EMERSON, Ga. – Kale Breaux is a pitcher. That’s as simple as one scout explained it while watching Breaux tie up hitters all afternoon for the Texas Sun Devils at the WWBA 17u National Championship at Perfect Game Park South at LakePoint.
Breaux doesn’t overwhelm hitters with his stature, listed at a generous 6-ft tall, but he does overwhelm his opponents with his knowledge of how to pitch. His fastball doesn’t place butterflies into the pits of the hitters’ stomachs, but his curveball might.
If you looked at Breaux from behind a computer screen you might wonder why Mississippi State was so interested in going after him. Once you see him pitch in person it all makes sense. Sure, he’s not popping 90 mph fastballs into the catcher’s mitt, but he is the definition of a crafty lefty who isn’t afraid to throw a curveball on a 3-2 count or pitch to contact.
The Sulphur, La. native had to be close to perfect for his team in their first bracket round game Thursday afternoon. Runs were hard to come by for the Sun Devils, who held onto a 1-0 lead into the seventh inning behind Breaux. The Long Island Storm/Next Level 17u came charging back with a two-run top of the seventh to finally get to Breaux, but Texas was able to tie the game up in the bottom of the inning and win, 3-2, in extras.
“It was typical playoff baseball at the 17u WWBA,” explained Texas Sun Devils coach Matt Thompson. “I think it was exactly what you’d expect: a tight ball game, great pitching, great plays, and we’re lucky enough to come out on top. Hopefully this gets us prepared for the rest of the playoffs and, hopefully, we can make a run.”
Breaux did everything he could to keep his team in the ballgame and he impressed the Mississippi State staff member in attendance. He threw seven innings, six of which were shutout frames, and struck out six while giving up just two earned runs on six hits and two walks.
“I just pitched my game,” said Breaux. “I threw a lot of fastballs and changeups, got a lot of ground balls, and let my defense work behind me.”
The Mississippi State commit filled up the strike zone all afternoon, throwing 73 of his 103 pitches for strikes. He threw first-pitch strikes to 24 of the 28 batters he faced. Breaux looks like the ideal pitcher for a school like Mississippi State, which prides itself on consistent pitching with great defense to back it up.
“I like to get ahead with the changeup or curveball and try not to get behind in the count,” Breaux said. “I do my best to make them hit my pitch and not theirs.”
Breaux isn’t going to ‘wow’ college recruiting coordinators with his fastball, which sat between 82-86 mph and topped at 87 mph, but he’ll hold your attention with his superb capability to locate his pitches to near perfection. He attacks hitter from all spots: inside, outside, up, and down.
“Kale came out and did what Kale Breaux’s been doing,” said Thompson. “For those who live in the west Louisiana/east Texas area, we’ve seen Kale Breaux do this for the last five years. He just goes out there and grinds away. If Kale wasn’t on the mound, we probably wouldn’t have come out on top.”
It was a textbook outing without anything too overpowering. Breaux put his team in an excellent position to win. He retired the leadoff hitter in six of his seven innings, got two-thirds of the batters he started with strikes out, got opposing hitters to put the ball weakly in play 74-percent of the time, and got over twice as many ground balls as fly balls, all while only throwing off-speed pitches about a third as often as his fastball.
“I don’t look at any of the spray charts or anything,” Breaux said. “I just go up there and pitch. I really don’t show any emotion when I pitch. You gotta just keep battling and get through it.”
The Texas Sun Devils came out swinging the lumber in their second game of bracket play, scoring 11 runs off of ten hits and seven walks to run rule Houston Kyle Chapman, 11-0, and advance to the round of sixteen.
“We’re in a good spot in the tournament as the four-seed,” said Thompson. “For as long as we’ve been playing in this tournament I think the first playoff game is the hardest, so hopefully this lets us relax a little bit and play our game.”
Through nine tournament games, Texas has compiled a .344 team batting average (78-for-227) with a .465 on-base percentage. The team has six players hitting .300 or higher through at least six games. The pitching staff put together an impressive 1.08 earned run average (ERA), giving up just nine earned runs through 58.1 innings of work.
The Texas Sun Devils are no strangers to success, though. In fact, they won the WWBA 17u National Championship back in 2011 and recently saw their star shortstop and 2013 Perfect Game All-American Classic participant, Ti’quan Forbes, go to the Texas Rangers in round two of the MLB Draft.
Other notable Texas Sun Devils alumni include first-rounders Andrew Heeney (Miami Marlins), Gavin Cecchini (New York Mets), Stryker Trahan (Arizona Diamondbacks), and Ty Hemsley (New York Yankees).
The Texas Sun Devils are keeping its notable reputation alive with a 7-0 pool play showing and have outscored its opponents by a 69-13 margin, averaging almost eight runs per game while giving up just over one. Not only have they put out double-digits in the runs column three times, they have recorded three shutouts as well.
Breaux believes playing in Perfect Game events like this week’s WWBA 17u National Championship, which is 304 teams from around the country participating, is one of the best ways a player can get better.
“You always wanna see the best there is in the country so you can expose yourself and get better as a player,” said Breaux.
The Texas Sun Devils are three wins away from hoisting their second WWBA 17u National Championship trophy in four years, but some extremely talented teams stand in their path.