GOODYEAR, Ariz. – The Trombly Nighthawks arrived at the Goodyear Ballpark Complex for their Perfect Game/EvoShield National Championship (Upperclass) tournament-opener Friday afternoon with impeccable credentials and a glossy resume.
The Brea, Calif.-based outfit proudly wore its distinction as a Perfect Game national champion, with the title, championship trophy and accompanying championship rings all earned when it won last year’s PG/EvoShield Upperclass championship. It was also carrying a roster that boasted many of the top prospects from the 2014, 2015 and even 2016 national classes, including one 2014 graduate who played in the 2013 Perfect Game All-American Classic.
So, with so much fanfare in their wake, the Nighthawks almost predictably opened tournament play with the perhaps most unlikely outcome: a 0-0 tie with the Irving, Calif.-based Blue Wave, a result for which Nighthawks head coach Bob Burk had a simple explanation.
The young prospects had endured five to six hours drives, much of it across open desert, from their respective Southern California hometowns to arrive in time for the 8:30 p.m. tournament-opener against the Blue Wave.
They were set to face the Waves right-hander Shaun Vetrovec (2014, Costa Mesa, Calif.), an unranked UC Irvine commit. It had all the makings of a perfect storm, and since it could not be immediately learned what the Wave’s travel itinerary involved, it was a storm that certainly could have adversely affected either team. Vetrovec finished with a complete game one-hitter, striking out eight.
But, for the purposes of this account, we’ll return to the Mavericks.
“We rolled into the parking lot and we introduced ourselves to about a third of the team for the first time,” Burk related. “Their guy from UC Irvine (Vetrovec), I thought he was throwing in the upper 80s; it was a night game and it’s always hard to hit and with the wear and tear (of the travel) I just thought it was a Rookie ball type of atmosphere for our kids. They’re just 16-, 17-, 18-year-old kids, so after everything and the game ended in a tie, I was OK with that. We never like ties but I understand the circumstances as to why we got a tie (Friday night).
Some of the Trombly standouts weren’t as “OK” with the tie as their head coach. Middle-infielder Josh Morgan, a 2014 UCLA commit from Corona, Calif., who is ranked 112th nationally, was among the dissenters.
“That was very disappointing, actually, only because we have so much talent on this team,” Morgan said Saturday afternoon. “We faced a good pitcher last night, but hopefully we can end up 2 and 0 (2-0-1 overall) after today. I feel a lot better about our confidence and our team, and we all got to know each other a little bit better (on Friday).”
Burk and fellow Nighthawks coach Ruben Montano put this team together in conjunction with Steve Trombly, the owner, operator and head coach of the Brea, Calif.-based Trombly Baseball organization; there is a team called Trombly Baseball at this event that Steve Trombly is coaching. Trombly Baseball finished its portion of pool-play with a 2-0-1 record.
The Trombly Nighthawks are the defending champion at this event, although this is a whole new team – a whole new team that was assembled with a repeat championship in mind. Eight roster spots are filled with prospects that have committed to NCAA Division I universities.
On Saturday morning, the members of the Trombly Nighthawks were ready to get past that opening night tie and scramble for spot in the 20-team playoffs (16 pool champions and four at-large berths out of the 76-team field).
There will be four play-in games Sunday morning with the winners advancing to the round of 16 early Sunday afternoon. The quarterfinals are scheduled to be played later Sunday afternoon with the semifinals and championship game slated for Monday morning.
By early Saturday afternoon, with two more must-win pool-play games to go, Burk still felt he had a team capable of playing into Monday.
“We have the talent to be competitive,” he said. “A quality pitcher can beat anybody, but I think man for man we’re as good as anybody. We’re going to need some luck, we’re going to need some breaks, but I think we have the talent to do a lot.”
Burk has been with the Colton Nighthawks Baseball organization for about 10 years but has had a long association with Steve Trombly, he said. Between the two of them they decided it was difficult to put a real competitive team in an event like the PG/EvoShield National Championship (Upperclass) with one organization, so they decided to join forces.
“We’re all from the same area and the kids all know each other, so I think to put a good product on the field it’s OK to team up at this time of the year,” Burk said. “This is kind of like fall ball for us; the (California) pitchers are playing Scout Ball, and we have to watch extending pitchers more at this time of the year versus the summer time.
“With that said, that’s why you need a combination of two forces so you have a better pool of talent and more pitching.”
Any conversation about this Nighthawks team needs to start with standout 2014 prospect D.J. Peters, a 6-foot-6, 220-pound outfielder from Glendora, Calif., a Cal State Fullerton commit who is ranked 39th nationally.
