FORT MYERS, Fla. – It wasn’t quite breakfast on the bayou, but a Saturday morning get together at the Player Development 5-Plex between a couple of first-rate programs from Louisiana was a nice way to get a Saturday morning started at the PG WWBA Underclass World Championship.
There was coffee and cutoff men; granola bars and groundouts; beignet and broken bats. OK, no one thought to ask the guys from Bossier City and Baton Rouge to stop in New Orleans and pick up some beignet to provide a sweet tasty treat, but the baseball more than sufficed.
The occasion was an important pool-play game between Bossier City-based Southern Select/Easton and the Baton Rouge-based Louisiana All-Stars. Southern Select/Easton 2015 right-hander Cole Clinton, from Carthage, Texas, came through with 5 2/3 innings of three-hit, shutout ball and the Selects prevailed, 4-0, to win the pool championship and advance to Sunday’s playoff round.
“That was a big win for us,” Southern Select/Easton head coach Tug Hulett told PG moments after instructing his players to head directly to the beach for an afternoon of sun and fun. “Cole Clinton was just outstanding. He kept the ball down, got in and out of trouble – but that’s what sinker-ballers do, they get in and out of trouble. He made pitches when he had to and we played defense.
“You hear it all the time and it is cliché, but that was total ‘team’,” Hulett added. “That was timely hitting, two-out rallies, just the whole shebang. When you draw it up on the board that’s kind of what you want and we were fortunate to execute today.”
Southern Select/Easton just completed its first summer of play under the Southern Baseball Association (SBA) banner. Brandon Magierowski and Jimmy Gould share duties in Operations & Player Development and Hulett was brought on board to be in charge of Player Development/Tournament Operations.
“This is about the kids and giving them an opportunity to be seen by coming to events like this,” Hulett said. “We want to get them exposure, get them competition – develop them in the summer, develop them in fall so when they go back to their high schools they’re better than we got them, and the coaches love that.”
Whereas Southern Select/Easton is in its infancy as an organization, the Louisiana All-Stars organization is a young adult. It has been around for more than 20 years and Chris Counts has been the man in charge of the program since 2000.
“We’ve had a lot of success with our players in and around Louisiana,” Counts said Saturday. “We’ve just got a bunch of kids that like to play and we like to compete, and we have fun getting out here and competing and see what we can do against other teams from around the country.”
Southern Select/Easton’s reached the game against the Louisiana All-Stars with a 2-0 record by first beating the Jacksonville Warriors Underclass Black, 5-2, in its tournament opener before reaching down and pulling a stunning 4-1 upset over traditionally strong East Cobb Baseball.
Jarod Bayless, a 2015 right-hander out of Texarkana, Texas, who is ranked 263rd nationally, threw a complete game four-hitter at ECB, with nine strikeouts and no walks.
“That was huge for us,” Hulett said. “It put us in the driver’s seat and then it was on us to execute and win today; we controlled our destiny. That’s all you really want is an opportunity to play and compete and be seen and I’ll give these guys credit. … We just really grinded out a couple of wins here in the end and it’s been great for the kids.”
The Southern Select/Easton roster consists entirely of high school juniors (class of 2015) with prospects primarily from Louisiana with a couple of Texans and one kid from Arkansas mixed in. None of the players have committed to a college yet and Bayless is the only prospect ranked in the top-1,000.
Performing well at a PG national championship tournament as heavily scouted and recruited as the PG WWBA Underclass World Championship can be extremely beneficial to the young prospects from Southern Select/Easton.
“We’ve got some guys that live in the country … and this gives them the opportunity to be seen in a competitive environment; this is some great baseball going on down here,” Hulett said. “We want to put them in situations to succeed and give them an experience they may never get living in ‘Backwoods, Louisiana.’”
The Louisiana All-Stars have players from Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas and Florida, so they’re a little more regional than the Southern Select. They played this weekend without their most highly regarded prospect, El Dorado, Kan., right-hander Garrett Hutson, a Wichita State commit ranked 37th nationally in the class of 2015.
Right-hander Hugo Casilla from Sugar Land, Texas – the All-Stars’ starter in Saturday morning’s game – and lefty Tristan Babin from Gonzales, La., are ranked 486th and top-500, respectively.
“The whole point of doing what we do is for the kids,” Counts said. “We want to come down here and compete – we’re trying to win baseball games because they don’t keep score for no reason – but we want to get out kids from our part of the country some recognition and a chance to showcase themselves and see how they compare against other players from around the country.
“… We want get these kids outside the box and let them see what baseball is like around the country and they have a blast with it.”
Hulett played in 45 big-league games over two seasons (2008-09) for the Seattle Mariners and Kansas City Royals as a second baseman/designated hitter/pinch-hitter. He is the son of Tim Hulett, an infielder who enjoyed 12 seasons in the major leagues.
He also spent all or parts of nine seasons in the minor leagues and was in spring training camp with the Boston Red Sox in 2010 when the BoSox trained at the 5-Plex and played their Grapefruit League games just down Edison Avenue at City of Palms Park.
“This has been a good homecoming, you know,” Hulett said.
It was a homecoming in another sense, as well. Hulett played for Counts “a long time ago” and even babysat Counts’ kids at different times when he was younger. The former babysitter got the best of his old coach Saturday morning, and Southern Select/Easton is on its way to the playoffs.
“We were very much unheralded,” Hulett said. “I put this team together because we’ve got grinders. We’ve got kids that want to play baseball, want an opportunity to get better, want to be put in situations to be challenged and have that heart and that chip on their shoulders.”
And with that, the boys from the bayou were on their way to the beach.
“We’ve got to give them something. We’ve got to reward them,” Hulett said. “We’ve got some rednecks out here that want to go fishing, so we’re going to let them go sea fishing and see if they can catch a shark or something.”
Or maybe they can pick up some beignet.