GOODYEAR, Ariz. – It could be said that Garciaparra Baseball Group (GBG) celebrated its second birthday Monday afternoon at Goodyear Ballpark, and GBG founder Mike Garciaparra was happily fulfilling his prominent role as proud papa.
GBG Marucci Navy had just outlasted a determined So Cal Bombers 2014 Black squad to win the championship game at the Perfect Game/EvoShield National Championship (Upperclass) by a 5-1 margin, and Garciaparra was already reflecting on what his organization has accomplished in its first two years of existence.
It had grown by leaps and bounds. It had just captured its second Perfect Game national championship in a span of 12 months. And, most importantly, it was already developing its own players from within the organization.
“I’m really, really proud about this (championship) because every single player that played in this one was a player that was from our program,” Garciaparra said minutes after his players doused him with a cooler of ice water.
“We didn’t borrow (players) from any other team – we’ve done that in the past and sometimes you have to do that to get through these events – and my father (Ramon) and I, and we as a staff, are extremely excited that every single one of these players were GBG players from the start of the summer until now.”
Nyles Nygaard hit an RBI ground-rule double that needed only one hop to reach the bullpen in leftfield at Goodyear Ballpark, and Spencer Steer followed with a sharp two-run single in a three-run fifth inning that gave GBG Marucci Navy a 3-1 lead over the Bombers 2014 Black, and that was pretty much the end of the story in the championship game. Two additional runs in the bottom of the sixth only added some cushion to an already comfortable chair.
It was comfortable because Kyle Smith, a 2014 left-hander from Torrance, Calif., was in control on the mound. He worked the title game’s first 5 1/3 innings, scattered four hits while striking out eight and walked three.
It was Smith’s second start at the four-day tournament and he picked up his second win. In those two appearances, he worked 11 2/3 innings, gave up one earned run (0.60 ERA) on five hits and three walks, and struck out 18. Smith was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Pitcher for his effort.
“I was ready for it,” he said of the championship game start. “I wanted to pitch in this game and (Garciaparra) gave me the ball and I was just ready to pitch the best that I could; that’s just what I did. I was feeling pretty good physically – nothing was sore or anything – and I was pretty much 100 percent.”
Right-hander Eli Morgan worked the final 1 1/3 innings and allowed only one base-runner. Nygaard – a U. of Washington recruit – Matt Lautz and Brett Wiesberg all had two hits in the championship game, and Nygaard and Lautz each drove in runs.
Led by Smith, GBG’s pitching staff was dominant throughout its tournament run on its way to a perfect 7-0 record. Garciaparra used eight pitchers that combined to give up just three earned runs in 44 innings (0.48 ERA) on 18 hits with 50 strikeouts and only nine walks.
“We’ve never brought the flame-throwers, the 88s to 94s (mph) that you see at some of these events,” Garciaparra said. “We have quality pitchers and we knew to get through these games and save pitching, you have to have pitchers that throw strikes and don’t walk anybody, and great defense. We have that, and everybody else starts to run out of it, and it gets you to the end.
“That was our game-plan and the guys stuck to our game plan: they put up the runs when they needed to, they took advantage of the little things that baseball players do.”
GBG Marucci Navy hit .379 (69-for-182) as a team but accumulated only 14 extra-base hits. Brett Weisberg was 7-for-13 (.563) with a pair of doubles and five RBI; Matt Lautz was 11-for-22 (.500) with three doubles, five RBI and seven runs; Ryan Fineman was 10-for-21 (.476) with five RBI; and Ryan Day was 6-for-14 (.429) with two doubles, three RBI and eight runs. Day, a Duke commit, also pitched five innings of three-hit ball, allowing one earned run with five strikeouts.
And then there was the play of Spencer Speer, a high school sophomore from Long Beach, Calif., ranked No. 44 nationally in the class of 2016 and who delivered the big two-run single in the championship game. Speer went 8-for-20 (.400) with seven RBI and five runs at the plate and also pitched six innings of two-hit, shutout ball with eight strikeouts and just one walk. He was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
“It’s been a great experience; it’s been a lot of baseball but it was a good time,” Steer said. “I love my team, I love my coaches and I had a lot of fun here. I’ve been pretty close to my coaches and I know they have confidence in me, so it’s pretty easy to come out and just play my game. I know they have confidence in me so it wasn’t that big of deal for me; I wasn’t really wasn’t that nervous.”
