WHITE, Ga. – The Dulin Dodgers are no strangers to success in Perfect Game events. They have won a total of four of these events, including three WWBA titles. Mix that in with a number of top five finishes, including last year’s third place finish in this 17u WWBA National Championship, and it is evident that the Dodgers know how to perform well on the biggest stage.
This year’s squad kept the trend of the organization going starting off the 17u WWBA National Championship with six straight wins. They compiled an impressive run differential (49 runs for to 9 runs against) and looked certain to move their way into bracket play.
The team was led by their big guns on the mound Austin Riley and Ethan Small, and their talented catcher Hunter Stovall at the plate. Small was impressive in the opening day of the tournament. The southpaw, who is committed to Austin Peay, went six strong innings allowing no earned runs and just one hit, while striking out eight. His performance led to a 7-1 victory over the On Deck O’s. His teammate, Riley, also had a strong showing in his first start in the tournament. He pitched 6 1/3 innings of great baseball, allowing just one earned run and five hits. His fastball was between 90 and 93 mph (miles per hour) all day, while topping out at 94. That, along with his 12-to-6 curveball, induced nine strikeouts and no walks. With Riley in control of the game on the mound, the team won 7-2 against the NJ Super 17.
“It was more of a fastball day I would say,” Riley said about his pitching performance earlier in the tournament. “I was able to locate inside and outside. My curveball was helping a lot, not so much my changeup. But, I was just able to spot up and get ahead in counts. I didn’t have any walks, so that was good. Mainly, just spotting up counts and not getting behind in the counts.”
Stovall, on the other hand, has been the force behind the offense. In the first six games he was 8-for-15 (.533 AVG.) with two triples, two home runs and eight RBI. Add in Brant Blaylock, a Mississippi State commit, starting 6-for-10 (.600 AVG) with five RBI, and it was clear that the team was hitting on all cylinders.
“I’ve just being going pitch by pitch,” Stovall said. “I kind of changed my approach. I haven’t been doing too hot this summer. But, I changed my approach, got some stuff together, and just went out there like I said pitch by pitch. I’m just having a good attitude towards anything that happened, and I’m just trying to play the game.”
Even with all of their success and the dominant numbers they put up, Wednesday’s game against the Northeast Baseball Rays at New Cass High School was do or die for them. With Northeast starting 6-0 as well, the scene was set for a winner-take-all matchup on the final day of pool play.
Dulin decided to run out Small to the mound in this decisive game. It was evident that they were not going to overlook this Northeast team, and they wanted to throw one of their best guys. Having the opportunity to pitch in a game like this was something that Small took to heart.
Ethan Small moved to 2-0 in the tournament after today's playoff clinching win.
“It means a lot,” Small said. “We had to win this game to get farther in the tournament, so it meant a lot. It was a really important game to me, and I knew I had to throw well to get my team through it.”
Small did exactly what his coaches and teammates hoped he would do. He pitched all five innings in the game and allowed just a single earned run on one hit. Also, seven of his eighteen outs recorded were by strikeout, adding to his impressive performance. In the end, Dulin won the game 9-1 giving them a 7-0 record and a berth into bracket play.
“He did exactly what we needed him to do,” Tim Dulin, the founder of the organization said. “He’s a strike thrower. He attacked the strike zone. He walked a couple of guys in a couple of the innings, but he was able to get his focus back up. In these events when you have to get deep into these playoffs, you have to save as much pitching as you can. He was able to do exactly what we needed, so we hopefully can turn these guys over tomorrow.”
Stovall, Riley, and Blaylock each collected a hit for Dulin in the game with Blaylock adding two RBI and two runs scored to his already impressive stats for the week.
It is not a coincidence that Stovall and Riley are playing so well in this tournament. Both are nationally recognized talents who have decided to play baseball in college at the same school as Blaylock, national and SEC powerhouse Mississippi State. On top of that, the two of them were invited to the National Showcase this past June in Fort Myers, Florida where they had the opportunity to show off their talents against the best 2015-grad players in the country.
“Being able to go down there and see the best players around, seeing the pitching, being able to pitch against the best hitters and making sure everything was perfect, it was a great experience,” Riley said of his National Showcase experience. “I was glad to be a part of it.”
“That was a big honor,” Stovall said about being invited to National. “Getting down there and playing against some of the best players in the country is definitely something that I love doing. And, seeing the arms that I saw and seeing everything about all the players that were there was definitely something to help my game and show me what is all out there. It kind of motivates me to get better and work harder.”
As Dulin begins its way into familiar waters, they know as well as anyone how difficult the next two days are if they make it all the way to the finals. Tim is well aware of what it takes to continue playing in the playoffs. Although the rest of the tournament will be a grind and this team will be tested, they accomplished their first goal, which was winning the pool.
“We’ve been coming here since 2000. Anytime you win your pool it’s great,” Tim said. “Obviously, tomorrow and the next day are going to be difficult to win it. We’ve won our share of World Wood Bat [tournaments], and that’s our goal here. But, obviously to win the pool and play the way we’ve played is critical.”
With a 7-0 record and only having allowed 10 runs, Dulin received the No. 4 seed heading into bracket play. Getting one of the top 26 seeds allows them to have a bye into the second round, and being a top six seed also gives them the advantage of playing a team who has to play their first bracket play game Wednesday evening.
Only needing five more victories to once again come out victorious in the WWBA National Championship, the Dulin Dodgers look to finish what they have started this week. A tournament title would bring the organization its first 17u WWBA championship. If there was any shortage of motivation for the team, that should be something that should fuel them as they continue play Thursday afternoon at LakePoint.