GLENDALE, Ariz. – This is it for most of the high school seniors. This is their swan-song, their last hoorah, their final “adios amigo.”
For many of the players in the class of 2014, especially those from the western part of the United States, this weekend’s 18u Perfect Game MLK Championship most likely marks the end of their Perfect Game tournament careers with the same travel team they have been dedicated to over their high school years. There is the 2014 PG WWBA 18u West Memorial Day Classic at the end of May to look forward to, but many of these rosters will be adjusted by then.
That reality wasn’t lost on the Team California Warriors’ top-notch right-handed pitcher and all-around top prospect Drew Weston, a senior at San Marcos (Calif.) High School who has played with head coach Mitch Spiers and the Team California organization since his freshman year in high school.
Speaking with Perfect Game before the Warriors used a third straight outstanding pitching performance to win their third straight game at the 18u PG MLK Championship and capture their pool championship, Weston used a quick moment to look back.
“This has been a great experience,” he said late Sunday morning while sunshine again rained down on one of the L.A. Dodgers spring training practice fields at the Camelback Ranch Complex. “All of us have been playing since our freshman year together; this has been our team. It’s kind of good to be out here with the same boys we started with. This is the final greeting and we’re doing pretty well so far, so it’s good.”
The Team California Warriors are doing very good, in fact, and the 15 high school seniors that may very well be playing in their final PG tournament with Team California aren’t ready to turn out the lights quite yet. And by winning their three pool-play games by a combined score of 15-1, they’ll get one more day in the sun during Monday’s playoff rounds.
“We always love coming down here to Arizona with Perfect Game; it’s always great weather,” Spiers said. “We like to play against the best teams that are available, and that’s why we come here. We’re always hoping to play on Monday. Did I expect it with a tough pool, starting off against ABD Texas? We knew anything could happen but we’re always expecting to play on Monday.”
“We have a lot of good players on this team so we really expect to win, and we had a good feeling about it coming in,” Weston added.
The Warriors faced some pretty good teams in their three pool-play games and shut each one of them down with stellar pitching performances
It started on Friday – the first day of the four-day event – when they blanked that highly regarded ABD Texas team, 2-0. That was the game Weston started and the Cal State Northridge commit responded with six innings of work in which he didn’t allow a run on four hits with five strikeouts and one walk.
“I felt really good with my stuff on Friday,” he said Sunday. “My changeup and fastball were working and I could hit spots, so right off the bat I knew it was going to be a good game for me. When you start (strong) you just know you’re going to have a good game and I just felt it the whole game.”
The calendar flipped to Saturday and Spiers marched out left-hander Reid Budrovich from Torrance, Calif. He answered the bell with five shutout innings, allowing only two hits while striking out 10 and walking no one in an 8-0 victory over the BBC Generals out of Chandler, Ariz. Budrovich was also 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles and three RBI in the only game he played for the Warriors this weekend.
Sunday rolled around and with absolutely no pressure on him – the Warriors had already clinched a playoff berth after Saturday’s win – 2014 right-hander Nick Ruiz from San Diego trotted out to the mound. All he did was pitch a complete-game three-hitter in a 5-1 win over the Illinois Indians, and didn’t allow an earned run while striking out seven and walking one.
Spiers used only five pitchers in the three games and those five arms combined to throw 20 innings without giving up an earned run on 11 hits with 26 strikeouts and three walks. Lorenzo Carrillo, a 2014 right-hander out of El Monte, Calif., worked only one inning but he, too, was impressive, surrendering a single while still managing to strikeout the side.
The bats weren’t all that active in those three wins but provided just enough punch to get the job done. Weston went 4-for-9 (.444) with a double and two RBI and Chase Grant (2014, Carlsbad, Calif.) was 3-for-6 (.500) with two RBI and three runs scored.
Jordan Pearce, a left-handed hitting and right-handed throwing standout from Oceanside, Calif., who is ranked No. 205 nationally in the class of 2014 and has committed to the University of Nevada, struggled with a double and a single in 10 at-bats, but did manage to score twice. Spiers considers Pearce a cornerstone of this team – along with Weston – and despite his 2-for-10 performance at the plate, Pearce was enjoying his time in the desert.
“It’s a great time out here,” he said Sunday. “There are always good teams out here playing and at Team California, we always want to compete with good teams. It’s a good deal out here. We always play good teams, and sometimes we win and sometimes we lose, but it’s always fun to have a (competitive) game.”
There is a lot of nice talent on this team – 2014 shortstop Aaron Ping, a U. of San Francisco recruit from San Diego is ranked in the top-500, and Weston, Grant, Carrillo and middle-infielder Michael Lopez (2014, Oceanside, Calif.) are all top-1,000 prospects – but the thing that really sets it apart is how well they play together.
“Our chemistry is pretty good; our camaraderie is great,” Spiers said. “They’ve been playing together for four years and we’ve been all over the United States playing; they know each other really well. Are we under the radar? Yeah, maybe a little bit but these guys are pretty competitive.
“Our guys compete and they live in the moment, and they know how to turn to the page when adversity hits. They just go after it and they compete, and I’m really proud of them.”
The Team California Warriors players – especially those who have played for him the past four years – have the utmost respect for Spiers, the brother of the highly respected Mike Spiers of ABD Bulldogs fame who passed away last January. In the players’ minds, it is Mitch Spiers who has made their time with Team California so special.
“Mitch Spiers is a really, really good coach and he’s got me a lot of exposure with colleges and he’s really helped me throughout the process,” Weston said.
“We have really good chemistry on this team; that’s like one of the key things,” Pearce said. “We’ve all been playing for Mitch for awhile and so we all know it’s going to be good. Mitch is a good guy and he really gets us looks from scouts and guys like that; it’s a good deal.”
Is that enough to win the championship at the 18u PG MLK Championship in what might be the last tournament this talented team plays in together?
“We’re looking good and we have a bunch of good guys, hitters and pitchers,” Pearce said. “We have everything we need to win this tournament.”