Under Armour Game Recap: American Pitching Leads The Way

CHICAGO—In the first under-the-lights Under Armour All-America Game—powered by Baseball Factory—pitching carried the day at Wrigley Field in a 2-1 victory for the National squad over the American team, the lowest scoring Under Armour game in the event’s seven-year history.

The previous Under Armour games averaged 11.83 runs scored a game, with a low of seven runs scored in 2010. The victorious American pitchers combined to strike out 15, which was a little less than half (45 percent) of the 33 hitters faced. Fifteen was the highest team strikeout total since the inaugural game in 2008.

Ryan Mountcastle (Photo by Mike Janes).

Ryan Mountcastle (Photo by Mike Janes).

The National team took a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning when the fourth and fifth batters in the lineup hit consecutive doubles. Lefthanded-hitting first baseman Josh Naylor (St. Joan of Arc, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada) smoked a 90 mph fastball on the first pitch that was elevated on the outer half to the opposite field gap with two outs. Naylor’s double was one of the hardest-hit balls of the day and one-hopped the wall in left center field. Righthanded-hitting third baseman Ryan Mountcastle (Hagerty HS, Oviedo, Fla.) lifted an 88 mph fastball on the outer third over the first baseman and down the right field line to score Naylor.

“First pitch was a little low and wasn’t to my liking,” Mountcastle said. “I just timed up the next pitch, which was a pitcher’s pitch at low and away. I happened to barrel it up down the right field line.”

The American lineup, which produced nine baserunners in the first seven innings but was held scoreless, broke through to score two runs in the eighth inning. Although outfielder Mitchell Hansen of Plano (Texas) Senior was retired to lead off the inning, he squared up an 89 mph fastball to center field that was a loud out. First baseman Luken Baker (Oak Ridge HS, Conroe, Texas), the winner of the Home Run Derby, had his first at-bat of the game in the eighth and he stayed back on a hanging first pitch curveball at 72 mph and drove it up the middle for a single before being pinch-run for at first base with Nick Plummer (Birmingham Brother Rice, Bloomfield Hills, Mich.).

Outfielder Demi Orimoloye (St. Matthew HS Orleans, Ontario, Canada) plated Plummer with a hard-hit single to left field off a fastball. Orimoloye, who ran the 60-yard dash in 6.50 seconds at East Coast Pro, stole second base. Orimoloye was off and running from second on a 2-2 count to lefthanded-hitting L.T. Tolbert, who squared up a 73 mph offspeed offering and drove it to first base where on a diving attempt the first baseman knocked the ball down, but was unable to stop Orimoloye from to scoring the go-ahead run.

Righthander Gray Fenter threw the final two scoreless innings for the American team, working striking out three with a fastball that largely sat 91-93 mph and touched 94.

“I felt like I had good stuff,” Fenter said. “I was lucky to get a one-run leading going into the eighth and my job was to close it and I got it done.”

Fenter’s velocity was down at the Area Code Games but had been up to 94 earlier in the summer. He largely pitched off of his fastball but showed the ability to vary the shape of his breaking ball that showed at least average potential, flashing above-average.

“I have a 12-6 that I throw to lefthanded hitters and an 11-5 so it breaks away from righthanded hitters,” Fenter said.

Tolbert earned MVP honors by going 2-for-2 and driving in the game-winning run. He had a single to left field on an 89 mph fastball in his first plate appearance to lead off the seventh inning.

“L.T. Tolbert didn’t start the game made the most of his opportunities,” said Steve Bernhardt, executive vice president of baseball at Baseball Factory. “His first hit was a single to left-center where he got thrown out. But he got thrown out being aggressive and trying to make a play in a close game, which is what you want to see. The second time up in a clutch situation with a chance to drive in the go-ahead run, he smoked the ball just past (Corey) Zangari’s dive at first. He made a couple of nice plays at short. Our staff feels has a very bright future and a high ceiling.”

Tolbert (IMG Academy, Bradenton, Fla.) is a long, loose and athletic player with room to get a lot stronger at 6-foot-2, 167 pounds. He has athletic actions on the left side of the infield and his lefthanded bat showed more power over the past few days than he did earlier this summer, showing loft to his swing and home run power to his pull side.

Mountcastle claimed MVP honors for the National squad after going 2-for-4 and driving in the only run the team scored. Both of his outs came on two of the better defensive plays of the game, a lineout to center field and a groundout up the middle when he ran a 4.39 to first.

“Ryan Mountcastle continued to hit in games against good competition,” Bernhardt said. “He does it all the time. He really hit three balls pretty good tonight. Daz (Cameron) made the diving catch in center field, Alonzo (Jones) made the great play up the middle on him and then he had a double. He is just a good hitter who seems like his barrel almost always finds the ball against good pitching. The excellent bat speed he has helps that. It seems like he sees the ball pretty well at the plate.”

Mountcastle was one of the top hitters in game action at the Tournament of Stars and routinely makes hard contact. He showed more power in Wrigley Field during batting practice, driving a ball out to left field.

The lean, lanky and athletic 6-foot-2, 188-pound Mountcastle has above-average bat speed and has made a few mechanical adjustments to his swing this summer.

“I actually worked with former World Series MVP David Eckstein, who told me to work on a few things like keeping my hands away from my body and stay on my back knee a little more,” Mountcastle said.

Mountcastle’s performance induced his teammates to celebrate with a Gatorade bath.

Mike Nikorak (Photo by Mike Janes).

Mike Nikorak (Photo by Mike Janes).

“I actually did the ice bucket challenge yesterday and then I got one today,” Mountcastle said.

One of the top pitching outings of the day was turned in by the American starting pitcher, righthander Mike Nikorak, who struck out two and induced a groundout in a 13-pitch first inning.

“That felt great and I couldn’t have asked for a better outing for my last outing of the summer,” Nikorak said.

The Stroudsburg (Pa.) High product began the game facing lefthanded batter Plummer (who hit a leadoff home run at the Area Code Games) and showed his full arsenal, throwing three different pitches in his first three pitches of the game.

“I heard Mike before the game talking about Plummer because his reputation has gotten around that he can do some damage at the beginning of games and he was leading off,” Berhardt said. “He told (catcher Chris) Betts, ‘I am going to go curveball-fastball-changeup and see if we can get him on three pitches.’ It didn’t quite happen that way but that was the sequence.”

“I knew nine pitchers on each team were going to go out there and try to light up the gun,” Nikorak said. “I thought that if I was the batter I would get up there and think first pitch fastball. So I tried to spin one on Plummer’s first pitch. Whether it was a strike or not he didn’t know what (was) coming next. I came back with a four-seam (94 mph) that he fouled back, then a (82 mph) changeup in the dirt. When it got to two strikes, he had seen four pitches in my arsenal and had no idea what was coming next.”

Nikorak’s breaking ball typically is used much more frequently than his changeup but he showed feel for the 78-82 mph offering, getting a swinging strike from Plummer on 1-1 before striking out Plummer with an 80 mph changeup on the outer third. He also threw a first pitch changeup for a strike to No. 3 hole hitter Ryan Johnson.

His fastball sat 92-94 and touched 95 with varied life and run to his arm side.

Ashe Russell (Cathedral Catholic, Indianapolis) pitched next for the American squad in the second and struck out two hitters around Mountcastle’s loud out to center field that was caught by Cameron. Russell’s fastball sat 92-94 with tail and got five swinging strikes. Russell’s breaking ball flashed above-average potential.

“I thought that a lot of the arms were good and that Mike Nikorak had a very nice inning,” Bernhard said. “Ashe Russell also had tremendous stuff.”