EMERSON, Ga. – After losing a close championship game in the 16u Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational to Team Elite Roadrunners, 8-5, just a week ago, MBA Pride Elite came back with vengeance to win the 16u WWBA National Championship Qualifier.
“We’ve played 14 games in 14 days, so for 15-year-olds, we’re exhausted,” said MBA Pride Elite head coach Phillip Hurst. “We only had nine players this week, so everybody was physically exhausted going into this game. I thought we battled and fought and fought and played a good team from Mississippi.”
After an 8-5 win in the semifinal matchup with Fat Cat Thunder this morning, MBA Pride Elite met the Mid South Gamers, the No. 2 seed, in the championship game, which proved to be a thriller.
Jose Ciccarello laced a double into the left field corner in the bottom of the first for a double, driving in Alec Sanchez for the game’s lone run, which seemed like an appropriate scenario for the two players that paced the MBA Pride Elite offense.
“Alec and Jose are two special individuals, and they’ve been special since they were ten,” Hurst said. “At 10-years-old Alec was hitting 60 home runs a year and Jose has always been a guy that gets on base and makes stuff happen when he gets on base.”
Sanchez went 1-for-3 with a double and a run scored from the leadoff spot in the championship game, after going 2-for-4 with a home run, a triple, two RBI, and four runs scored in the semifinal game. He finished the tournament 12-for-26 (.462 batting average) with an astounding seven extra-base hits, including five triples, six RBI, and 13 runs scored.
“It boosted my confidence a lot for the next tournament and hopefully I’ll keep it going and we’ll win more championships,” said Sanchez.
“Alec is only an eighth grader and he’s absolutely gonna be incredible,” mentioned Hurst.
Ciccarello was seeing beach balls at the plate this tournament for MBA Pride Elite, as well. He went 2-for-3 with a pair of doubles and the lone RBI in the championship game. Ciccarello impressed in the semifinal game, as well, going 3-for-4 with a double, an RBI, and two runs scored. He finished the tournament 13-for-21 (.619 batting average) with 5 doubles, a home run, 10 RBI, and 10 runs scored.
“I kept my approach on one spot inside and they kept trying to beat me inside so I kept on pulling the ball,” said Ciccarello.
“Jose is probably one of the better kids I’ve ever been around, and that comes from being raised the right way,” Hurst added.
In a game where any type of offense was a rarity, pitching and defense dominated for the champion MBA Pride Elite.
Starting pitcher Elijah Gill threw four shutout innings, giving up just two hits and a walk while collecting five strikeouts. Tyler Myrick came in to throw the remaining three innings and preserve the shutout victory for MBA. Myrick gave up just a hit and a walk in his time on the bump.
“We had to use Tyler Myrick to finish out the semifinal game and he was gonna start the championship game, so we had to go with the next guy and that was Elijah Gill,” said Hurst. “He threw a fantastic four innings and was outstanding. He gave us everything we needed to get.”
Possibly most impressive was the nearly flawless defense MBA Pride Elite played the entire tournament, including the championship game in some crucial situations. They were able to turn two double plays in the championship game Hurst estimates they turned somewhere around seven double plays throughout the week.
“You’re not always gonna hit, you’re not always gonna pitch great, but you can always play great defense,” Hurst said. “That’s something we try to do throughout our program is play outstanding defense and thus far we’ve played outstanding defense.”
From hitting to pitching to defense, MBA Pride Elite truly looked like the complete package at the 16u WWBA National Championship Qualifier.
The team collected an impressive .337 batting average (64-for-190) in the tournament, with five different players hitting .300 or better with at least 20 plate appearances. The team also had a .428 on-base percentage for the tournament.
Pitching also came through for MBA Pride Elite this tournament as the rotation combined for a 1.83 earned-run average, giving up just 12 earned runs through 46 innings of work.
“I couldn’t be more proud of this group of kids and parents,” said Hurst. “We have a great group of kids, a great group of parents, and our mission is to be the number one team in the nation and I think we’re moving towards that goal after this weekend.”
With the first place finish in this 16u WWBA National Championship Qualifier, MBA Pride Elite receive a bid to play in the 16u WWBA National Championship with the $2000 entry fee waived. That tournament will take place at Perfect Game Park South at LakePoint and other various ballparks in the area July 11-18.
“This travel ball stuff has grown in the past five to ten years and if it wasn’t for the parents willing to spend the money and then come stay in hotels for seven days then none of this would be around,” Hurst said. “Thankfully, all the parents are on board with it and we’re having a great time. To be able to win a tournament that gives us a waived entry fee in our next tournament, that’ a big relief for our parents and we’re glad to give it to them.”
