FORT MYERS, Fla. – The PG WWBA Underclass World Championship is widely viewed as an excellent opportunity for the country’s top high school juniors and sophomores to get priceless exposure in front of college coaches and recruiters, not to mention members of the professional scouting community.
There is certainly no way to argue against that view. But it is sometimes lost in the conversation that the PG WWBA Underclass World Championship is also a Perfect Game national championship event, complete with a beautiful PG national championship cup for the winning team and PG national championship rings for the players on that title team.
As one coach expressed it Saturday morning, there is a reason PG keeps score at these games – at the end of the day, winners and losers still need to be determined.
“I’m just trying to get looked at by scouts and just trying to win, actually; we’re trying to win, trying to get those rings,” Upstate Mavericks 2016 standout shortstop/third baseman Grant Bodison said Saturday afternoon .
Bodison was simply following the lead of Chris Nall, the Upstate Mavericks head coach. Nall has never met a Perfect Game national tournament that he doesn’t expect to win.
“Ultimately, we come down here to win and if we don’t win it we’re disappointed,” he told PG Saturday. “At the same time it’s a huge opportunity for (the players) to get seen by college coaches … and we’re always trying to get these guys in college. It is kind of two-fold: obviously we’re coming to win and at the same time it’s a huge opportunity to get them exposure.”
The Mavericks have gotten both their fair share of exposure – the 12th annual PG WWBA Underclass World Championship has been overrun with college coaches and recruiters at every main venue through its first three days – and have done their share of winning, as well.
They beat their first two pool-play opponents by a combined 21-16 in a couple of high-scoring affairs; the Mavs clinched the pool championship with a tense 3-2 win over the Demarini Stars ’15 Saturday afternoon to advance to Sunday’s playoff round.
The win over the Stars left nothing for chance in terms of qualifying for Sunday’s playoff round, although the Mavericks are going to be a very high seed. But they took care of business with Anders Green going 2-for-4 with two RBI and left-hander Thomas Redd pitching 4 2/3 innings of one-hit, seven-strikeout relief in the title tilt to save the day.
After the three pool-play wins, Cornelius Randolph was leading the Mavs with a .636 batting average (7-for-11, seven singles) with two RBI and six runs scored, and Bodison hit .600 (6-for-10) with a double, two RBI and two runs.
The Upstate Mavericks organization is based in Lyman, S.C., and the team’s roster at this tournament includes prospects from South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Pennsylvania and Oregon.
Nall called this team “a very athletic group” that was put together specifically for this event. The roster consists primarily of Nall’s top underclass prospects from the Mavericks program that were able to make the trip down to Southwest Florida with a nice mix of players from other programs.
It includes two prospects ranked in the top-500 in the class of 2015, and Bodison, a shortstop/third baseman from Simpsonville, S.C., who is ranked No. 52 in the class of 2016 and is a South Carolina commit. Bodison played with Upstate in the past but spent this summer with the Diamond Devils. He will play with the Mavs at the PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., Oct. 24-28.
The ranked 2015s are right-hander Cameron Williams from McDonough, Ga., and shortstop/third baseman Anders Green from Silverton, Ore. Williams is a College of Charleston commit ranked 353rd nationally; he played this summer with the Homeplate Chilidogs but with also will be with the Upstate Mavericks at the PG WWBA World Championship. Green, ranked 454th, is an Oregon State commit.
“Anders Green is a big-time bat and he’s going to play short or third at the next level,” Nall said. “Grant Bodison is one of the top players in the country with huge upside. Cameron Williams has flashed some 90s at a young age and has a real chance to be a big-time guy at the next level, as well.”
Nall is an associate scout with the New York Mets in addition to his duties as the owner/director/head coach of the Upstate Mavericks Baseball organization. He has been running Upstate since 2006 and has become well known and well respected in the travel ball community.
“I’ve got some really good connections in the travel ball world,” he said. “I’m close to the guys at East Cobb and Homeplate and we’ve got a real good relationship, so a couple of their guys who weren’t coming down here are playing with us, and it’s worked out well. We’ve been able to put a pretty good team together.”
This group hasn’t been dominant in recording its 3-0 pool-play mark but it has shown it can develop the continuity required to make a run for the championship at a 208-team tournament (the 52 pool champions advance to the playoffs).
With players from South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Pennsylvania and Oregon on the roster, the first job at hand was finding time for everyone to get to know each other.
“I liked meeting (Green) just because he’s from Oregon and I’m from South Carolina,” Bodison said with a smile. “There are people from different places like Alabama, Georgia and places like that.”
“It’s a great experience and it’s great playing for Coach Nall,” Green added. “It’s great playing with the best players in country; it’s a lot of fun. I think we have a really good team with a lot of really good players.”
Nall didn’t expect any problems getting the team to mesh and play like they’ve been playing together all summer. Prospects at this level – even juniors and sophomores – have been here before and simply know how to adapt and adjust.
“When you get a bunch of baseball guys together it doesn’t take a whole lot to get them going,” Nall said. “That first night (here) they clicked and swung the bats real well, played some defense, talked it up – the things you want to see baseball players do. You can tell it’s a group of baseball players and not just guys playing baseball.”
A thought that returns to the original premise of this article – winning PG national titles. Nall said his 2015s went 38-11 this summer as a 16u team primarily playing up against 17u and 18u squads. He consolidated his teams for the fall season which resulted in fewer teams but stronger teams, and coming into this weekend his entire program – every age group – was a combined 49-13.
“When we first started (this summer) it was more about exposure, exposure, exposure and now I think the showcase side of it is getting watered down,” Nall said. “We’re trying to put more emphasis back on winning, back on competing so that these guys are ready when they get into college. Our guys are competing and they want to win and these guys, when we get them to college, they’re ready to play; they’re not making that adjustment.”
They longed for exposure this fall, and more will come their way in the next day or two. It’s time to bring on the rings.