By Marcos Aragon
CHANDLER — The first games of the Triple Crown Baseball Arizona Spring Championships began Thursday morning, but the late game drama has already arrived.
A back-and-forth contest between Phoenix (UT) and the SCV Scorpions ended at 7-5 with the Scorpions emerging victorious. SCV’s Alexander Howard went 1-3 with three RBI on the day, but his two-run double in the top of the sixth inning is what eventually propelled the Scorpions over Phoenix (Farmington, UT).
Entering the final inning, the Scorpions were down 5-3, but assistant coach Gabriel Montiel explained that the message from the coaches to the players in the dugout was a simple one: just get on base.
“Putting the ball in play and forcing the opponent to make plays,” Montiel said. “Everybody collectively getting on base, making contact, I think that was by far one of the best messages we can give when we’re in this kind of situation when we’re losing.”
The Scorpions (Santa Clarita, CA) were down 5-4 when Howard stepped up to bat. He drilled the ball into the outfield and drove in two runs while flying to second base for his only hit of the game, but at an extremely crucial time. Howard later made it home after a Jackson Banuelos flyout to bring the score to 7-5.
The Scorpions defense had surrendered two separate inside-the-park home-runs that gave Phoenix four of their five total runs. But just like the clutch offense, the defense had their best inning in the bottom of the sixth by retiring the first three batters.
“We’re really strong defensively in the infield, we’re situated in a place where we can move different players around and still have that strength,” Montiel said. “For this game specifically, our middle infield and our catchers definitely stood out.
“Our catching has been phenomenal. We have a big backstop — 30, 29 feet from home plate, so that’s crucial in blocking the baseballs and in 14u, that can be hard sometimes, it’s difficult. They did a phenomenal job of blocking the baseballs and keeping them in front of them and keeping anyone from advancing or scoring.”
The Scorpions' first game was no easy test but they’re happy with the win, Montiel explained. Starting off the weekend’s games with a victory does a lot for the team both mentally and for their game plan.
“It’s a huge motivation push,” Montiel said. “Obviously from a mental standpoint, their confidence level is above and it also puts in a situation where we can move pitchers around to be a little more strategic."
By Tanner Puckett
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The first game of the 12u Arizona Spring Spring Championships for the Issaquah Purple and Murieta Bulldogs ended in a 7-7 tie after five innings.
Early March games are some of the first played in the season, but offenses from both teams didn’t need much time to start clicking. Six of the 14 total runs scored came in the first inning.
“Really happy,” IBC Purple head coach Dan Neel said when asked about his lineup’s performance.
“We’re up in the Pacific Northwest, so it’s cold. So being able to come out here and get the bats going in the heat, you know, I think we always play a lot better when it’s in the sun.”
Murieta (CA) plated two runs in the top of the first, but the IBC Purple answered quickly. A few singles sandwiched by a pair of errors led to the Bulldogs tallying four in the bottom of the inning.
“I thought the first inning, we made a lot of mistakes,” Bulldogs head coach Mike Tozi said. “We gave up four runs and we shouldn’t have given up any. But I was really proud of the way they bounced back the rest of the time.”
Bounce back they did, as some plate discipline and savvy baserunning led to two runs in the top of the second, tying the game 4-4.
Tozi credited the continued fight to the resolve of starting pitcher Mason Hanner.
“When Mason gave up the four runs in the beginning and then got one-two-three after that, it was a big turning point for us,” Tozi said. “He stayed strong mentally and the team rallied around him.”
The game was a back-and-forth from start to finish. The fourth was the only inning where both teams failed to score, bouncing between a tie game and one-run leads the rest of the time.
A big moment that nearly changed the complexion of the game came in the top of that scoreless fourth inning.
With two outs, Murieta’s Dominic Fillmore reached first base on a dropped third strike. Bulldog baserunner Parker Cerda broke for home, but Issaquah got a throw over in time to catch Cerda in a rundown. IBC Purple catcher Ethan Scheel applied the tag at home and ended the inning.
“It’s definitely something we emphasize as coaches and we work on,” Neel said of Issaquah’s defense. “We’re actually compatible with Little League, so we only get them once a week. Once a week, we’re not going to be able to build a swing or revamp someone’s pitching motion, but we can work on defensive plays. When you get to see them happen in-game, it puts a smile on your face.”
