AMES, Iowa – Every one of the 18 teams that participated in last weekend’s tow Perfect Game Central Labor Day Classics did so with their telescopes locked-in on dates deeper into the 2014 PG tournament calendar.
The 10 teams from Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Missouri that competed for the championship on the Upperclass side of the Central Labor Day Classic coin are eyeing the upcoming PG WWBA Kernels Foundation Championship Sept. 26-29 with a couple daring to dream of a trip to Jupiter, Fla., and the PG WWBA World Championship at the end of October.
The best of the eight teams at the CLDC Underclass are also making plans for the Kernels Championship and may be entertaining thoughts of an early October trip to Fort Meyers, Fla., and the PG WWBA Underclass World Championship.
The Upperclass semifinalists were the pre-tournament favorite and ultimate champion Reds Midwest Scout Team from Hartford, Wis.; runner-up PG Iowa Steel from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, which fielded an underclass roster made up primarily of 2016s and 2017s; Iowa Select Black from Cedar Rapids, and Force Elite Baseball from West Chicago, Ill., with a half-and-half roster of 2015s and 2016s.
PG Iowa Steel, under the direction of legendary Iowa high school coach Jim Van Scoyoc, won its pool championship when it posted a 1-0 victory over favored Iowa Select Black in the final pool-play game. Steel then beat Force Elite Baseball 4-3 in the semifinal round before losing to the Reds in the championship game, 2-1. Black lost to Reds Midwest 4-3 in the other semifinal.
Steel emerged as the tournament darling after 2018 right-hander Connor Van Scoyoc one-hit Iowa Select Black in that 1-0 victory and then scored a run in the bottom of the seventh in its 5-4 semifinal win over Force Elite Baseball.
Behind a workmanlike performance from 2016 righty Nick Mougin, Steel took a 1-0 lead into the bottom of the sixth inning in the championship game before tournament Most Valuable Player Ethan Skender delivered a two-run double and a 2-1 win over the Reds Midwest Scout Team.
Iowa Select Black – boasting a roster with five NCAA Division I commits, including three to the University of Iowa – was undoubtedly disappointed with its 3-2 finish at the tournament after starting 3-0. Head coach Steve James, the director of the PG Iowa Spring and Fall Leagues, wanted to use the event to launch his team into a successful fall season.
“We set the tone early about competing and getting better,” James said Sunday. “Sometimes guys going into their senior year, they get committed (to a college) and they get a little bit lackadaisical or easy-come, easy-go, but we’ve kind of nipped that in the bud this year.”
The roster James brought to the PG Central Labor Day Classic (Upperclass) held four of Iowa’s top-seven ranked prospects from the class of 2015, including No. 1 Luke Farley, a top hitting outfielder from Denver, Iowa; No. 2 right-hander Cole Baker from Grimes, Iowa, and No.3 right-hander Christopher Comito Jr. from Norwalk, Iowa. All three have committed to the University of Iowa.
The roster also included third baseman Alec Bohm from Omaha, Neb., a Wichita State commit who is ranked the No. 1 2015 prospect in Nebraska.
Comito Jr., Baker and 2015 right-hander Austin Suhr from Bettendorf, Iowa, each picked up wins at the Central Labor Day. Comito Jr. didn’t allow a run on two hits and struck out nine in six innings; Baker didn’t allow an earned run on five hits and struck out five in his six innings; Suhr worked 6 1/3 innings and allowed only one earned run on three hits while striking out nine.
“They’ve made big strides as far as strike-throwing since last year,” James said. “It’s good when you have guys in the program for a couple of years and you’re able to work with them and watch them progress and just let their talent show through.
“I like our depth and pitching,” he continued. “We’ve obviously got the (number) one and two guys in Comito and Baker and there are a lot of other guys who can pitch. That’s definitely our strength.”
The Reds Midwest Scout Team earned a paid invitation to the PG WWBA Kernels Foundation Championship by virtue of their Central Labor Day Classic championship, but head coach Andy Stack and his troops really didn’t need one. They won that event’s championship in 2009 and 2011 and finished as runner-up in 2010 and were already invited to this year’s gala.
Stack’s roster included MVP Skender, a 2015 middle-infielder and Kansas State commit from Metamora, Ill., and Most Valuable Pitcher Cal Coughlin, a 2016 uncommitted right-hander from Lake Forest, Ill.
Stack was missing a few key components of his roster over the Labor Day weekend but still had enough talent on hand to power to a 6-0 record and the championship. He fully expects to challenge for another Kernels Foundation championship and also make some noise in Jupiter where the Reds Midwest Scout Team has reached the semifinals twice since 2011.
“That’s kind of the goal and why we do this,” Stack said in reference to the PG WWBA World Championship experience. “Teams that go down there as individuals are just put together for the Jupiter situation; I think it takes them a few games in Jupiter just to kind of get to know each other. But, there are no byes in Jupiter; you’ve got to be ready to go from pitch one right into Monday.
“We might not be as talented as some of those teams from Texas and Florida but we can play with those teams because of what we do beforehand.”
Cedar Rapids-based Iowa Select Navy won the PG Central Labor Day Classic (Underclass) championship and will also be playing in the PG WWBA Kernels Foundation Championship later this month.
Led by Most Valuable Player Joey Polak from Quincy, Ill., and Most Valuable Pitcher Spencer Van Scoyoc from Cedar Rapids, Navy beat Prodigy Baseball Academy 2016 from Parkville, Mo., in a 5-4 championship game that stretched over 11 innings and 2 hours, 45 minutes.
Navy and its head coach Rich Polak don’t necessarily have their eyes set on Jupiter. They’re more focused on Fort Myers a good showing at the PG WWBA Underclass World Championship.
“I just kind of wanted to let the guys to their thing,” Rich Polak said at the Central Labor Day Classic. “I want to find out what they do, how they respond to pressure; how they respond to their other teammates.
“I want them to do kind of what they need to do during this time, and then that way as we progress towards the Kernels tournament and towards the ultimate finish of the year, which is Fort Myers. Hopefully we’ll be clicking on all cylinders at that time.”
The players and coaching staff with Iowa Select Black know they will have to show improvement over the next six weeks if they hope to fill its shopping cart with everything that’s on their list.
“With this group it’s going to be pitching, defense and being able to run on the base paths,” James said. “We don’t have the big boppers that we had maybe a few years ago with (A.J.) Puk and (Keaton) McKinney and all those guys – we’ve got talented kids but we’ve just got to do it in different ways.
“Obviously, we have to take care of business with the Kernels tournament, and that’s what the whole thing is geared towards,” he concluded. “Our big thing is players getting better, getting seen and obviously competing and trying to earn that Jupiter spot because that’s everyone’s goal.”