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Tournaments : : Story
Inaugural MLK Champions Crowned
Todd Gold         Ben Collman        
Published: Tuesday, January 17, 2012

GLENDALE, AZ-- The 2012 season got underway at beautiful Camelback Ranch in Glendale, AZ (spring home of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox) with the inaugural Perfect Game MLK Championship. The field featured 36 teams with 18u, 16u and 14u divisions, and featured talented players from all over the continent, including; Massachussets, Mexico, Kansas and Tennessee to name just a few locales represented, in addition to the strong presence of top local talent from Arizona and nearby southern California. 

18U Champions: Arizona Sabercats 18U
The Sabercats captured the 18u title with a convincing 10-1 win over the SoCal Victory in the Stadium at Camelback Ranch, after jumping on the Victory right away with six consecutive singles to open the game in the top of the first. LHP Nick Meservey (2014 Saguaro HS, Scottsdale, AZ) made it stand up, allowing an unearned run on just two hits over four innings to earn the Win. LF Austin Anderson (2012 Saguaro HS, Scottsdale, AZ) went 3-for-3 with 2 Runs and a Stolen Base out of the leadoff spot.

The Sabercats also swept the individual player awards, with OF/RHP Zach Gibbons (2012 Saguaro HS, Scottsdale, AZ) earned Most Valuable Player Honors, while teammate Nick Meservey was named Most Valuable Pitcher. The Sabercats are made up of players from Saguaro High School, who finished 2011 as the no. 10 ranked team in the nation in the final Perfect Game National Top 100 rankings after winning their second consecutive Arizona 4A (Division I) state championship (also clinched at Camelback Ranch). Sabercats coach George Adams said of the experience "this was an outstanding proving grounds for us, it allows our guys to learn from playing very competitive baseball, and obviously playing in top notch facilities like this is fantastic."

Gibbons hit .500/.529/.812 with 4 Runs, 7 RBIs and  3 SBs, to narrowly edge out teammates Austin Anderson and OF/1B Chris Akmon (2012 Saguaro HS, Scottsdale, AZ) for MVP Honors. Gibbons added three scoreless innings of work on the mound in addition to his usual high level defensive play in center field. Gibbons said of the honor "it was fun but I couldn't have done it without my teammates and coaches, I can't say enough about this team." Gibbons has set the bar high for himself throughout his accomplished career at Saguaro, but the young southpaw Meservey provided a pleasant surprise to the Sabercats coaching staff.

After  having thrown three shutout innings earlier in the tournament, Coach Adams said of Meservey's performance as the starter in the championship game "we were hoping he could give us three innings and he gave us four solid, he exceeded our expectations all tournament and really threw the ball well." Meservey, a 6-foot-4 lefty, topped out at 83 mph with his fastball and showed good command, throwing 66.7% of his 48 pitches for strikes.

The performance was a strong statement for a team that appears to be strong contenders for a third consecutive state championship in 2012.

16U Champions: Arizona Pilots 16U White:
Another local team was crowned champion in the 16u division, as the Arizona Pilots 16u White also defeated a strong opponent from California in the championship by knocking off the Concordia Zephyrs 8-2. The Pilots pushed across four runs in the top of the first, after a walk and a hit by pitch put a pair on, 1B Tyler Weninger (2014 Hamilton HS, Phoenix, AZ) smashed a two-run double before coming around to score on a single by OF/RHP Anthony Race (2014 Thunderbird HS, Phoenix, AZ) to score what proved to be the deciding third run. Race would earn the win after taking the hill to start the game, pitching three innings.

Weninger was named Most Valuable Player after helping lead the Pilots to the title by hitting .533 with 3 doubles, a triple, scoring a pair of Runs and piling up 10 RBIs. Weninger also earned the Win on the mound in the semifinal victory over the Arizona Wildfire and nailed down a Save in the tournament opener. The lean athletic lefty impressed scouts in his PG debut by showing a quick, projectable bat with a chance to develop power as he matures. He is also a good athlete who runs well on the bases and is an interesting pitcher as well.

Concord Zephyrs RHP Henry Alms (2014 De La Salle HS, Concord, CA) was named Most Valuable Pitcher for his role in getting the Zephyrs to the finals. Alms went five innings in the Zephyrs semifinal victory over the Tucson Ballerz, striking out five and allowing a pair of unearned runs on just one hit.

Pilots Coach Jeff Fallon said of his team's experience at the inaugural Perfect Game MLK Championship "the competition was great, our pool had a team from Kentucky and a team from California. During the year we kind of beat up on teams around here so it was great to get to face some top talent from other places." The Pilots are a part of the Angels Amateur Baseball Program, which is run by Los Angeles Angels scouts John Gracio along with Fallon.

14U Champions: SoCal National Travel Team
SoCal NTT, which is based in southern California but true to their name features elite players from all over, capped off an impressive run in the 14u division with an 11-0 blowout victory in the championship. SoCal NTT won all five contests via mercy rule. SoCal put up a cumulative score of 45-2 in one of the most dominant performances at a Perfect Game tournament in years.

SoCal NTT was founded by coach Scott Luke in 2005 and annually features a roster of elite young talent, and already boasts nine alumni in Major League Baseball, with plenty more almost certainly on the way.

1B/RHP Josh Tullus (2015 Mater Dei HS, Trabuco Canyon, CA) garnered tournament MVP honors after hitting a blistering .727/.750/.818 with 5 Runs, 5 RBIs and 7 SBs. Tullus showed very good bat speed for a 2015 prospect, along with a short fluid swing, consistently making very hard contact. He also showed well defensively at first base, displaying the ability to pick throws out of the dirt wall and good fielding actions. Tullus' performance edged out teammate RHP/OF Robert Ay (2015 El Toro HS, Trabuco Canyon, CA) for the MVP, as Ay hit .571/.667/.571 and struck out seven of the eight batters he faced in 2 2/3 perfect innings of relief.

Teammate RHP/OF Aaron Simpson (2016 Servite HS, Orange, CA) was named Most Valuable Pitcher after throwing eight no-hit shutout innings, striking out 10 while issuing just three walks. In the semifinals against Simpson struck out seven in a CG no-hitter (six innings), allowing just one walk and throwing 65.3% of his 75 pitches for strikes. Simpson showed good command of his fastball (up to 74) with arm side run and worked in an 11-5 curveball at 62.

Perfect Game was very pleased with the amount of talent that was in attendence, making the inaugural MLK Championship a huge success. A special thanks to the teams who helped us get 2012 off to a great start with a highly competitive event in January!

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