Fillmore was a large part of why the Bulldogs were able to remain in the game. He threw two innings in relief, striking out four and walking none while allowing two hits. Fillmore surrendered one unearned run, scored on a passed ball.
“He’s one of our big guns and he did exactly what we were hoping he would do,” Tozi said. “He did great.”
Fillmore pointed to confidence in his team as a key to his success.
“I had a good defense behind me, so I just tried to throw strikes,” he said.
Another major component was a heads-up baserunning. Murieta had five stolen bases on the day, with three coming from Isaac Ochoa.
“He’s a super fast kid, and he’s super aggressive,” Tozi said.
The Bulldogs were able to get their first lead since the top of the first when they plated two in the top of the fifth, with the go-ahead run coming on a sacrifice fly by Robbie Swensen.
In the bottom half of the inning, the IBC Purple plated the tying run when Tristan Turi broke for home on a wild pitch.
Tozi emphasized pride in his team’s ability to stay focused.
“I was really proud after they made mistakes early how they bounced back,” he said. “I thought they played really well and they were in the game the whole time. I thought they had some good at-bats after a tough start.”
A point that may often go overlooked is the adjustment made by teams coming from much colder areas, like Issaquah, WA.
“Not quite used to 85 degree weather, so (trying to) stay hydrated,” Neel said. “Even our best pitchers, we’ll probably only have them go a couple of innings, even if they’re rolling. Because we’ve got a long tournament.”
As for how Neel feels about the Purple’s start, he’s happy with the performance.
“I think, because of being compatible with Little League and only having them once a week, we always start out kind of slow,” he said. “We had a doubleheader scrimmage a week ago and lost them both. It made me look up the last four years, how have we done? And I think our best start is, like, 2-5. But then we finish 11-3 after that. We pick it up. So to start out this way and having made a number of defensive plays feels good.”
Both teams have doubleheaders tomorrow, March 7. Murieta will play their first game at 8:15 a.m. against the Midland Vipers (1-0). Issaquah will start the day at 8:00 a.m. against the HB Stingrays Elite.
Adjusting for weather, travel fatigue and a heavy schedule of games takes a balance.
“We’re also going to a spring training game tonight, and they’re saying, ‘Pool, pool, pool,’” Neel said. “So it’s a combination of having fun and relaxing, but trying to get to bed at a reasonable time, because 8 a.m. is going to come quick.”
By Sergio Santistevan
The oldest travel baseball program in the United States hails from West Covina, CA, and their expectations are higher than ever.
“Winning matters. but we teach winning ways,” said Cameron Saylor, who started as a board member and became manager of the Dukes 14 years ago. “We set our sights out there every year at every level to win. Again, some people who say it doesn’t matter are wrong … we expect every year at every level to finish strong or we expect to finish in the world series or a national championship. We go into every tournament with the expectation of winning.”
Led by Saylor (who is also a restaurant owner), the West Covina Dukes has not only been one of the premier youth baseball programs in California for 30 years, but regarded as such in the nation because of their rich legacy and winning ways.
In 1991, Dukes Baseball landed a federal land grant and became the only travel baseball program to own a facility. Year after year, Maverick Baseball Park has kept growing, from adding a turf field, locker rooms to even an LED lighting system.
“We’ve developed a pretty strong facility that is a destination point in the area,” said Saylor.
Dukes Baseball originally started out only with 13 and 14-year-old teams, but that has now evolved into 9- to 18-year-old age groups with 10 total teams currently in the program. In what has been described as two generations of Dukes Baseball, it all started with the original founder of the program – Duke Defrates. Much of today’s Duke Baseball coaching philosophy still comes from Defrates.
“The overall coaching philosophy of the program, a lot of it was adopted from Duke Defrates,” said Saylor. “There’s a lot of information in those handouts that we had … that’s where our core principles came from.”
Those coaching tactics and core principles have evaluated Dukes Baseball to tremendous success over the years with championships and scholarships. In the past 13 years alone, Dukes Baseball has had 149 players sign to play college ball at NCAA DI and D2 programs. From 2012 to 2016, 14 former Dukes were drafted in the MLB in only that four-year span.
One of the most successful seasons in Dukes’ history came in 2014, as 14u Dukes National won the USA West National Championship with a 7-1 record.
“We’re averaging about 11 guys per year that are going on to play DI and D2 baseball,” said Saylor. “We’ve accounted for about $20 million to $21 million in college scholarships. Currently, we have 24 guys playing pro ball.”