2014 16u WWBA National Championship Qualifier runner-up: Mid South Gamers
A two-hour lightning delay was the ultimate winner as the WWBA 17u National Championship Qualifier came to an end at LakePoint. During the top of the third inning of the championship game between Homeplate Maldonaldo and CStixx, the weather radar showed no signs of positivity. With HP Maldonado up 6-0 and both teams already having clinched berths to the National Championship tournament, the game was stopped and HP Maldonado was declared the winners.
CStixx, from Cataula, Ga., finished 6-1-1 on the tournament. After tying their first game of pool play, they reeled off six consecutive wins before they conceded the championship game. For a team that is made up of mostly 16u players, their main goal was to earn a berth into next year’s 17u WWBA National Championship since they will not be attending this year’s event. That is exactly what they did.
“[Our goal was] really and truly to qualify for next year’s National Championship,” head coach Wade Pirkle said. “We are actually mainly 16u, and we have a lot of rising juniors. We were just mainly trying to get everything lined up for next year.”
Their journey to the finals was impressive, winning both games leading up to the championship game by one run. In the bottom of the seventh inning of their semi-final game against the East Cobb Twins, things were looking a little bit shaky when the Twins scored two runs to shrink the CStixx lead to 5-4. With one out and runners on first and second, CStixx first basemen Harry Rich caught a blistering line drive and tagged the runner out at first for a double play to end the ball game.
Pirkle was extremely happy knowing that his team had come to LakePoint and done what they set out to do. He could not stress enough how important this berth was for his team, especially one that saw action as a complete unit for the first time this week.
“I think it’s big,” Pirkle said about receiving the berth. “This is the first time this group's played together this summer. We’re just now getting going. I know they’ve all had high school summer ball and things like that, so this is the first thing we have done this summer. So, I was real pleased with the effort.
“There’s no where to go but get better, and of course, it will be the same guys coming back next year. So, I’m looking forward to it; a year in the weight room and another year of high school experience.”
HP Maldonado’s road to the championship game started out similar but ultimately was much smoother than their championship game counterparts. After losing their first pool game, they ran off six straight wins as well. But, unlike CStixx, they cruised in those six games outscoring their opponents 51-5. In their semi-final game, three Homeplate pitchers combined for a three hitter in a 6-1 win over the Scorpions Panhandle-2015.
Both the East Cobb Twins and the Scorpions Panhandle-2015 also received berths to the 17u WWBA National Championship after tying for third place.
For HP Maldonado, their reward as champions was not only a bid to the National Championship tournament, but they received an expense-free bid. This prize sat well with head coach Esteban Maldonado.
“It’s actually an honor for us coming over here and winning the tournament,” Maldonado said. “The free bid is an amazing opportunity, and we will take it, especially facing the competition and going over there and getting ready for that National Championship which is what we really want.”
HP Maldonado came into the tournament missing five of their top players who were at the Perfect Game National Showcase in Fort Myers, Fla. Most of them were not able to play in this event until the last day of pool play. With a handful of his players gone, Maldonado stressed to his team that they could not use their situation as a crutch. He urged them to just play the game.
“It was kind of tough at the beginning of this tournament because we had five guys at [the] National, and a couple other guys in some other showcases and tryouts,” Maldonado explained. “But, just like I told them, ‘whoever steps up, just do your job. No excuses. Just play baseball, and just keep it up.’”
His players responded. Players like Carter Perkins (.500 batting average) and Nick DiPonzio (.474 average) put up staggering numbers to lead the team offensively. In the championship game, the team started the top of the first inning with six straight hits, which led to five runs. They also tacked on a run in the second inning. Both Perkins and DiPonzio doubled in their only trip to the plate in the game. Other players like pitchers Tyler Sellers and Colby Taylor each appeared in multiple games and neither gave up an earned run. Although some of his players were not there for most of pool play, Maldonado had complete confidence in all of his guys and his team that they would be able to play in the same manner they would play if they were at full strength.
“Whoever steps in, I have the confidence that if I put them in there, it’s because I believe you can do the job and I expect you to do your job,” stressed Maldonado. “It doesn’t matter who you are or what situation you’re coming in, just focus and do your job. That’s what I think is very successful for us, just letting them know we just believe in them no matter what.”
This title is sure to build the team’s confidence as they head into the WWBA National Championship. All the teams who earned berths this weekend are happy to get into the tournament, but I’m sure if you asked them, they would tell you that they want more. They have their sights set on winning the WWBA National Championship. With over 200 teams expected in the 17u age division, there are sure to be plenty of fireworks in metro-Atlanta come July 4th.
2014 17u WWBA National Championship Qualifier champion: HP Maldonado
2014 17u WWBA National Championship Qualifier runner-up: CStixx