EMERSON, Ga. – With a 10-2 run-rule win Wednesday morning over the Georgia Aces at Perfect Game Park South at LakePoint, Nelson Baseball School 18s clinched the top spot in Pool A and will move on to the WWBA 18u National Championship playoffs.
Behind a dominant five innings of relief on the mound out of Zack Chandler and the big bat of Kennesaw State commit William Campbell, Nelson Baseball School jumped on the Georgia Aces early and eventually added six runs in the fifth inning to win convincingly.
“We just grinded it out today and Zack Chandler came in and threw a perfect five innings,” said Nelson Baseball School 18s head coach Brian Nelson. “We just grind it out. That’s the type of team we are.”
Campbell stayed hot at the plate with a multi-hit game, going 2-for-3 with a double, a walk, an RBI, and two runs. He finished pool play 8-for-22 (.364 avg.) with three doubles, a home run, eight RBI, and four runs scored.
“What I’ve learned is to just try and get into hitter’s counts,” said Campbell. “Every pitcher nowadays is throwing 90 mph (miles per hour) with a couple of dirty off-speed pitches, so I’ve just learned to get ahead in the count and sit on something.”
The biggest hit for Nelson Baseball School 18s came off of Campbell’s bat Tuesday in a crucial game against the very reputable San Diego Show, a team that historically has done very well in Perfect Game tournaments.
With a slim 2-1 lead in a game that would most likely determine who would win the pool, Campbell connected for a three-run home run to center field at Kennesaw Mountain High School, giving Nelson Baseball School 18s a 5-1 lead in a game that would go on to win, 5-4.
“He’s been clutch for me for all four years that I’ve had him,” Nelson said. “Tournament-wise, we knew yesterday’s game against the San Diego Show was who was probably gonna win the pool. We just got an early lead on them. We’ve had pretty good pitching all week.”
Nelson Baseball School 18s has done everything well so far in the WWBA 18u National Championship. They’ve combined for a .293 batting average (51-for-174), while getting big time pitching performance out of the staff, which has collectively compiled a 2.02 earned run average (ERA) through 45 innings of work.
The most notable pitching performance came from 2015 righty Ryley Gilliam, who threw an absolute gem on Friday against Team Alabama in the team’s 3-1 win.
“He was dominant; pitching 92-93 [mph] and with 16 strikeouts,” said Nelson. “That’s what he is. He’s a big time pitcher and a true, true competitor.”
Gilliam logged a complete seven-inning game on the bump, giving up just three hits and an unearned run, while he kept hitters guessing the entire ballgame in which he recorded an eye-popping 16 strikeouts. He was able to maintain his velocity throughout the game and threw an impressive changeup and curveball.
“That’s probably the most dominant pitching performance I’ve ever seen,” Campbell said. “It was unreal. I’m actually excited to try to get him. I’m doing my own recruiting trying to get him to come to Kennesaw State. It was fun to watch him play.”
Nelson Baseball School 18s wrapped up pool play outscoring it’s opponents 37-15 and winning four games by two runs or less.
“We’ve just been hot,” said Campbell. “We were facing top pitchers over and over before WWBA came up, so now every other pitcher’s like that. We’re used to facing good pitching. We’re back to competing every inning trying to score one or two runs.”
“We’re fast,” added Nelson. “We put a lot of pressure on the defenses and our pitching has been really good all the way through this tournament. I think that’s where we can make a run because of the arms that we have.”
Just five years since its inception, Nelson Baseball School is already building a strong winning base. The 18u team finished pool play in last year’s WWBA 18u National Championship as runner-up after the weather caused an abrupt end to the tournament.
“We’ve really come a long way and this is that first group where I’ve seen that group go all the way through, so it’s really gratifying to me,” Nelson said.
Nelson brings seven years of college head coaching experience with him to his organization, as well as three years of coaching experience at the Minor League level.
“It got to a point where I just wanted to be home, so I started this five years ago with some teams,” said Nelson. “I had a 16-year-old team and an 18-year-old team and it’s just progressed, and progressed, and progressed.”
The team Nelson has brought to the WWBA 18u National Championship has several college baseball commits, including 2014s Henry Rowling (University of Georgia) and Campbell (Kennesaw State). Gilliam won’t be on the market long after his outstanding performance on Friday in front of dozens of scouts and college coaches.
After Kennesaw State’s improbable run to the College Baseball Super Regionals just a month ago, this summer is even more important for Campbell’s improvement.
“It was a blast watching them,” Campbell said. “I’m extremely excited to be there next year. Coach Simmons and Coach Sansing have been blowing up all our phones just saying, “Bust it this summer because when we get to the fall it’s an Omaha-or-bust season”.
Nelson’s focus is exactly on getting this group of 2014s ready for the college level, which is just months away for them.
“With my background of coaching at the college level, I really try to get these guys ready for their fall season at college,” said Nelson. “We practice that way and we try to play that way. We wanna win, but it’s really about getting them ready for their fall season in college.”
Campbell, who’s been a player under Nelson for four years now, feels fortunate to have the guidance of Nelson heading into his first year at Kennesaw State.
“Nelson is such a great coach,” Campbell said. “He’s an either you-love-him-or-you-hate-him type of guy. If you get on his bad side he can make your life miserable, but if you just bust it everyday and come to play everyday then you’re fine. He’s probably my favorite coach I’ve ever had so far.”
Nelson Baseball School is quickly building a reputation as a consistently threatening team in Perfect Game tournaments, which in turn is doing a lot of good for Nelson and the talent he’s getting.
“I think there are so many good players in the Atlanta area that we’ve gotten our name out now and we’re starting to attract that,” said Nelson. “The last couple years we’ve had a lot of success on the field, so people are finding us instead of us really having to go out and recruit and find those guys. Usually if they’re starting with me when they’re 15-years-old, they’re rolling all the way through, so it really is like a family.”
A deep run in the WWBA 18u National Championship playoffs would do wonders for the already-expanded Kennesaw, Ga.-based organization.
“I know we’re gonna play a really good team in the morning, whoever it is,” Nelson said. “I hope our guys are ready, but it feels really good.”