Saylor and the Dukes take great pride in those numbers but love even more that their fees system is set up to be affordable for parents. Since the Dukes are a not-for-profit organization, they aren’t out to break parents back with payments. Instead what Dukes Baseball aims to do is provide a top-notch facility and coaching for their players.
Former Dukes players who are playing professionally come back in the offseason and help coach some of the teams or even individual positions. Once Spring Training approaches, the kids love seeing their coaches compete on the diamond in front of a packed audience.
“They’re really gracious to these guys,” Saylor said. “They go out there and see their coaches who are on the field, now on a big-league field … it’s a good time.”
Saylor first got involved with youth baseball when he was coaching his daughter, who is now 35 years old. He then went on to coach his son, C.J., through the years, where he would become one of the top players in the state of California and eventually drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers out of high school as a catcher and again by the St. Louis Cardinals as a pitcher.
When Saylor’s wife was pregnant with both his kids, he and his friends played in a men’s league on Maverick Field, so he likes to think his kids literally grew up in the system.
Today, Dukes Baseball has higher expectations than ever before both on and off the field as charity work has become a focal point of their program. One of their favorite charity events is the annual RJ’s Game, hosted at Maverick Field where a handful of the best high school baseball teams compete against each other. The Dukes charge admission, sell food and livestream the games and then use all the proceeds to donate back to the schools.
On top of the RJ’s Game, Dukes Baseball has a scholarship program with a local school and is going a step further this year and adding a college scholarship under the RJ name.
“We try to do stuff a little bit differently,” Saylor said regarding charity and scholarship efforts.
Dukes Baseball places a big emphasis on education in their program. Saylor says the Dukes lay out a path for every player on how to achieve their goals and what they want to accomplish. In what is called “The Yellow Brick Road” education is stressed as one of the most important aspects for every player.
“We put you on a track to have your SATs, transcripts, and have your grades ready,” said Saylor. “We have tremendous success on the academics side.”
Unlike a lot of other teams, the Dukes want high-parent involvement on their teams. Saylor says that if parents are involved and know what’s going on in the program, it’s easier for players to get on board.
Through coaching Dukes Baseball, Saylor has found something that he loves to do. He appreciates seeing the success of players more than anything whether that means excelling in life or succeeding on the diamond. However, coaching has had more of the impact of him than he believes he’s had on the players.
“I don’t know if I get more out of coaching or if (the players) get more out of it,” said Saylor. “(Coaching) made me a better guy, actually it probably made me a better father. At the end of the day, I’ve had the opportunity to practice a lot, I’ve had the opportunity to meet lots of families and kids. I’ve learned a lot of rights and wrongs and tried to practice all the rights … it’s also made me a better husband.”
by Sergio Santistevan
In South Orange County, CA, one baseball program will tell anybody who walks through their door about its philosophy.
Led by a group of high-level coaches, the Saddleback Cowboys are built off discipline, respect, and development – everything else comes second.
“We’re really keen on fundamentals and development, not necessarily about the wins,” said Saddleback Cowboys coach Wade Jackson. “Teaching them the right aspects of the game … fundamentals, development, respecting the game and having professionalism on the field.”
Growing up in the local area, Jackson has decades of playing and coaching experience. At El Toro High School, Jackson was a two-time All-South Coast League selection. Following his high school career, Jackson went on to play at Saddleback College, a JUCO in Mission Viejo, CA.
Jackson racked up several accolades during his junior college run as he was a two-time All-Orange Empire League selection, 1994 Junior College Player of the Year in the Southern Division, and he broke marks in batting, hits, RBI and runs. Today, Jackson is enshrined in the Saddleback College Baseball Hall of Fame.
After his JUCO run, Jackson played at the University of Nevada - Reno and was selected by the Anaheim Angels in the 1996 MLB Draft.
Once he was done playing in the minors, Jackson’s career switched to coaching youth baseball. A year after retirement, Jackson’s neighbor approached him and asked him to coach his son's travel team, which was one of the only baseball teams in South Orange County at that time.
Through the past 19 years in youth baseball, Jackson has experienced coaching his son to being a co-owner of the Saddleback Cowboys with Chris Malec and Richard Mercado.
Jackson took a few years off from coaching when his son, Jake, was younger but returned when he turned age 8 so he could coach the team. When Jake was ready to go to college, he followed his father’s legacy and chose Nevada where he was named a Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American in 2018.
