PEORIA, Ariz. - As the day dawned Friday morning, there they were, the usual suspects sitting atop the two pool standings at the 17u Perfect Game World Series.
There they were, indeed, all proud and proper. The South Florida Elite Squad, ABD Bulldogs and Marucci Elite. The East Cobb Braves, SGV Arsenal and Team Northwest. OK. hold it right there. Team Northwest?
Upstart Team Northwest, under the direction of veteran coach Mike Brooks, began the final day of pool-play Friday with a 4-1 record, alone in second place in Pool A behind the unbeaten East Cobb Braves. With pool games remaining Friday against the Indiana Prospects (0-4-1) and the mighty Braves (5-0), Team Northwest's shot at a playoff berth looked good.
The top two teams from each of the two eight-team pools advance to Saturday morning's four-team semifinals.
Team Northwest didn't exactly win its way into the semis, but it did the next best thing. A 5-5 tie with the Prospects that left its record 4-1-1 assured Northwest of a second-place finish in its pool. The East Cobb Braves (6-0) are the Pool A champion and will also be playing Saturday morning.
The boys from Washington state and Oregon came to the desert Southwest and raised a few eyebrows competing against some of the best 17u teams in the land.
"They've had a chance to see what the best kids in the country can do, what they need to do and what their challenges are going to be at the next level," Brooks said after Team Northwest won its fourth game Thursday night. "It gives them a chance to see how they stack up and raise their game to another level. It's been fantastic for these kids."
This team was put together specifically for this tournament and only a handful even knew each other before arriving in Arizona. Thirteen of the 15 roster spots are filled with prospects from Washington with the other two filled with Oregonians. Some of the top players from the region had already committed to play for other teams at the tournament, leaving Brooks to scramble even more.
Team Northwest kicked off the World Series Tuesday night by beating SGV Arsenal, 7-1. It won both its games Wednesday - 5-3 over NorCal Baseball and 5-1 over Mountain West Baseball '13 - and joined the powerful East Cobb Braves as the only two teams in the tournament to start out 3-0.
It fell to the Houston Banditos, 4-3, Thursday morning thanks to a pair of late-inning two-run home runs from Stone Garrett and Walker Pennington, but came back to beat Tri-State Arsenal, 5-3, early Thursday evening.
Brooks admitted that coming into the tournament he had some questions about his squad.
"To tell you the truth, I was a little unsure," he said. "I know all these teams; I've been hearing about these other teams for years. They've got great reputations and we were a little apprehensive, but we're extremely proud of ourselves right now."
Team Northwest simply felt it had something to prove.
"That was the biggest thing coming in," Brooks said. "We've had some pretty good ballplayers over the years but never represented as a group, and that's what we've had a chance to do here, represent the Northwest as a group. We came here with some of our top players to show the rest of the country what the Northwest can do."
One of Team Northwest's highest ranked players is outfielder/right-hander Ian Hamilton (2013, Skyview HS, Vancouver, Wash.), an Oregon State commit who is ranked 273rd in the country. Catcher/first baseman Logan Ice (2013, Rogers HS, Puyallup, Wash.) has also committed to Oregon State and middle-infielder Garrett Anderson (2013, Emerald Ridge HS, Puyallup) has committed to the University of Washington.
Infielder Nate Mondou (2013, Charles Wright Academy, Lake Tapps, Wash.), ranked 240th nationally and uncommitted, led the team in hitting through the first five games at 7-for-16 (.438) with four RBI and four runs scored. Right-hander Tyler Ridgeway (2013, North Thurston HS, Olympia, Wash.) was the top pitcher, working seven innings and allowing one earned run on two hits with four strikeouts.
The pitching was suspect at times. Six hurlers combined to pitch 35 innings, and gave up 21 hits and 21 walks with 24 strikeouts and combining for a 2.40 ERA.
"We, again, were apprehensive about our pitching because we don't have a lot of the power arms like some of these teams have," Brooks said. "Some of our guys might be 85-86 (mph) but they're extremely smart kids. Our pitchers have been mixing up the speeds, and some of these teams that come out swinging, they get a little unsure all of a sudden when they get different speed pitches coming at them."
Brooks was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the ninth round of the 1968 MLB amateur draft right out West Covina (Calif.) High School and played eight years in the minor leagues. He established the NW Timberjacks Baseball Club in 2000, and has been coaching Northwest teams in Perfect Game, USA Baseball and Arizona Fall Classic national events since.
He also owns and operates the Diamond Players Baseball Training and Development Academy in Puyallup, which is in the Puget Sound region of Washington state.
Brooks feels the team accomplished a lot here this week, and would have felt that way even if it hadn't played its way into Saturday.
"They've made me really proud," Brooks said. "They came out and beat teams like San Gabriel Valley (SGV Arsenal) and Nor Cal, and the Houston Banditos beat us on a (late) home run, so I'm extremely proud of the boys. They've done a great job. They've really risen to the occasion."
The organization can continue to raise some eyebrows and make its presence known when it takes teams to the 16u, 15u and 14u Perfect Game World Series in Marietta, Ga., next week.