GOODYEAR, Ariz. – The Mountain West Baseball organization is proud to recognize South Jordan, Utah, as its base of operations but this year’s Mountain West ’15 team that is competing at the elite 20-team Perfect Game World Series certainly has a profound New Mexico feel to it.
Not just the state of New Mexico but, more specifically, the University of New Mexico. It would not be that far-fetched to call the squad the Mountain West ’15 “Little Lobos”, as far as that goes. A quick glance at its roster reveals that five of the 16 team members listed – four from the class of 2015 and one a 2016 – have verbally committed to the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.
What in the name of “Lobo Nation” is at work here? Nothing at all sinister, as should have been suspected.
As the 3rd annual 17u PG World Series rolled into its second day Sunday at the Goodyear Park Athletic Complex with all 20 teams again playing a pair of games to bring pool-play to a conclusion, Mountain West ’15 was among several teams sitting at 1-1.
Sunday would be nothing short of a game of survival after the West ‘15s lost their second game of the day on Saturday, a one-sided 9-4 setback to Southern California-based GBG Marucci. Mountain West ’15 head coach Murph Norris felt confident his newly put-together team would respond when he spoke with PG Sunday morning.
“When you’re dealing with a lot of talented guys, you don’t have to worry about them coming out not ready to play,” Norris said. “Sometimes when you come out and get beat up like that a little bit, it makes you come out with a little more energy for the next game; hopefully that’s the case.”
And if it was in the cards that Mountain West would survive and advance to the round-of-eight, double-elimination playoff mini-tournament that begins Monday, Norris was going to have to rely heavily on his guys from the Land of Enchantment.
Versatile Austin Treadwell, outfielder Austin Bell, catcher Andrew Pratt – all from Albuquerque – and third baseman Jared Mang from Los Alamos – all 2015s –have committed to UNM. 2016 shortstop Connor Mang, the son of Joseph and Jacquelyn Mang from Los Alamos and Jared’s younger brother, has also committed to the Lobos.
All five of the UNM commits play regularly for the Albuquerque Baseball Academy (ABA), an organization with coaches and instructors Ryan Brewer and Mike Foote with whom Norris and Mountain West Baseball have enjoyed a long working relationship.
Norris was looking to bolster his lineup for the 17u PG World Series and the UNM commits from ABA helped fill some holes in a big way.
“When Perfect Game invited us to come to the (17u) World Series we didn’t think we had enough kids just from Utah to compete down here,” he said. “We had to kind of combine to make it where we would be able to come down here and be able to compete with everyone here.”
Treadwell, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound third baseman/outfielder/right-hander – fresh off an appearance at the Perfect Game National Showcase in Fort Myers, Fla., and the No. 1-ranked prospect in New Mexico’s class of 2015 – was more than happy to step in.
“They thought we were the best group in New Mexico, so they wanted to keep us together” for this tournament, he said. “It’s like great team-bonding.”
Each of the prospects had their own reasons for committing to UNM: they cite head coach Ray Birmingham, the direction the program is taking (37-20-1 overall, 20-10 Mountain West Conference in 2014) and the desire to attend college close to home. That last one was most important to Treadwell as his mother, Sonja, is currently battling breast cancer.
“We’ve all played together since like the eighth grade with Albuquerque Baseball Academy and it ended up just being a pretty good bunch of guys,” the 2015 outfielder Bell said. “The University of New Mexico offered a lot of us some scholarships and we all committed there, and we’re going to be with our friends, so it’s going to be a lot of fun.
“We’re all going to be able to roommate with our best friends and play baseball with all our guys; it’s going to be a blast and I’m really looking forward to it.”
There is one prospect on the Mountain West ’15 roster that bucked the trend. 2015 right-hander/first baseman Caleb McAlister from Albuquerque has committed to Arizona State University.
The rest of the roster is filled out by prospects from Texas (five), Utah (four) and Idaho (one). Ryan Kotulek, a 6-foot-3, 170-pound right-hander from Shallowater, Texas, is ranked No. 97 nationally in the class of 2016 and has committed to Texas Tech; middle-infielder Jeff Arens from Riverton, Utah, is the No. 4-ranked prospect in Utah’s 2015 class and has committed to Utah Valley University.
“We’ve got a lot of different guys from all over and it’s a little bit different when you’re bringing them all together for the first time,” Norris said. “I know our kids know how good the talent is here, so I think they look forward to coming here and proving themselves.”
The players from Mountain West ’15 certainly knew what they were up against when they got into this tournament but like elite players everywhere, they came in hungry to play against the best. Treadwell got a taste of that at the PG National a month ago.
“I was in Fort Myers (Fla.) for the Perfect Game National (Showcase) and that was the greatest experience I’ve ever had,” he said. “With all the great pitching and how the (showcase) was set up, it was amazing; I loved it.”
Treadwell fully expected more of the same at the 17u PG World Series.
“I love seeing great pitching; it just gives you a better understanding of what’s out there. It’s a lot better than what we’re seeing in New Mexico where there doesn’t seem to be a lot of great pitching, so this is a great experience,” he said.
“I’ve been looking forward to this for awhile,” Bell added. “Coming out here, there’s just a lot of real good competition so that’s always a lot of fun. That’s what you come out here for, to play against dudes that are going to college and it’s going to be good to see how you stack up against them; that’s the best part, I think.”
In its four pool-play games Saturday and Sunday, Mountain West ’15 faced teams from Kissimmee, Fla. (FTB), Los Angeles (GBG Marucci), Pleasanton, Calif. (NorCal Baseball) and Surprise, Ariz. (Cleats AZ Pilots). It was exactly what the players were looking for.
“Taking your game to the next level and just seeing how you need to improve your game and what areas you need to improve on, these events really help with that,” Treadwell said. “I like to see what talent is out there, and you get around these guys and you just thrive on that. It’s awesome; I love it.”
After the loss to GBG Marucci on Saturday, the players and coaches from Mountain West ’15 – the Little Lobos – knew they would likely have to beat NorCal Baseball in their first game Sunday in order to finish in the top-two in their pool and advance to Monday’s final eight. A loss in that game would just about make the finale against the Cleats AZ Pilots totally meaningless, depending on how GBG Marucci fared.
“Knowing that you have to come out and do your best is definitely something that helps you play better,” Bell said. “With the competition that we have here, if you’re not coming out thinking that you have to do your best you’re probably not going to win.”
They knew they had to do their best but it wasn’t enough. NorCal Baseball 2015 right-hander Garrett Minahen threw a tidy six-inning, four-strikeout, four-hitter and Mountain West ’15 went down to an 8-0 defeat. This was the third time Mountain West Baseball had been invited to this grand affair and it certainly did nothing to embarrass itself.
“It’s like anything; the first year we weren’t sure but we’ve gone out and competed every single year that we’ve been down here,” Norris said. “The first year you come and you’re kind of wondering, but the more and more we come the more and more we feel like we belong.
“It’s always that way (and) it’s fun for these kids, because they wouldn’t have met each other and gotten to know each other if they weren’t coming to this thing,” he concluded. “It’s always been a really good mesh with these kids every year we’ve done it and we’ve done it for the last three years.”