Jackson’s co-owners of the Saddleback Cowboys, Malec and Mercado, have plenty of experience on the diamond, too.
Malec was a freshman All-American and three-time All-Big West selection at the University of California - Santa Barbara. He then went on to get drafted by the New York Yankees in 2005, where he was a 2008 Class AA All-Star and three-time league champion who reached Triple-A.
Mercado attended the University of Arizona where he was a captain for the 2004 College World Series team. He was selected in the 12th round of the MLB Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks and achieved a nine-year professional career, also reaching Triple-A.
Jackson, Malec and Mercado have focused their post-playing careers on coaching youth baseball, but all three men have families – it can be hard to juggle baseball and their own lives.
“It’s balance, long hours,” Jackson laughed. “We get on the field at usually one and two in the afternoon and we’re at that until nine. Weekends are on the baseball field. It’s tough.”
Despite the long hours, all three coaches find a way to balance their lives and still implement discipline, respect and development in their players.
“We teach them that it’s a hard game, a family game, something you got to work every day at. It’s not something you just show up and throw your cleats on and start throwing the baseball,” Jackson said. “You have to respect it, treat it the way it’s supposed to be treated, and give it your all. This game can be very fortunate for you, take you very far, and do lots of things for you.”
The Saddleback Cowboys coaching staff has set up goals throughout the year for each age group but winning isn’t at top of that list. Development always comes first.
“As they get older that stuff happens because of what they do as they grow … we’re really keen on developing the boys, especially at a younger age,” he added.
Developing the team comes with the respect and discipline that Jackson says is taught even in the youngest teams. A Saddleback Cowboys' rule is that if a player doesn’t show up with his uniform belt, then he doesn’t get to play.
Jackson understands there is more to life than baseball, which is why he wants to teach his players life lessons on top of baseball techniques. His favorite stories to hear from players are the ones where they sign to a college with their help, because it shows that they accomplished their goals of creating good ballplayers and disciplined men.
“It’s just not just baseball, it’s teaching them aspects of life and becoming a young man,” Jackson said. “Teaching them beyond baseball is another thing … not everyone is going to go make that $10 million per year and there are other things in life.”
After a month and a half off from baseball, the Saddleback Cowboys returned to the field in late January. Jackson currently has his team hitting and doing some strength and conditioning as they start to prepare for their spring schedule.
“It comes back to development. Most of our teams get in three workouts a week,” Jackson said. “It’s preparing for them for the fundamentals and situational (baseball) … putting our best foot forward and trying to teach them.”
Despite being away from his family, grandchildren and friends often due to baseball events, Jackson can’t imagine himself doing anything else in life. He calls himself fortunate that he’s been allowed to do something that he loves for his entire life.
“How many people out in the world can say they do exactly what they love every day?” he said. “I get to be on the baseball field 50 percent of the day and almost every day. It’s something that I developed a respect for all my life, and I get to teach it to younger kids now.”
FORT COLLINS, Colo. – Baseball superstar Domingo Ayala has always been a gracious champion, ready to share critical insight on how to play the game even if the mortals in the audience would be lucky to even approach his skill set.
But rather than retire early, sit back and wait for his Hall of Fame wing to be built, the YouTube and social media All-Star is back in action, as Triple Crown Sports has announced details for the six stops of the 2020 TC Baseball Domingo Ayala Tour.
This will be the fifth year TC baseball and Domingo have joined forces. He has performed in a variety of settings, from indoor sports facilities, sports complexes, youth baseball fundraisers, corporate events and even in MLB locker rooms. Ayala’s unconventional journey to excellence provides a great deal of comedic material that scores of fans, even those outside the diamond sports, have embraced over the years.
His fearsome batting and pitching statistics, which might be hard to verify, are right in step with these rock-solid and impressive numbers:
Facebook: 321,000 followers
Instagram: 281,000 followers
YouTube: 191,000 subscribers, 38 million total video views
Twitter: 84,000 followers
Here’s the schedule for the 2020 Domingo Ayala TC Tour:
March 13-14 – Arizona Spring Championships, Session 2
March 20-21 – Arizona Spring Championships, Session 3
June 11-12 – Omaha SlumpBuster, Session 1
June 18-19 – Omaha SlumpBuster, Session 3
July 20 – TCS World Series, Park City, UT
July 28 – TCA World Series, Steamboat Springs, CO
“Triple Crown Baseball knows how to muscle up and give the best experience to the youth baseball market, much like how Domingo Ayala muscles up to blast a home run on pretty much every at-bat,” said Sean Hardy, VP of Sports at TCS. “We are thrilled to have him back for 2020, interacting with our fans, signing autographs and taking pictures that make TCS events even more memorable.”
