Just like that, in two weeks’ time, the expectations for the 14u and 17u teams from the Warner Robins, Ga.-based Chain Baseball organization have reached new heights. First their 15u and now their 16u brothers have raised the bar pretty high.
Top-seeded Chain National 16u capped an amazing seven days of outstanding play by out-dueling No. 3 Team Elite Pride 16u, 2-0, in a tense and well-played 16u Perfect Game BCS Finals championship game Wednesday morning at sunny and hot Hammond Stadium.
The PG national tournament championship came just a week after a completely different team playing under the Chain National name won the 15u PG BCS Finals title. Now two more groups of Chain Baseball players will be looking to add to the collection of PG national championship rings as they start play in the 14u PG BCS Finals, which began Wednesday, and the 17u PG BCS Finals, which get going at the end of next week.
2017 left-hander D.L. Hall from Valdosta, Ga., made his second start of the tournament for Chain National (9-0-0) in the 16u title game and was brilliant, shutting out the free-swinging Team Elite Prime 16u (9-1-0) with a complete game four-hitter. He used a fastball that sat 88-91 mph and topped-out at 93 to stymie a TEP 16u team that was hitting nearly .400 as a team coming in, and finished with eight strikeouts against one walk.
“D.L. lost a tough game to the Florida Burn a couple of weeks ago at a tournament in Vero (Beach), and I think he really learned a lot from that,” Chain National head coach Andy Burress said. “To come out here today and throw (95) pitches and get a complete-game shutout, you’ve got to give it to him for really stepping up. I told him the whole time we were down here that he was getting the ball if we got to the championship (game).”
The Chain gang used three singles in the bottom of the second to score the title game’s first run; the third came off the bat of James Peck with two-out and pushed the run across. Josh Crouch delivered an RBI single in the bottom of the fourth to complete the game’s scoring.
The championship game victory – and the tournament title, for that matter – boiled down to outstanding pitching efforts Chain National received from its three-headed monster of Hall, 2016-right-hander Anthony Locey and 2017 righty Zack Brockman; the three shared the tournament’s Most Valuable Pitcher Award.
Hall, a Florida State recruit ranked No. 45 nationally, was 2-0 in two starts, and gave up one earned-run on seven hits in 11 innings (0.64 ERA), while striking out 17 and walking five. Brockman, a “high-follow” from Savannah, Ga., was also 2-0 in two starts, allowed four hits without giving up a run in 12 innings and struck-out 10 and walked two.
“This is the best experience I’ve had in a while,” Brockman said. “We always seemed to find a timely hit and we always rallied to put stuff together. When there’s pressure, you’ve just got to bear-down and find a way to do it, and I had good command with my fastball.”
And then there was Chain’s electric 2016 righty Locey, who was also terrific in his two starts over the past six days. He went 2-0 in 11 innings of work without allowing an earned run on six hits, and struck-out 15 while walking one. He showed a fastball that consistently sat in the low- 90s mph and topped-out at 96 mph, a 16u PG BCS Finals event-record for fastball velocity.
“This was a great experience,” said Locey, a Georgia Southern commit who sits No. 30 in the 2016 national prospect rankings. “It’s always a good experience playing at Perfect Game (events) and playing against good teams.”
This has been an eventful summer for the 6-foot-3, 225-pound 16-year-old from Columbus, Ga. He credits an active offseason in which he lifted weights and did a lot of running and long-tossing. He feels like he’s made a big jump from even last fall when he considered himself more of a thrower than a pitcher. The improvement and consistency earned him an invitation to last month’s PG National Showcase, where he shined.
“I feel like the National (Showcase) set the tone (for the summer),” he said. “That was one of the best experiences I’ve had … meeting the best players in the country and competing against them.”
Chain National also hit well over the last seven days, compiling a .374 team batting average. Crouch was 11-for-21 (.524) with four doubles and five RBI; Seth Cannady went 9-for-17 (.529) with two doubles, a triple and five RBI; Josh Hatcher was 10-for-23 (.435) with a double triple and seven RBI, and Austin Thompson counted three doubles among his seven hits and drove in six.
Team Elite 16u Prime finished hitting .395 as a team, a number made video-like by one of the most impressive individual offensive performances in the history of the 16u PG BCS Finals.
Colin Hall, a left-handed swinging outfielder from Alpharetta, Ga., was 20-for-30 (.667) – including two of the four hits TEP 16u collected of D.L. Hall in the championship game – with four doubles, two triples, 10 RBI and 12 runs scored; he also finished with a .667 on-base percentage. He was named the tournament Most Valuable Player.
The Prime’s Ivan Johnson smacked 12 hits – including two doubles, two triples and two home runs – and drove in five runs and scored 13. Pat DeMarco counted four doubles and a home run among his 10 hits (he had 10 RBI and scored nine runs) and Morgan Copeland had a pair of home runs and three doubles mixed into his eight-hit contribution.
After pitching four innings of five-hit, four-strikeout ball on Friday, Locey saved his best for his start in Wednesday’s semifinal game against fifth-seeded FTB Prime (8-1-0) out of Orlando.
The Pride boasts a roster with 10 2017s and 2018s committed to D-I schools and seven prospects ranked in the top-97 nationally in their respective classes, including 2017 right-hander Altoon Coleman (No. 6), 2018 right-hander/third baseman Kevin Kelly (No. 3) and 2018 middle-infielder Alec Sanchez (No. 11). Locey pitched five no-hit, shutout innings before settling for a complete-game one-hitter in Chain’s 2-1 victory; he struck out 11 and walked no one.
“FTB is probably one of the best teams in Florida,” Locey said. “I had a good mindset going in – I got a good night’s rest – and I got my mind right early in the morning and I just came out looking to get hitter’s out.”
The Nationals scored their two runs in the bottom of the first when Cole Brannen led-off with a triple and scored an out later on a single off the bat of Austin Thompson; he eventually came around to score from second base on fielder’s choice groundout. FTB’s Donnie Gleneski broke-up Locey’s no-hitter with a leadoff single in the top of the sixth, eventually found his way to third base and scored an unearned run on a passed ball.
Nicholas Storz stroked an RBI double in the top of the sixth to break a 3-3 tie, Monty Horn singled to knock in Storz with an insurance run, and Team Elite Prime 16u escaped the 643 DP Cougars Sterling, 5-3, in the other semifinal Wednesday morning.
TEP 16u had the bats working early when Johnson led-off the top of the first with a single and Hall reached on an error. Copeland followed with a three-run bomb – his second of the tournament and his eighth, ninth and 10th RBI – to give the Prime an early 3-0 lead.
The Cougars (7-1-0) came back with two in the bottom of the first, thanks to an RBI single from Drew Waters, who later came around to score an unearned run on a fielding error. 643 DP tied the game at three with another unearned run.
Chain National’s Burress felt like the new format used at the 16u PG BCS Finals that had teams playing only one pool-play game a day for the event’s first four days was beneficial for his team; it allowed him to be able to start pitchers like Hall, Locey and Brockman twice over the course of the week. Now he just hopes it works out as well for Chain Baseball’s 14u and 17u teams in the coming weeks.
“I’ve been real pleased with the way things are moving along and we are setting the bar pretty high,” he said with a smile.