GOODYEAR, Ariz. – There was definitely a championship feel surrounding the Peoria, Ariz.-based AZ Athletics 18u squad that played this holiday weekend in the 18u PG WWBA West Memorial Day Classic, and that feeling certainly carried over into the Memorial Day holiday itself.
With a veteran lineup made up exclusively of recently graduated seniors from the class of 2014 – with the exception of one difference-making 2015 – and an Arizona state high school championship head coach, it sure seemed likely the AZ Athletics 18u would overcome a disappointing loss early in pool-play.
On Monday evening at Goodyear Ballpark – the Cactus League home of the Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians – the AZ A’s 18u captured the championship at the 18u West Memorial Day Classic with a dominant 12-0 win over their Peoria neighbor All-Star Baseball Academy 17u; it was the AZ A’s 18u’s second straight title at the 4-year-old event.
They finished the tournament with a 6-1-0 mark, just a shade better than ASBA 17u’s final tally of 5-1-1. Both teams played three games on Monday in 100-degree heat and after beginning play at 11:30 a.m. (PDT), they didn’t finish-up until after 8 p.m.
“It’s a grind anytime you play this many games in (four) days … and our kids did a good job of battling the heat and persevering through some things,” AZ Athletics 18u head coach Matt Denny told PG at the end of the long day. “We’re a pretty talented group and they play baseball the right way. Even though this is kind of a showcase tournament, I think they still play for each other and play pretty educated baseball.”
The AZ A’s 18u scored a single run in the first inning, added five in the third and then six in the seventh in their 12-0 white-washing of ASBA 17u in the championship game. The A’s 18u totaled 10 hits – all singles – to the All-Star’s four, and were never threatened.
Paul Bryniarski, the only 2015 on the A’s 18u roster, was 2-for-3 with three RBI and a run scored, and his older brother Andrew Bryniarski (2014) was 2-for-3 with an RBI and two runs. 2014 Antony Race also had a pair of hits and scored twice.
2014 outfielder/middle-infielder Jayden Eggimann from Mesa singled, drove in a run and scored in the title tilt to put a nice cap on his weekend’s performance. He finished the event 6-for-19 (.316) with a double, three triples, seven RBI, eight runs and an OPS of 1.076, and was named the tournament Most Valuable Player.
“This was a great experience, just coming off the high school season and getting back into the (swing) of things with some great guys that I grew up with,” Eggimann said. “Overall, Perfect Game has always been good to us and (the tournaments) have been fun to play; I wouldn’t want to play with any other team.”
Fellow 2014 Nate Easley from Glendale also enjoyed a terrific four-day weekend, hitting .389 (7-for-18) with a double, triple, 10 runs scored and a 1.006 OPS.
AZ A’s 18u left-hander Brandon Browne from New River, Ariz., got the start in the championship game and worked six shutout innings, giving up four hits and striking out 10, a performance that earned him the Most Valuable Pitcher Award. His closest competition for the honor came from teammate Corey Wilson, a lefty from Peoria who pitched a complete game one-hitter with 17 strikeouts earlier in the tournament.
All-Star Baseball Academy 17u’s Tommy McCarty, a 2015 from Camp Verdea, Ariz., also had an MVP consideration-worthy tournament by hitting .526 (10-for-19) with a double, seven RBI and a couple of runs.
The championship here on Monday capped quite a week for Denny, who is the head coach at Greenway High School in Phoenix which last week captured the Arizona Division II-AIA state championship. AZ A’s 18u roster members Cody Westcott and Zane Butts were part of that championship Greenway team.
“We did a good job last Tuesday night and won the state championship -- it still hasn’t really sunk in quite yet -- and I was pretty pleased with what our guys did there,” Denny said. “This is so different than spring (high school) ball. You put a lot of time and hours into the spring and this is nothing like that. Here, you just kind of put the lineup together and let these guys do their thing.”
That lineup accomplished a lot over the past four days and, quite honestly, no one associated with the AZ A’s 18u team was the least bit surprised that a second straight 18u PG WWBA West Memorial Day Classic title came this team’s way.
“Honestly, we did (expect to be here) because we’re always chilled-back and relaxed and just having fun doing what we do,” Eggimann said. “It’s pretty awesome that we came out on top of everything; it’s humbling and it’s a very awesome experience.”
The AZ Athletics 18u advanced to the championship game behind a gem of an outing from 2014 right-hander Cody Westcott from Glendale, Ariz., in the semifinals.
Westcott threw a complete game two-hitter with five strikeouts and four walks and made a single run scored in the top of the first hold-up for a 1-0 win over Canyon Thunder (5-1-0) from Phoenix. The AZ A’s 18u scored their only run when Nate Easley started the game with a leadoff triple and scored on a wild-pitch with the next batter at the plate.
The day’s other semifinal was a much more explosive affair and featured a family feud with the All-Star Baseball Academy 17u topping the All-Star Baseball Academy 18u, 11-7. The 18u’s held a 6-4 lead after three innings of play, but the 17u’s rallied for three in the top of the fifth and four more in the top of the seventh to put the game out of reach.
ASBA 17u’s Tommy McCarty was 4-for-4 with an RBI and three runs scored; Anthony Wade went 3-for-3 with two runs driven in and one scored and Sean Schoffstall also had three hits, drove in two and scored one.
Despite coming up short on the scoreboard, the 18u’s out-hit the 17u’s, 14-12. Jack Peck was 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles, two RBI and a run and Jax Pokuta was 2-for-4 with a couple of runs driven in.
The quarterfinal round was nothing short of a good, old-fashioned backyard brawl, with six of the eight teams calling Peoria their home base, with one from Phoenix and another from Goodyear.
When the neighbors finished up their tightly wound tussles, it was Peoria brothers All-Star Baseball Academy 17u and All-Star Baseball Academy 18, along with the AZ Athletics 18u from Peoria and Canyon Thunder from Phoenix that moved on to the semifinals.
2014 18u WWBA West Memorial Day Classic runner-up: All Star Baseball Academy 17u
2014 18u WWBA West Memorial Day Classic MVP: Jayden Eggimann, AZ Athletics 18u
2014 18u WWBA West Memorial Day Classic MV-Pitcher: Brandon Browne, AZ Athletics 18u