Look for details on upcoming appearances at www.domingobeisbol.com
About Domingo Ayala
At the age of 2, Domingo Ayala started playing baseball. It wasn't long after that when he became one of the best players in his hometown of Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. In his pursuit to make it to the MLB, Ayala packed his bags and moved to the United States.
Now, the self-proclaimed best baseball player in the world still claims to be 17 years old. Though many believe him to be slightly older, no one has seen a birth certificate to disprove his claim. As he travels the world teaching baseball, his ultimate goal is still to make it to the big leagues.
About Triple Crown Sports
Based in Fort Collins, CO., Triple Crown Sports has been producing college and youth events for more than 35 years, with more than 90 events scheduled for 2020 in the arenas of youth baseball, fastpitch, basketball, lacrosse and volleyball. The TCS footprint includes both the preseason and postseason WNIT basketball events and the men’s and women’s Cancun Challenge tournaments in November. Triple Crown is also powering “WNIT” concept events in D-I softball (NISC) and volleyball (NIVC), with those two events debuting in 2017. TCS youth fastpitch tournaments (including the 900-team Sparkler/Fireworks event) draw the nation’s finest club programs, and hundreds of college coaches attend TCS events for recruiting purposes.
by Sergio Santistevan
Back in 2011, three friends had a vision of helping take youth baseball players to the next level. Now in 2020, Golden Spikes Baseball is one of the premier baseball organizations for youth development in the Sacramento, CA region.
Those three friends, Brett Hemphill, Alex Creel and Mikela Olsen, now lead the Golden Spikes coaching staff that consists fully of former professional and collegiate baseball players.
“I think it’s a big factor that draws a lot of really good ballplayers to our organization,” said Hemphill. “The training that we do is pretty rigorous and it’s great. I think the higher-level player is definitely seeking that out.”
Hemphill’s baseball career goes back to the early ’90s when he played at California State University, Fullerton, where he twice played in the College World Series. In 1994, Hemphill was voted “Best Defensive Player” of his team, Honorable Mention All-Big West and All-Tournament for the Midwest I Regional.
After a successful collegiate career, Hemphill went on to play seven years of professional baseball as a catcher with the Anaheim Angels organization. In the minor leagues, he experienced a pair of All-Star Game appearances and earned some hardware with 1995 and 1996 championships.
In 1999, Hemphill recorded a pair of hits in his first two major league at-bats – he’s one of a handful of players to ever record that stat. After an injury ended his career, he finished his professional career with a .270 batting average.
After leaving professional baseball, Hemphill moved into youth baseball as a member of the Hard 90 staff. As coaches with Hard 90, Hemphill, Creel and Olsen eventually decided to branch off and become co-founders of the California Golden Spikes.
Like Hemphill, Creel and Olsen have years of baseball experience. In 1999, Creel was ranked by Baseball America as the 49th best high school prospect in the nation. Creel went on to play at Arizona State and Cal Poly before injuries cut his career short.
Creel has become one of the best pitching experts in Northern California by emphasizing arm health, pitching mechanics and enhanced velocity. With his teachings, several pitchers have broken the 90MPH mark and been drafted in the MLB.
In 2003, Olsen was drafted by the Florida Marlins after a successful collegiate career at Sacramento State where he was team MVP and 2003 Independent Conference Hitter of the Year; he was awarded a spot on the Sacramento State’s All-Decade Team.
Olsen specializes his coaching practices on hitting, fielding and the mental aspect of the game.
The Golden Spikes coaching staff’s goal is to be a third-party set of eyes, which is why they don’t favor having fathers coaching sons on their teams. Hemphill believes this is what separates the Golden Spikes program from others, in how he values a player’s talent over political reasons.
“We’re not knocking the close dad-ball, but what we’re trying to do is have people say, ‘Hey I’m getting a good value for the dollar I’m spending because I’m getting a professional opinion from guys who have played the game at a high-level before who are looking at my kid as just a player,’” said Hemphill.