Peters attended the Perfect Game National Showcase in Minneapolis in mid-June and performed well enough to earn an invitation to the Perfect Game All-American Classic presented by Rawlings, an all-star event for the nation’s top 50 prospects that are incoming seniors.
“That was just awesome,” Peters said Saturday. “There was nothing bad about (that experience); everything was great all the way down to the beds in the hotel. The weather was amazing, and playing with the top 50 guys in the nation is just unreal. It’s a very huge blessing to know that I am part of the top 50 in the nation, and I thank God that he has brought me this far and has blessed me with this talent.”
With the Classic behind him, Peters was ready to get to know his new teammates and play for a PG national championship.
“I was really excited when Bob (Burk) and Ruben (Montano) asked me about a month-and-a-half ago,” to join the team, he said. “Perfect Game, that’s a great company, and when (Burk and Montano) asked, I was like, ‘Sure, why not?’ We have a double-header today and I’m very excited about that, and I’m excited about being out here at the Perfect Game/EvoShield tournament.”
He then added: “I’ve played with a few of these guys before and they’re all great guys. They all love the game of baseball and they come out here day in and day out just playing their hearts out, just like I do. We play this game to be the best and these are a great group of guys.”
One of the guys Peters had played with previously was Morgan, who also attended the PG National Showcase this summer. Morgan has run a 6.89-second 60-yard dash and thrown 91 mph across the infield, and was also looking forward to helping the Trombly Nighthawks made a run into Monday.
“I’m really excited about being down here, except for maybe the weather,” Morgan said, referencing the triple-digit temperature. “I’m with a great group of guys and there’s great competition with the upper class, so it’s fun and I’m excited.” Morgan was a member of the 2012 PG/EvoShield Upper title team.
Some of Peters’ and Morgan’s other highly regarded Trombly Nighthawks’ teammates include left-hander Kyle Hatton (2015, Norco, Calif.), a UC Santa Barbara commit ranked 120th in the 2015 class and Shane Mardirosian (2014, Riverside, Calif.), UC Santa Barbara, No. 370 in the 2014 class. First baseman Logan Pouelsen is a sophomore at Huntington Beach (Calif.) and is ranked No. 26 in the class of 2016; he has verbally committed to defending national champion UCLA.
Outfielder Joey Sanchez (2014, Orange, Calif.) is ranked in the top-1,000 and has committed to Long Beach State; third baseman Ryan Mota (2014, Fontana, Calif.) is unranked but has committed to San Diego State.
Despite all the talent in the dugout, Burk said the least of his concerns is dealing with over-inflated egos.
“They’re all very good and there’s not one guy that thinks he’s above the game; we wouldn’t take that type of a character,” he said. “They all realize they might have to sit – they have a role to do – and sometime they have to sit and let the next guy play, and the talent does not drop off. That’s just part of playing baseball – we can’t play every inning – and the great ones even sit once in awhile. They’re not above the game.”
Both Morgan and Peters said they’re more comfortable when they’re surrounded by players with similar talents and goals.
“It’s easier to stay focused when you’re around these types of guys,” Morgan said. “We all want the same outcome in our lives – to become Major League Baseball players – and it takes a lot of work but it’s good to know that other guys (share) your dream and we work hard together.”
“You want to play to be the best but you also want to play with the best. Playing with guys like Josh Morgan and Shane (Mardirosian) and (Ryan) Mota and basically this whole entire team, they’re all D-I prospects and I strongly believe that one day they could play on past that level. You want to play with the best and I strongly believe that Bob and Ruben put a great, great team together and this whole tournament is just full of great, great guys and awesome ballplayers.”
Yet Burk wasn’t quite ready to let the Friday night tie go before the Nighthawks blasted the Warriors Baseball Academy, 12-0, Saturday afternoon (they later pummeled the P2 Pirates, 16-2, to finish pool-play with a 2-0-1 record and earn a spot in the playoffs as pool champion).
He honestly believes the tournament-opening tie will end up being a positive experience for those prospects on his roster that will one day play beyond high school, which is just about all of them.
“Last night was part of a learning experience for the guys, understanding what the next level is going to be all about – a five hour drive, rolling out and playing a ballgame, that’s what Rookie ball is going to be like a lot of the time,” Burk said. “It’s a grind and the kids got to get used to it; it’s one of the steps of playing at the next level.”
Most of the Trombly Nighthawks players will know all about that soon enough.