“Spencer Steer, he’s not just a great player he’s a great kid,” Garciaparra said. “He goes out there and goes about his business in a professional manner – professional hitter, professional pitcher, professional third baseman – and you have to love the kid.”
This was the second straight year that a So Cal Bombers team reached the championship game at this event. Zachary Kirtley led the team offensively this year, batting 8-for-21 (3.81) with a double, five RBI and six runs. 2014 right-hander Alan Trejo, a San Diego State commit from Downey, Calif., made two appearances on the mound and didn’t allow an earned run over eight innings, giving up five hits and walk with 10 strikeouts.
GBG Marucci Navy earned the playoffs’ No. 1 seed after it stymied its three pool-play opponents by a combined score of 18-0. The pitching staff continued to flex its muscles in the playoffs – while the bats also picked it up a notch – and GBG won a pair of 9-1 decisions over the No. 16 San Diego Show (3-2) and No. 9 Big Island Baseball Blue (4-1), setting up a semifinal match-up with the No. 5 CBA Rookies.
Right-handed swinging Austin Herold smacked a two-run home run to highlight a five-run fifth inning and launched GBG to a 10-2, five inning route of the Rookies in that semifinal game. Herold (2014, Thousand Oaks, Calif.) finished with three RBI and two runs scored.
Lautz was 2-for-4 with a double, two RBI and two runs and Weisberg was 2-for-2 with two RBI and two runs to further fuel GBG Marucci Navy’s 10-hit attack. Left-hander Max Green (2014, Rolling Hills Estate, Calif.) threw four innings of three-hit ball, allowing one earned run and striking out three.
The Rookies (5-1) were also 3-0 in pool-play and reached the semifinals by beating the No. 12 Rawlings Prospects (2-1-1), 9-1, in the round of 16 and No. 4 Trosky Baseball (4-1), 7-6, in the quarterfinals.
Saddled with the playoffs’ No. 14 seed, the Bombers 2014 Black (6-1-1) were forced to play in one of four play-in games Sunday morning, and took care of business with a 5-2 win over the No. 19 Yuma Beast (2-2). They were able to keep the ball rolling with an impressive 3-1 upset of the No. 3 West Coast Clippers (3-1) in the round of 16 and a 5-0 shutout of Team Maryland (4-1) in the quarterfinals.
The Bombers were going to need a little more magic to advance out of their semifinal game against the No. 10 Trombly Nighthawks, and they found it: with the game tied 1-1 in the top of the eighth, So Cal used three walks and a hit-by-pitch to push across what turned out to be the winning run in a 2-1 win over the Nighthawks.
Right-handers Zach Ricciardi (2014, Chino Hills, Calif.) and Gabriel Llanes (2014, Downey, Calif.) combined on an eight-inning three-hitter, effectively shutting down the usually potent Trombly bats.
Nighthawks left-hander Kyle Hatton (2015, Norco, Calif.) was pretty good himself, scattering five hits over seven innings with seven strikeouts and one walk. Hatton, ranked 120th nationally, has committed to UC Santa Barbara.
After opening pool-play with a 0-0 tie against Blue Wave, the Trombly Nighthawks outscored their next two pool opponents by a combined 28-2 and earned the playoffs’ No. 10 seed. Two upsets followed, including a 4-2 win over No. 7 Impact Players Baseball (3-1) in the round of 16, and a 6-2 victory over the No. ABD Bulldogs (4-1) in the quarters.
GBG’s Smith was part of the team that won the PG national championship at the 2012 PG/EvoShield National Championship (Underclass) a year ago.
“Coming out here last year was a good experience and doing it again this year is real fun,” he said. “This year we started hitting the ball a little bit better as we kept going on and we played better as a team. Everything went good … and it’s just been a good overall experience to win it both times.”
Garciaparra likes the fact that his program is winning these titles thanks to a little home cookin’.
“Going back to the fact that these guys are all from our program, they’ve played together and I think that helps at these events,” he said. “There were star-studded teams last week, star-studded teams this week and they don’t always win. We’ve never been that star-studded team but they have each others’ back. They know each other and they want to help their buddies and that kind of nucleus really helps.”
2013 PG/EvoShield National Championship (Upperclass) runner-up: So Cal Bombers 2014 Black
2013 PG/EvoShield National Championship (Upperclass) MVP: Spencer Steer, GBG Marucci Navy
2013 PG/EvoShield National Championship (Upperclass) MV-Pitcher: Kyle Smith, GBG Marucci Navy