Some of the main objectives of the Golden Spikes program are to hold players accountable and implement high effort into their players' DNA.
“We try to have these kids write out their goals and try to keep them accountable to adhere to it,” said Hemphill. “We ask them ‘Well, how are you going to get there? You got to do your work, which requires you to try.’ You got to give us effort.”
This season, Hemphill and company have some goals that they want to accomplish on the diamond, as well. In March, the Golden Spikes will head down to Arizona to take part in Triple Crown Sports’ Arizona Spring Championships. The coaching staff is hoping for a good showing in Arizona to start their year off right.
The next tournament the Golden Spikes have circled is Cooperstown Dreams Park. In 2017, Hemphill’s squad made an unbelievable run in the tournament, and he hopes to relive that magic this time around.
“The last time I was there, the team I took finished second out of 104 teams, so I’d like these guys to experience what we went through, because it was an unreal run,” Hemphill said.
Whatever the results happen to be this season, Hemphill and the Golden Spikes coaching staff will continue their main goal of developing young players through it all.
“Coaching has allowed me to do something I’m passionate about,” he said. “It’s allowed me to stay involved in baseball and try to teach young kids the way I was taught.”
by Sergio Santistevan
Players and coaches are preparing for warm weather and fresh competition in Arizona as one of Triple Crown Sports' major baseball tournaments is just around the corner. The Arizona Spring Championships will welcome teams from 17 different states in March, starting with Session 1 (March 5-8) and ending with Session 3 (March 19-22), with age groups ranging from 8u-14u.
The Arizona Spring Championships is held during MLB Spring Training as teams enjoy the beautiful baseball weather under the Southeast Valley and Scottsdale sun.
The Golden Spikes out of California will be in full force in Arizona with six of their teams in attendance across each bracket. Co-founder of the Golden Spikes Baseball Academy, Brett Hemphill, has been looking forward to Arizona since last season.
“We had such a great experience last year,” Hemphill said. “The second we finished last year all of our parents were coming up to us saying, ‘We’ve got to do this next year’… we had such a great time.”
This year, TCS is hosting its biggest Arizona Spring Championships yet with the introduction of Session 3 and the Cactus Camp.
On top of all the game action, players will have the opportunity to improve on their skills and learn the fundamentals of the game from some of the best teaching professionals in the country. Todd Coburn, known widely as “The Catching Guy,” and Bobby Patton will host the Cactus Camp on March 19. Coburn is a former catcher and Division II College World Series participant at Cal Poly SLO, a two-time draft pick of the Houston Astros and a former catcher of the Philadelphia Phillies with 25 years of experience coaching catchers.
Patton, owner of BP Training, is a current coach of more than 10 minor leaguers. He’s worked with 50-plus Division I players and is former coach of the Phenom Signature National Team, which boasted a 43-1 record in 2017 and No. 2 national ranking.
Scottsdale and Chandler will host Session 1 of the Spring Championships. Sumner Bulldogs (Puyallup WA, 10s), Chandler Stars (Chandler AZ, 11s D1), Triple Play (Bakersfield CA, 11s D2), AZ National Baseball Academy (Gilbert AZ, 12s D1), California Aces (Los Alamitos CA, 12s D2), Concord Patriots (Oakley CA, 13s D1), AF Cavemen (Lehi UT, 13s D2), Southern California Baseball Club (Agoura Hills CA, 14s D1) and LA Rockstars (Los Angeles CA, 14s D2) all came out victorious in their respective brackets last year in Session 1.
Wade Jackson, coach of the 14u Saddleback Cowboys from South Orange County, CA., is looking forward to his team showing out in Arizona and enjoying the festivities that come with it.
“Arizona is a key tournament for us,” Jackson said. “Our goal is to go and fare as well as we can but obviously having a good time with the boys, too.”
Session 2 will run next on March 12-15. MVP Hustle IE Wicks (Hemet CA, 8s), So Cal Aztecs (La Puente CA, 9s), LVR (Las Vegas NV, 10s D1), Amarillo Dragons (Amarillo TX, 10s D2), Cory Lidle Baseball (Covina CA, 11s D1), The YARD (Elk Grove CA, 11s D2), Big West BPA Elite (San Clemente CA, 12s D1), NorCal Prospects (Danville CA, 12s D2), CBG Ventura County (Oak Park CA, 13s D1), Colts (Irvine CA, 13s D2), Premier Baseball Club (Battle Ground WA, 14s D1) and Slammers-Balser (Parker CO, 14s D2) took home the hardware in last year’s brackets.
