark throughout the country ... and we decided this (tournament) would be a great fit for our guys and for our program," Elias said. "Our guys are prepared for anything; I would argue that maybe they're the best prepared high school baseball team in the country."

Ramirez Jr. is a 6-foot-4, 200-pound outfielder from Plantation, Fla., who is ranked 249th nationally in the 2013 class and is an alumnus of 12 Perfect Game events, including the 2012 PG National Showcase. He has signed to play at nearby Central Arizona Community College.

After going 3-for-3 with six RBI and three runs scored in the championship game, Ramirez Jr. finished the tournament 12-for-23 (.522) with three doubles, two triples, two home runs, 15 RBI and nine runs scored.

"It's just been being confident and  just trusting my team and myself," he said. "I feel like we've been working twice as hard as everybody out here and everything we do everyday means something. We just earned this today."

IMG Academy (7-9 overall in 2013) was outscored 26-20 in its four pool-play games and entered the playoffs as the No. 11 seed. Once there, it beat No. 6 Bradshaw Mountain High School (Prescott Valley, Ariz.), 10-5 in the first round and Tucson High Magnet School, 17-6 in the quarterfinals to set up the semifinal against Williams Field.

"I just love this team and we just have great chemistry together," Ramirez said. "We just stuck together and fought through it."

IMG Academy senior third baseman Trevor Courtney from Bradenton, Fla., also enjoyed a terrific tournament. He finished 11-for-21 (.524) with three doubles, two triples, nine RBI and nine runs scored.

"I've been kind of in the hole hitting-wise, so turning it around for me has been great," Courtney said. "This team always plays together and brings everybody together. We're all on each other and this was a great turnaround; we're giving the glory to God ... and we knew if we just played the game of baseball and kept it simple that we would win, we'd have a chance and we'd put ourselves in a good position."

IMG's most effective pitcher over the course of the tournament was senior right-hander Brett Hanewich from Bradenton, who went 2-0 after allowing only one earned run on three hits and striking out 12 in nine innings of work. Hanewich is ranked 105th (class of 2013) and has been to 21 PG events, including the 2011 PG Junior National Showcase and the 2012 PG National Showcase.

It was a somewhat unlikely final four that advanced into the semifinals at the Gene Autry Complex Thursday afternoon. None of the four teams was its pool champion and fifth-seeded Desert Ridge (3-1), No. 7 Williams Field (2-2), No.8 Notre Dame Prep (2-2) and No. 11 IGM Academy (1-3) combined for an 8-8 record during pool-play.

Each of those teams relegated one of the top-four seeds into the consolation round of the tournament with quarterfinal-round wins on Wednesday: Notre Dame Prep bumped top-seeded and national No. 48-ranked Desert Mountain (Scottsdale, Ariz.), 6-4; Williams Field beat No. 2 Saguaro (Scottsdale, Ariz.), 6-3; IMG Academy whacked No. 3 Tucson High Magnet School, 17-6; and Desert Ridge overwhelmed No. 4 Marcos de Niza (Tempe, Ariz.), 17-2.

Desert Mountain went 4-0 in pool-play by outscoring its opponents by a combined 41-5. Seniors Nick Affronti and Devon Deraard combined to go 3-6 with five RBI in Notre Dame Prep's upset of Desert Mountain.

Courtney really raked in IMG Academy's  17-6 win over Tucson High. Courtney, who played some travel ball with Marucci Elite last summer, was 4-for-5 with a double, triple, five RBI and four runs scored to lead IMG's 19-hit attack. Ramirez Jr. was 3-for-4 with two doubles and three RBI, and senior Tyler Biggs and junior Andrew DiLacqua both had two hits and drove in two runs.

"We came out here with a mindset that we were going to go all the way," Courtney said. "We started out slow but we kind of turned it around ... (and decided to) play the game of the baseball like we did when were 12 years old and nothing mattered. We started swinging it, and whenever you start hitting it exciting things can happen."

The tournament was originally scheduled to begin on Saturday, but was rained out that day. The schedule was then condensed into four days and IMG Academy (5-3 at the event) and Desert Ridge (6-2) played eight games between Monday and Thursday. And IMG bashed its way to the championship.

"I knew that we would have a shot to get through pool-play and anytime you're playing a large number of games in a short period of time, if the bats light up you have a shot," Elias said. "That's kind of what happened these last four days and it was fun to watch -- just fun baseball."

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