GOODYEAR, Ariz. – At the outset of what could potentially become not only one of the longest but most satisfying days in their baseball lives, the players and coaches from NorCal Baseball were nothing if not resolved.
Having lost their opener in the eight-team, double-elimination playoffs at the 17u Perfect Game World Series on Monday before recharging to win their second game, NorCal was faced with the challenge of having to win three games on Tuesday if it hoped to advance to Wednesday’s championship game.
With an afternoon high temperature of 110 degrees in the forecast here in the Valley of the Sun, an enormous amount of resolve – and a gallon or two of water – was certainly going to be required.
“We’re going to have to stay hydrated and win this first game, and we can worry about the next one later,” NorCal standout outfielder and right-handed pitcher Tanner Dobson said Tuesday morning while getting ready for the first game of the day at the Goodyear Ballpark Recreational Complex. “We need to put up some runs early and we’ll be good.”
“It’s win or go home,” top 2015 right-hander Matthew McGarry said through a laugh. “We have to go all-out, but that’s how we always play. We’ll see today if we can meet the challenge.”
In the view of NorCal Baseball head coach Tony Crivello, the situation that had unfolded in front of his team gave them exactly what they were looking for when they arrived in the desert.
“We came here to play baseball against good teams and that’s what we’re getting is good competition,” Crivello said Tuesday morning. “Every game is a struggle, but that’s why we’re here – to get better.
“Our NorCal philosophy has always been we play until someone tells us the game is over and the day is over,” he continued. “Whether it’s one game, two games, three games, we just play until someone says ‘You guys are done’; that’s our mentality every single day. We talked about it last night and decided that we’re going to play until someone says, ‘NorCal, you guys are finished.’”
NorCal Baseball emerged from Saturday and Sunday’s pool-play with a 3-1 record and earned the No. 2 seed in the playoffs after outscoring its four opponents by a combined 22-6. NorCal lost to FTB, 6-3, in its third pool-play game but the pitching staff posted shutouts in the other three games.
The No. 7-seeded Dallas Patriots turned the tables on NorCal with a 4-0 win in the playoffs’ first-round Monday morning but the guys from Northern California bounced back to beat GBG Marucci, 6-4, later in the day to move into Tuesday’s win-or-go-home losers’ bracket free-for-all.
“I think we’re finding out how good we are; I think we’re finding out how much better we need to get,” Crivello said. “Steel sharpens steel and that’s why we come to the Perfect Game events. We’re facing the best guys and that shows us what we need to do to get better and tells our guys where they need to grow, and maybe it shows us how good we are. I don’t know, maybe it’s a little bit of both.”
As fate would have it, NorCal arrived at the Goodyear Ballpark complex Tuesday morning only to find their nemesis, the Dallas Patriots, settling into the opposite dugout. After beating NorCal Monday morning, the Patriots got pushed into losers’ bracket play from a 7-3 loss to the No. 3 EvoShield Canes Monday afternoon.
For 6½ innings this was a rout, with 2015 right-hander Nick Frank firmly in control and NorCal taking an 8-1 lead into the bottom of seventh. But those never-say-die Patriots rallied for five runs and had the bases loaded with the winning run on first base before succumbing in an 8-6 NorCal victory.
Dodson was 2-for-4 with a double, three RBI and two runs scored in the win, and has been terrific throughout the tournament. Heading into what could be the first of two semifinal games against the EvoShield Canes Tuesday evening, he was hitting .455 (10-for-22) with two doubles, a triple, a home run, nine RBI and four runs scored.
A California-Berkeley commit, he also pitched six innings and allowed six hits while compiling a 2.33 ERA with five strikeouts and two walks.
“It’s always fun getting to play with and against good players,” Dobson said. “We’re really coming together and starting to play better defense, hit better and do everything better. … Whenever you play against the best players in the country it’s always going to benefit you.”
2015 middle-infielder Hank Loforte, a Cal State Fullerton recruit, and 2015 first baseman Chris Loeb, an Oregon State commit, are among NorCal’s other top prospects. Loforte is hitting .381 (8-for-21) with two doubles, five RBI and six runs at this event.
The pitching staff has been strong and sturdy with two of the best performances turned in by Frank on Tuesday and by McGarry during pool-play. McGarry, a 6-foot-3, 185-pound Vanderbilt commit who last month attended the Perfect Game National Showcase, pitched five shutout, no-hit innings in his only appearance so far. He did struggle with his control, however, issuing seven walks and hitting a batter.
“This has been an awesome experience,” he said Tuesday. “You recognize a lot of the kids you’ve played in national tournaments with and you’ve played with in different events. It’s cool to meet up with them and play against them; it’s really fun. I think (the 17u PGWS) made us a better team and better players and all that kind of stuff.”
NorCal Baseball, which calls the San Francisco Bay Area city of Pleasanton home, has expanded its operation to include three regional teams in Northern California, and the team playing at the 17u PG World Series is made up of five or six players from each of those three teams. The players have all known each other but this is the really the first time they’ve played together on the same team.
“It was almost one of those things where everybody is like, ‘God, I knew he was good but I didn’t know he was that good,’” Crivello said. “Baseball is baseball whether we play here or in Florida or anywhere else … and when you get to this level of talent everybody respects other talent; everybody wants to be around the best guys.
“I’m convinced that if you took us and the EvoShield Canes and said, ‘You guys combine teams,’ and then you took, say, GBG and CBA and said, ‘You guys combine teams.’ it would only take us about an inning to figure it out and decide where everyone should be.”
By winning their first two playoff games on Monday, the No. 3 EvoShield Canes (5-1-0) and No. 5 Houston Banditos (5-1-0) advanced directly into Tuesday afternoon’s semifinal round, and were able to avoid most intense heat of the day while waiting to see who would provide their opposition.
The Canes get No. 2 NorCal (5-2-0) and the Banditos get No. 4 Elite Squad Baseball (5-2-0). NorCal and Elite Squad will have to win twice to advance to Wednesday’s championship.
“I really liked this format because it really puts a lot of emphasis on those first four games,” Crivello said. “In the past, the first day or two you were just kind of feeling things out and seeing who is where. Here, those first four games you have to get at it because it’s pool-play, and now this double-elimination (playoff) allows for one hiccup which is awesome.
“It puts you in a bad situation like we are in but that’s OK. Don’t lose, right? If you don’t want to play three (games) today, don’t lose.”