Before Arizona, Jackson will prepare the Cowboys with three practices a week and make sure his team is developed and ready to go.
“We treat this as if it’s a professional tournament,” he said. “We talk to them about why they’re going and the costs that go into going.”
The Spring Arizona Championships consist of a six-game or four-game bracket with all teams advancing to each respective Sunday for a single-elimination tournament.
“We’re looking at playing in a big-time tournament with a lot of tough competition, which is what we love to do, we like to compete and play against the best,” said Hemphill.
by Tanner Puckett
The No. 10 seed Premier Baseball Club jumped out to an early lead and never let it go in a 6-3 win over No. 4 Kings-Martinez in the 14u championship game at the Triple Crown Arizona Spring Championships.
After a long day of play for both sides, the difference in Sunday night’s championship matchup wasn’t the offense -- it was Premier’s polished defense, heads-up baserunning and solid pitching.
Both sides had six hits each, but Premier’s rally-squashing defense kept the Kings off the scoreboard.
“It’s something we focus on,” said Premier head coach Tyler Long, whose team hails from Battle Ground, WA, a bit north of Portland. “I’ve preached to them that hitting will come and go, but I want to see you bring it on the defensive side. They’ve responded well to that.”
The first instance came in the first inning, when a pair of walks put the first two Kings batters on base. A double steal attempt on a pitch in the dirt found the lead runner caught in a rundown. The next two batters went down in order.
The rally-killer of the fourth inning was a textbook 6-4-3 double play on a hit-and-run attempt, with Premier shortstop Dawson Santana flipping to second just in time for the turn.
The fifth inning saw Kings do damage with two outs and put their first two runs on the board. When Mason Krahn tried to steal second, Premier catcher Trevin Long launched a throw down to nab the runner and end the inning.
The game ended on a play nearly identical to the one in the fourth inning. Another 6-4-3 double play, executed perfectly, took Kings-Martinez (San Antonio, TX) from a one-out, two-on situation to the end of the contest.
It wasn’t only defense that kept the momentum in Premier’s favor. Strong pitching was just as important to the team’s success.
After four tiring games in the Arizona sun, Premier got consistency and stamina on the mound in the form of a six-inning, 94-pitch outing by Andrew Peru.
“I don’t know where he pulled that from,” Long said. “That was amazing. That was ace-caliber stuff.”
Peru pitched out of some tough situations. In a sixth inning where a run had already scored, he stopped the bleeding and escaped a bases-loaded jam by inducing a bouncing grounder to second base.
In the second inning, a loud Kings bench might have fazed someone else. Instead, Peru could be seen grinning as the opposition responded to his pitches. He finished the inning with a strikeout.
“My arm slot was in the right spot. The mound was perfect for my type of pitching,” Peru said.
On the offensive side, alert baserunning was the key to Premier’s success.
After drawing a walk and advancing on a groundout, Santana forced an errant throw from Adrian Herrera while trying to steal third, coming home for the team’s first run as the ball flew into the outfield. Santana’s second trip to the plate was nearly identical to his first, though this time he tagged up from third to score on a Peru sac fly.
“We work on baserunning a lot. Inside, outside, whenever we have the time,” Jayden Ripplemeyer said. Ripplemeyer had a stolen base of his own, along with throwing the final frame of the game for Premier.
Over seven innings, Premier took five extra bases on stolen base attempts and wild pitches.
Any day with four games is a whirlwind, but the final two contests were especially so for Premier. Immediately after finishing their semifinal, they walked across the pathway to the championship field to begin preparing.
In addition to the marathon approach, all four victims Premier’s bracket run were higher seeds - Nos. 7, 2, 6 and 4. The players never felt that they couldn’t get the job done or the odds were stacked against them.
“Having faith in the team and keeping the energy up was key,” Ripplemeyer said. “I knew we had the potential and that we could do it.”
By Bradey King
After not one but two 7-6 nail-biter victories earlier in the day, FAZE Baseball (CA) won game three against the Nogales Outlaws (AZ) in a more graceful fashion, 11-3, to remain undefeated in 11uD1 action at the Arizona Spring Championships on Saturday.
After three full innings, the teams were tied at three, though it didn’t stay that way for long. FAZE bats came alive in the top of four as they produced five hits, six runs and took advantage of two Outlaws fielding errors.
