EMERSON, Ga. – In a matchup between two travel baseball Goliath’s, the Evoshield Canes 17u and Elite Squad 17u Prime met to decide who would raise the WWBA 17u National Championship trophy. With a packed house, only standing room available, the Evoshield Canes 17u showed everyone, including themselves, they can hang with the best.
The Canes wasted no time, starting the ballgame off with three runs before Elite Squad even had the chance to swing the lumber. After Danny Blair led off the game with a walk, tournament Most Valuable Player Desmond Lindsay went opposite field with a two out ground-rule double to score Blair. Two batters later, Xavier LeGrant hit a fastball back up the middle to drive in two more Canes runs and put his club up, 3-0.
Beau Burrows, the No. 10 prospect in the 2015 high school class, took the mound for the Canes in the title game and nerves showed early. He began his outing by walking Elite Squad leadoff hitter Lucius Fox Jr. and then Julian Infante two batters later. The extremely talented middle infield of Evoshield got Burrows out of an early jam by turning a 6-3 double play. After the first two innings, Burrows settled down and was nearly untouchable.
“The first two innings I was a little too amped up and I couldn’t find the zone,” said Burrows. “I was very nervous, to be honest. The third inning I went out there and started breathing better and finally found my release point and started throwing strikes. From the third inning on, my slider started working a lot and I started to get my fastball down in the zone.”
Burrows recorded 1-2-3 innings from the third inning through the fifth. He retired the first two batters of the sixth inning before giving up a single to center field by Andrew Gottfried. The 6-foot-2 right-hander’s final stat line read: 5.2 innings pitched, 2 hits, 2 walks, 0 earned runs, and 6 strikeouts.
“We had timely hits early,” said head coach Jeff Petty. “Burrows settled in. he pitched out of trouble early and really settled in and I think him settling in and giving us six strong innings was the difference in the game.”
The Canes added lone runs in the fourth and sixth inning to increase their lead to 5-0 heading into the last frame. Elite Squad put a scare into the Canes with a late rally, capitalizing off a few fielding miscues to cut the lead to 5-2, before Dominic DiCaprio flied out to right field to end the game. A dog pile quickly ensued near the pitcher’s mound, with relief pitcher Evan Sperling on the bottom.
“The dog pile was crazy,” Burrows said. “That’s the first time I’ve ever been a part of one.”
The Evoshield Canes 17u finished the tournament with a perfect 12-0 record, outscoring opponents 77-18.
“This is basically our Omaha,” said Petty. “It’s a good chance for us to play against the best competition in the country and to be able to win makes you feel like you are the best. It’s an unbelievable feeling and this is something that these kids will never forget.”
“This is the competition that these guys are gonna face at the next level, whether it be collegiate or professional,” Petty continued. “You wanna be able to prove that you can compete with these guys. We needed to elevate our game and we did.”
The Canes finished the championship game with five base hits, including the big double by Lindsay in the first inning that set the tone. Lindsay, the tournament MVP, finished the tournament 12-for-31 (.387 avg.) with two doubles, a triple, three home runs, 10 RBI, nine runs, and an impressive .500 on-base percentage.
“This was the first big tournament that we had all been to together as a group,” Lindsay said. “It took a couple games for us to mesh and get to know each other, but once that happened we were unstoppable. If somebody didn’t do their job, the next guy behind him would just pick him up. We just did great as a team.”
“I was just trying to barrel everything up, go the other way, just do what I needed to do with the pitches, and stay within myself,” added Lindsay.
Petty was impressed by the athleticism of Lindsay at first base and in the batter’s box:
“He has some of the fastest hands I’ve ever seen at the plate in high school, ever. The guy’s a producer. He hits with runners in scoring position, and if nobody’s on, he’ll hit a solo home run. He always finds ways to help us win.”
Lindsay’s bat was a big reason the champion Evoshield Canes 17u were able to average over six runs a game, but pitching may have been the biggest key to the Canes success. The pitching staff sported a 1.09 earned run average (ERA) through 77 innings of work.
“Our pitching staff’s very talented,” co-Most Valuable Pitcher Ashe Russell said. “It’s a good group of guys and they’re all different.”
Six of the team’s arms are ranked in the high school class of 2015 Top 100, including Russell, who is ranked No. 7.
“I know anyone of our pitchers, if we put them on the bump, the rest of the team is confident they’ll go out and do what they need to do,” Lindsay said. “As a hitter, when you know your pitcher is gonna go out there and throw strikes, it takes a lot of pressure off the rest of the team.”
The right-handed Russell threw the second of the team’s three playoff games Thursday. He threw a complete game shutout against Team Elite Prime, giving up just two hits and a walk while tallying six strikeouts in the team’s 4-0 win.
“I feel like I threw well,” said Russell. “I went out there and I gave it my best. My velocity was getting up there a little bit. It was very exciting, especially with the defense behind me. I couldn’t have done it without them. It’s an amazing feeling. This is definitely the toughest competition that I’ve ever faced, but that’s what you have to expect when you come down to a tournament like this.”
Russell finished the tournament with 13.2 innings pitched, just four hits, one earned run (0.51 ERA), four walks, and 12 strikeouts. He showed an electric fastball, topping out at 95 mph in both tournament outings.
With an outstanding performance in the championship game against a team that hit .302 with nine home runs in tournament, Burrows earned co-Most Valuable Pitcher honors along with his teammate, Russell.
Burrows threw in two outings for a total 9.2 innings on the mound, earning two wins while giving up just three hits and four walks and not allowing a single earned run. Like Russell, he also topped out at 95 mph in both games, collecting an impressive 14 strikeouts.
“They’re bulldogs,” Petty said of his co-MVPitchers. “They’ve been dominant. They fill up the zone and go right after hitters and it paid off for them.”
Many of the players on this championship team were also members of the champion Canes team that won the 2013 WWBA 16u National Championship. They are no strangers to success. However, Lindsay was not a part of last year’s championship team.
“Last year, I watched them win it and I remember thinking ‘I wish I could be on a team like that’ and now I’m out here with them,” said Lindsay. “It’s awesome.”
Last year’s WWBA 16u National Championship matchup was an all-Evoshield affair, today’s semifinal matchup was like déjà vu.
The Evoshield Canes 17u had to go through their fellow Evoshield Canes South 17u in order to advance to the championship game. Great pitching and a grand slam by Ryan Karstetter sent the Canes 17u team on to the championship with a 7-1 semifinal win.
The Elite Squad 17u Prime’s semifinal matchup was just as intriguing. They matched up with the powerhouse East Cobb Baseball and snuck out with a 3-2 win thanks to a fourth inning three-run home run off the bat of Robert Montes.
Elite Squad 17u Prime finished the tournament 11-1, with their only lose coming at the hands of the Canes.
The Canes will now prepare to travel to Goodyear, Ariz. For the 17u Perfect Game World Series, and morale is sky-high.
“I think that this championship gives us the confidence to know that we can do this,” said Petty. “We’re not gonna fly across the country to play baseball just for fun.”
Lindsay had similar expectations as his head coach:
“Hopefuly, we can go to Arizona in a week and win that too.”
2014 17u WWBA National Championship runner-up: Elite Squad 17u Prime
2014 17u WWBA National Championship Most Valuable Players (from left to right):
Desmond Lindsay (MVP), Beau Burrows and Ashe Russell (co-Most Valuable Pitchers)