EMERSON, Ga. – The South Carolina-based Upstate Mavericks have built a reputable organization and are one of the more recognizable clubs to participate in Perfect Game tournaments at the older age groups. This week they bring a team of 14-year-olds to Georgia for the WWBA 14u National Championship in hopes of expanding their recognition. They are off to a great start.
The Upstate Mavericks met the St. Louis Gamers 14u Monday afternoon in a match of two undefeated clubs, which could go a long way to determining who will come out as champions of Pool D.
The Mavericks got the best of the St. Louis Gamers late and were able to run away with a 10-5 win, but it was a close game for a long time. The Mavericks set the tone in the first inning when they plated two, but the Gamers wouldn’t go away, scoring two in the fourth to tie the game at 2-2.
The Gamers weren’t able to stick around much longer, though, and Upstate scored three runs in the bottom of the fourth and one in the bottom of the fifth to make it a 6-2 ballgame. St. Louis scored two in the top of the sixth, but that’s the closest they would get as the mavericks put to bed any hopes of a comeback the Gamers had when they scored four runs in the bottom of the frame.
“We played good ball,” said Mavericks head coach Tommy Bledsoe. “We pitched well. We made a few errors that we don’t normally make, but we had some timely hits and ended up winning the ballgame.”
“Every game’s tough,” Bledsoe added. “That’s why we travel five hours to get down here is to face the competition and it makes us better.”
The Mavericks haven’t had a very tough time in their pool through five games, going 5-0 and outscoring its opponents 37-10. They did have a scare in a matchup with the East Cobb Black Knights in which they scored the winning run in the bottom of the sixth inning to sneak by with a 5-4 win. Today was different, though. The bats have come to life for the Mavericks, who tallied 13 base hits Monday afternoon, including six extra-base hits.
“Pitching and defense has been really good every game,” said Bledsoe. “Our bats are starting to wake up and we’ve been playing good team ball. We’ve got a lot of pitching, the defense is always good, we’ve got a lot of boys who make good contact, and we don’t strike out a lot. We’ve got a lot of speed and depth in pitching and pitching’s the name of the game.”
So far, pitching has been a huge contributor to the club’s five wins, compiling a 1.49 earned run average with 35 strikeouts through 33 innings of work. The hitting has certainly been able to hold it’s own as well. The team is hitting an impressive .325 (41-for-126) with six players hitting above .300 with at least 10 at-bats. Belton, S.C. native Jamison Patterson is pacing the offense, with a .438 average (7-for-16) and seven RBI.
The Mavericks have two games to go to escape pool play with an undefeated record, which would be a huge step in building credibility at the younger age levels.
“The Upstate Mavericks have mostly had teams in the upper age groups and we came on this year as 14s to try to add some recognition to our younger ages,” Bledsoe said. “With Chris Nall, they play in all the great tournaments and that’s what we wanted to do, so it’s been a good fit.”
Bledsoe has seen this team grow from 9-years-old and has found it rewarding to see the progress the team has been able to make over the five years.
“We started this team at nine and built up a little bit every year and we’ve had some success and been able to pick up some good players along the way,” said Bledsoe.
“The focus is teaching the mental aspect of the game more than anything,” Bledsoe continued. “The talent is there, it’s just a mental approach and staying focused and doing what you’re supposed to do all the time.”
Of course there are some occasional obstacles and growing pains, which every coach experiences at some point, especially with a group of young athletes.
”They think they know everything sometimes, but most of them listen pretty good and they learn from mistakes and that can be rewarding to see,” added Bledsoe.
Surely, the Mavericks are building their already strong reputation this week as Bledsoe had hoped, although the Upstate Mavericks are a program that needs no introduction. The Mavericks have seen 267 players from the organization earn college scholarships for baseball. Nine alumni have been selected in the MLB Draft, including four in this year alone.