“I keep telling these boys day in and day out the bats have to show up, and they finally showed up,” said FAZE head coach Mark Mercado. “Hopefully they’ll bring their A-game again tomorrow.”
Leading the offensive efforts for FAZE was Jason Dunham and Jayden Vazquez with two hits apiece. Andrew Rodriquez also tacked on two RBI.
Vazquez’s highlight came in the fifth when he smacked a fastball over the left-centerfield fence. Although it wasn’t his first career home run, it was his first in Arizona, which he said was exciting.
“I was kind of expecting an outside pitch but as soon as I saw it going right down the middle, I just sent it,” Vazquez said.
Vazquez was also a threat as a closer on the mound as he utilized the solid defense behind him and threw strikes to catcher, Jason Dunham.
Dunham’s quick release and strong arm threw out two Outlaws runners trying to steal and ultimately helped hold the Outlaws scoreless the rest of the game.
“I feel like our infield and pitching was good,” Dunham said. “I like it (catching position) because I control the game mostly, and if somebody runs on me and I get them out, it feels good.”
Dunham also added that he’s “100 percent confident” his team will head back to California tomorrow with the Arizona Spring Championships trophy in hand. The FAZE squad is the No. 2 seed in the eight-team bracket.
by Tanner Puckett
A pair of big innings sent the 12uD2 Dirt Dogs to a 15-2 win over Power Alley Bockelmann in the teams’ final game of pool play Saturday at the Triple Crown Arizona Spring Championships.
Power Alley opened the scoring in the top of the first, but the rest was all Dirt Dogs, who notched five runs in the first and eight more in the third to secure a loud victory headed into Sunday's championship bracket.
The Dirt Dogs (Calimesa, CA) put on a master class in small ball and heads-up baserunning in the first inning. The first seven hitters got on base, with a string of five straight hits leading off the bottom half of the inning.
The other two Dirt Dog runners reached first on errant throws. They took four extra bases on wild pitches during stolen base attempts and picked up their first run on a balk by Power Alley starting pitcher Max Meza.
“When we’re getting on base and we’re running, we put a lot of pressure on the defense,” Dirt Dogs head coach John Heaton said. “That’s something we’re good at.”
The Dirt Dogs seemed very fresh for a team that had played a noon game immediately before the contest with Power Alley (Greeley, CO). Not only were they alert on the basepaths, but on defense as well.
A pair of nifty double plays ended the first two frames just as Power Alley seemed to have a rally brewing. The first came with runners on first and second. A grounder to short turned into a 6-4-5 double play with a force out at second and a heads-up tag on a runner trying to advance to third.
The second began with a short bunt placed between Dirt Dogs starter Evan Heaton and catcher Daniel Rodriguez. It was a similar force-and-tag situation, this time involving a throw from Heaton to first base and a laser to home, where Rodriguez tagged the runner attempting to score.
After the Dirt Dogs’ high-scoring first inning, Power Alley’s Meza seemed to stifle their bats with a 1-2-3 second.
The Dirt Dogs answered in kind when Trevor Busby took the mound in the top of the third inning and struck out the side on 13 pitches, featuring a sharp fastball and sweeping breaking ball.
The fourth inning also featured a strong Dirt Dog pitcher, when Trent Gordon collected two strikeouts, allowed one single and ended the game on a grounder to second base.
“They hadn’t pitched yet, so we wanted to get them each an inning before we head into bracket. They’re our two best pitchers,” Heaton said.
Sandwiched between those two pitching performances was a monster half-inning where the Dirt Dogs batted around and flaunted their power stroke. The bottom of the third included 10 runs and nine hits, with two ground rule doubles and two home runs from lefties Busby and Jack Clark.
“Our approach for the whole team is just to hit the ball and make contact,” Gordon said.
It was Busby’s third home run in as many games at the Spring Championships, and he knew his pitch when he saw it.
“It was my favorite pitch, the fastball right down the middle,” Busby said.
The Dirt Dogs will look to carry Saturday’s strong performance into Sunday, having finished 2-1-0 in a tough pool. Making the statement they did in their final pool game boosts the team’s confidence headed into the bracket, where they are the No. 12 seed of 16.
“It feels good. You want to go in with a win and some positive momentum,” Heaton added. “Hopefully we stick around tomorrow; we’ll see what happens.”