EMERSON, Ga. – Thursday in the WWBA National Championship tournaments mark the beginning of bracket play, and it determines the boys from the men. Teams really start to showoff whether they have what it takes to become elite and continue to advance in the tournament. The 18u WWBA National Championship saw the 144 teams trimmed down to 16 at the start of today. After six days of a grueling pool play schedule, teams need just four wins now to take home the title.
The Upstate Mavericks have flown under the radar in a sense all tournament. After posting an impressive 6-0-1 record, the team made its way into Thursday’s round of 16 having only allowed 14 runs total. They quietly took care of business after a somewhat shaky start in their first game (which ended in a 3-3 tie).
In Thursday morning’s bracket play game against the Titans 18u, they used an outstanding pitching performance from their starter Walker Powell to advance to the quarterfinals with a 5-0 victory. Once again, they went about their business and advanced without creating too much buzz. Quickly, they have become one of the elite teams at the event.
Powell, a player who mostly plays with the 17u Mavericks team, was called upon to help his team win. And, he did just that. He went all seven innings for the team, allowing just one hit, while only throwing 64 pitches. His four strikeouts and zero walks told the tale of his style of pitching where he was around the plate all day. He also posted a mid-80s fastball that touched 87 mph (miles per hour). His performance was something that the team needed having to play another game later today.
“It was really important,” Powell said of the way he pitched. “Coach Nall called me up, I usually play on the younger team, and I just tried to do the best I could because it was the first game of the playoffs and we really needed to win. It was pretty important.”
According to his head coach Chris Nall, Powell is an outstanding pitcher. That is something that has been on display in this tournament. He pitched in the team’s opening game against the DoubleDay Rockies 18u where he went five innings and allowed just two earned runs, while leaving the game with the lead. Not receiving much hype because of the guys he threw behind at Fayetteville East High School in Fayetteville, Arkansas may make him one of the best-kept secrets in the 2015 class.
“Walker is a big time prospect that not a lot of people have seen. He was behind two really big arms at his high school. So, he wanted to come out here and get some exposure, so hopefully we’re helping him do that.”
This Mavericks organization is not new to the Perfect Game spotlight. This year alone their teams have performed well in PG tournaments, and the success of this 18u team just adds to the amount of great baseball this organization is playing.
“We’ve been fortunate this year,” Nall said. “This is the sixth Perfect Game event this year we’ve made it to the final eight, so we’ve been playing really well and staying after it. We’ve had a great season, so it’s just a continuous move forward. It’s just a constant every day trying to get better. That’s what we preach to the players, and we try to do that as an organization and as a coaching staff. We try to learn something every day. Every day you get better.”
Next on the Maverick’s schedule is a quarterfinal matchup against either the Knights Baseball National (the number one seed in the tournament) or TGBA Mizuno Blue (the number 17 seed in the tournament. Like any of the other teams left in the tournament, the Mavericks have just as good of a shot as any to make it through to Friday’s championship game. At this point, there is nothing really that can be changed in terms of approach, they just have to go out and play their game.
“We got to stay consistent,” Nall said. “We’re having big innings. At times we look really good, and other times we look not so good. We just have to be consistent. If they play to the way they are capable of playing, we have a shot. This tournament is a bunch of ballgames, so luck has got to be on your side too. But, ultimately we just have to stay consistent.”
Aside from staying loose and laid back, the team is high on staying confident in their ability. Powell is extremely confident in his team. He believes that their ability to pitch and hit throughout the lineup make them a threat against anyone.
They have proven, by making it this far in the tournament, that they can play with anyone. It is important now for them to continue to do the little things right to get over the hump. Sprinkle in a little bit of luck that Nall says any team needs in this kind of tournament and this team could make a huge splash.
As the tournament continues to dwindle down in teams, it is now a survival of the fittest type of atmosphere. This Charles Darwin type of feel is what makes this event so great. The team that plays the best when it counts and has the most pitching left will decide who takes the crown. For the Mavericks, if their performance by Powell is anything close to what they will get for the rest of the tournament, they could be the ones hoisting that monument of a trophy and setting off fireworks come July 4th.