MARIETTA, Ga. - Scouts gathered behind home plate on Field 2 at the East Cobb Complex to watch Tyson Messer and the Dirtbags Gold cruise to a 12-0 victory over the Akadema Warriors BBA in the 2013 16u WWBA National Championship.
Radar guns registered 89 mph on some of Messer’s fastballs and sat between 84-87 with an 81 mph changeup and a 75 mph curveball.
“(His) fastball is very live,” Dirtbags coach Axel Smith said. “It moves a lot.”
Messer threw four shutout innings of one-hit ball to earn the win. He walked only one batter and struck out four, using primarily his fastball.
“My go-to pitch when it’s working is probably my curveball, but today it was the fastball,” Messer said. “I wasn’t really getting on top of my curveball as well.”
“He got ahead of his hitters today and that’s key,” said Smith. “He did what he had to do, putting hitters away when he got two strikes. He was pretty much on today.”
Messer sent his first victim down looking at an 87 mph fastball that painted the black on the outside corner to end the top of the first inning. His second strikeout victim went down looking at almost the exact same pitch. His last two strikeout victims went down swinging at the fastball, which was sitting around 85 mph in the fourth inning.
The 6-foot-1 right-hander explained what he tries to do when he gets two strikes on a hitter and what his approach is to different batters.
“If I’m throwing a curveball, I’m trying to get it past him (the hitter). If I throw a fastball, I’m trying to get it past him, and change-up I’m trying to get him to roll over for a ground ball. I throw my curveball more to left-handers cause it kinda breaks down at their feet.”
The Lillington, NC native remained an unsolved mystery to the Akadema Warriors today, as it took him just 52 pitches to get through four innings of work and collect the complete game.
“My game plan is usually to just go out there and get outs and make my defense work,” said Messer. “I don’t really try to strike a bunch of people out. I just try to get ground ball outs and the defense works for you.”
Messer went 4-4 with a 2.86 earned run average this spring for the Harnett Central Trojans, his high school team. He collected 62 strikeouts in 44 innings on the bump and was the go-to guy in the team’s pitching rotation.
Although he hasn’t been on Perfect Game’s prospect list for long, Messer is moving up in the ranks quickly. The righty is the top ranked right-handed pitching prospect in North Carolina for the class of 2015. He hasn’t always been a pitcher, though.
“I just turned to pitcher in sixth grade, when I was about 12-years-old,” Messer recalled. “My coaches noticed that I could throw pretty good so they just tried me up there and I did well.”
Messer, like his Dirtbags coach, is pretty new to the organization, but he already feels comfortable in the new uniform.
“It’s good to be surrounded by a bunch of good guys,” Messer said. “It’s good to be with players that can back you up defensively and can hit the ball, which we did.”
The Dirtbags Gold moved to 2-0 in pool play. They won their first matchup, 2-1, and won their second game convincingly.
“We came out swinging the sticks real good, a lot better than yesterday,” said Smith. “We had, I think it was, six two-strike hits today, three of them were doubles.”
The Dirtbags plated 12 runs on 13 hits and four walks. Five Dirtbags hitters tallied multi-hit games in the big win, including first baseman Conner Leonard, who went 2-for-3 with a double, three RBI, and two runs scored.
“(My) first at-bat I wasn’t expecting a first pitch curve, but it was hanging so I took a big cut at it and it worked out – got us the first two runs,” Leonard said. “From then on I didn’t think I was gonna see anything else but curveballs and I ended up getting a fastball that I hit down the third base line.”
Bradley Keller and Cole Hart also had big days with the bat for the Dirtbags Gold. Keller went 2-for-3 and collected three RBI. Hart was 2-for-2 with two RBI, including an RBI double in the second inning.
Smith, a second year coach for the organization and former college player for North Carolina-Wesleyan under current UNC coach Mike Fox, praised the Dirtbags organization and what they offer.
“The organization from top to bottom is a class act. I just enjoy it,” said Smith. “I wish I got into it sooner because this is a blast for me.”
The Dirtbags do their best to get their players to the next level, and think that tournaments like the WWBA can help.
“I think coming to tournaments like the Perfect Game gets them exposure,” Smith said. “We like coming to his kind of venue to get the kids exposure.”
The organization has seen 137 of its alumni drafted since 2002 and has put 14 players in the Major Leagues. Over 450 college scholarships have been taken by Dirtbags players in the short time span.
Nine former Dirtbags players were taken in the 2013 MLB Draft, including University of North Carolina All-American and ACC Player of the Year Colin Moran, who went 6thhh overall to the Miami Marlins.
Tyson Messer and Conner Leonard hope to follow in the footsteps of some of the great Dirtbags alumni, but first they have business to take care of in the 2013 16u WWBA National Championship
“We came out here wanting to win the pool and keep moving on,” Leonard said.
The team is off to a good start at 2-0, outscoring their opponents 14-1, but with five pool play game left, they’ll have to stay focused if they want to accomplish what they came here to do.