ANTHEM, Ariz. – The 6th annual PG Coach Bob National Invitational high school baseball tournament reached its conclusion March 29 after a successful two-week run. The event allowed 105 teams from 11 states to compete in hundreds of games at 21 host sites spread across the Phoenix metropolitan area.
Bob Wienheimer was a long-time teacher and school administrator who coached baseball at the high school level for over 44 years. That included eight years as an assistant coach to head coach Joe McDonald at Boulder Creek High School in Anthem from 2004 until his death in 2011.
Known affectionately as Coach Bob, Wienheimer was inducted into the Arizona High School Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006, and the tournament is named in his honor. McDonald has been organizing the event since 2009 and has watched its numbers grow from just more than 30 teams that first year to the record 105 teams this year.
“My goal was to put on the best and the biggest high school tournament in the country and I’m fairly positive that we were this year,” McDonald told Perfect Game. “I take pride in not only representing Boulder Creek but also Coach Bob well by putting on the best tournament for a lot of teams from across the country.”
The teams competing at this year’s PG Coach Bob National Invitational were divided into eight divisions and seven champions were crowned: Fayetteville (Ark.) won the National Division; Liberty (Ariz.) the American Division; Pinnacle (Ariz.) the All-Star Division; Jenks (Okla.) the Premier Division; Mount Vista (Colo.) the AAA Division; Apollo (Ariz.) the Classic Division; Simi Valley (Calif.) the West Coast Division. All of those championship teams went 4-0 in divisional play.
The tournament also has an Open Division where no true champion is crowned and teams can matchup against opponents from outside of their division or play only an Open Division schedule. Cactus (Ariz.) High School played only an Open Division schedule and won all six of its games.
Fayetteville, ranked No. 49 in Perfect Game’s latest National High School Top 50 Rankings, won the National Division championship with a 4-0 record behind the play of seniors Kyle Pate, and juniors Drew Tyler and Grant Koch – all three Arkansas commits – and standout junior right-hander Andy Pagnozzi, an Ole Miss commit.
The National Division is regarded as the tournament’s top division and this was the first year a school from outside the state of Arizona took home the trophy.
“This is an awesome opportunity and there are going to be a lot of great teams out here,” Pate said. “We get to play against some of the best teams in the nation and it’s going to be good for us as a team. We want to get our name out there nationally and let people know that there is good baseball in Arkansas and we’re ready to play.”
Pinnacle High School got to experience the thrill of winning the All-Star Division championship game at its neatly manicured on-campus field in north Phoenix. The Pioneer players found the Coach Bob experience beneficial from numerous angles.
“We get the chance to play every day and as we get down to the (Arizona state high school) playoffs when you’re playing a lot more than you’re used to in the regular season, so it’s good to have a tournament like this where you are playing every day,” Pinnacle senior left-handed starter Trevor Colceri said. “It helps us in the long run.”
Pinnacle beat Monarch (Colo.) High School in the All-Star Division championship game. Monarch head coach Scott Weiss felt that reaching the title game said a lot about the Coyotes’ program in and of itself.
“We feel like we’re a good enough team to be able to compete against any team around,” he said. “I’m real proud of the way we played and we set our goals high and we’re playing in the game we wanted to play in.”
As the number of teams competing at the event has grown, the quality of the competition has also improved. It’s that kind of growth makes McDonald the most proud.
“In the last couple of years, we’re starting to get some (nationally ranked) top 25 traditional teams every year,” he said. “With Bishop Gorman (Nev.) coming back-to-back years, and Broken Arrow (Okla.) has come, I believe, every year, and then adding Fayetteville this year – those are three of the top programs in the country, traditionally. Teams from Oregon and Colorado come down here and they spread the word, and it’s kind of become a word of mouth thing now; people want to be a part of it.”
Behind the efforts of Perfect Game Western Tournament Director Matthew Bliven and Vice President of Development Brad Clement, PG jumped on board last year to help coordinate the event. PG scouting supervisor/director of high school coverage Todd Gold and scouting coordinator Jheremy Brown attended more than 60 games over the past two weeks, and wrote prospect scouting blogs and shot endless streams of prospect video.
“Perfect Game has enabled us to get to the next level with the tournament,” McDonald said. “There are not many other tournaments out there that get the coverage and the publicity that we do. Because of Perfect Game we’re able to provide for every team here a nice media guide and MLB baseballs, and the game recaps and the (PG website) coverage – it’s just awesome.”
Every coach and player that spoke with Perfect Game over the last two weeks heaped praise on the event. The teams’ visits here coincided with their school’s spring break so most looked upon it as a bit of a working vacation.
Many of the teams that came in from out of state tried to squeeze in an MLB Spring Training Cactus League game or two or they just enjoyed the time spent goofing around at their respective hotels with teammates and family members. The weather was spectacular over the two-week run, the playing fields and facilities were top-notch and seldom was heard a discouraging word.
“It’s nice to hear compliments, but the most gratifying part of this process is … to be able to provide an awesome tournament for over 2,000 players in honor of one of the greatest men I’ve ever met who was just all about the kids,” McDonald said. “For 2,000 kids to be able to do what just Coach Bob would have wanted – playing baseball in honor of him – it’s just awesome.”
They’ll all be back for more next year, with many of the same schools returning for repeat performances and quite probably many new faces in the crowd. McDonald said he can envision more growth but may someday see the need to cap participation at around 125 teams.
“I just think it’s going to get stronger each year,” he said. “There is going to come a point in time where it can’t keep growing at the rate it is … because after awhile it would get to a point where it gets too big and it’s not manageable. We had 21 host sites that all did a great job (and) there’s room for growth, but there’s also something to be said about getting really, really good at what you’ve got.”