CHICAGO—The fans, parents and players at Wrigley Field didn’t need a newfangled scoreboard to tell them Saturday’s Under Armour All-America Game, powered by Baseball Factory, had been sloppy.
The two teams combined for 15 runs, with the American team, managed by Billy Ripken, taking an early 8-0 lead and holding on to eventually win 8-7.
Those 15 runs came on just 14 hits as the teams combined, unofficially, for five errors—four by the National squad—and 14 bases on balls, plus a hit batsman and five wild pitches.
“It got a little sloppy out there, I know it did for me,” said Oregon commitment Tim Susnara, a catcher out of St. Francis High in Redwood City, Calif., who made one throwing error when no one covered second base on a steal attempt.
“In between innings, I went down the tunnel to just take a deep breath and try to get my focus back. I think both teams had some nerves, but that’s not an excuse. Thankfully, I think it got better as the game went on.”
It did, in part because the National team rallied to make it close, in part because the pitchers in the latter part of the game impressed. Last year’s game featured no pitcher throwing harder than 93 mph, but that mark went down in the first inning when starters Touki Toussaint (Coral Springs, Fla.) and Dylan Cease (Milton, Ga.) hit 95 and 94 mph, respectively.
There was more velocity in the late innings, though, as Texas fireballer Tyler Kolek, the top prospect in the prep class, sat 94-97 mph and touched 98 on the BA Stalker radar gun. He was the game’s hardest thrower, while Conway (S.C.) High righty Grant Holmes hit 95 mph in the ninth for the National team.
“Kolek was the toughest guy to catch, yeah,” Susnara said with a smile. “It’s fun because he’s throwing hard and it’s heavy, and you think, ‘Oh, that was probably 93-94.’ And then he threw one to Chase (Vallot, a catcher for the American team), and I knew it was hard, so I looked up to (the radar gun display) and saw 99.
“Chase and I just looked at each other and laughed. It’s a competition here, but it’s a fun competition. We know all these guys and have played with and against them all summer, and this was a great way to end it.”
No player ended the summer on a higher note than Alex Verdugo, who continued his torrid showcase performance. Verdugo, a Tucson product of Sahuaro High who is committed to Arizona State, starred at the Area Code Games earlier this month and has shown a feel for hitting that is notably lacking in the 2014 prep class.
He’s also lefthanded on the mound and pitched a scoreless third, sandwiching a pair of groundouts around a strikeout of 2015 class slugger Ryan Johnson. Johnson reached base in his other three trips but swung over the top of a hard slider from Verdugo with depth at 79 mph. His fastball sat in the 91-93 mph range.
Then in sixth, he doubled on the first pitch he saw from righty Alex Lange, who had retired the first two batters he faced. Verdugo said he’d been working on using the opposite field, and the lefthanded hitter proved it by one-hopping the Under Armour logo on the garage door in the left-center field gap.
“I have had a good month,” Verdugo admitted. “I was able to stay sharp; I worked a lot with my hitting coach, got a lot of time in between Area Codes and now, and I’ve been able to have some good at-bats.
“I like hitting, because I feel I can be a game-changer and play every day. But I like pitching. I thought I threw well today, I was able to stay on top of my slider.”
Verdugo won the MVP award for the National team, while Pomona, Calif., righthander Grant Hockin (Damian High) took home those honors for the American team. he threw the final two innings, working around a pair of base hits with three strikeouts and a caught stealing by Susnara, who cut down Luke Dykstra.
Michael Kopech, a sidewinding, low-three-quarters righthander out of Mount Pleasant (Texas), turned in the other most impressive pitching performance, striking out the top three hitters in the American order in the sixth inning. There’s funk in Kopech’s delivery, but he showed plus stuff as well Saturday, hitting 93 mph on his first pitch and getting swings and misses with a nasty power slider in the upper 70s. He threw three straight sliders to San Diego’s Alex Jackson (Rancho Bernardo High), considered the class’ top hitter, to get him looking to end the inning.
The game featured only one extra-base hit, a two-strike double to left by Clovis High (Visalia, Calif.) slugger Jacob Gatewood to bring home the eighth and final run for the American team. Gatewood had seen two straight breaking balls from Denver lefthander David Peterson (Regis Jesuit HS), and was ready for the third, lining a shot to the gap that one-hopped the wall. Gatewood also won the pre-game home run derby, topping Chase Vallot (St. Thomas More High, Youngsville, La.).
Shortstop Nick Gordon, son of ex-big leaguer Tom, was the hitting star for both teams and had three hits for the Nationals. That included an infield hit in the third, a two-run single during a six-run fourth inning, and a single to lead off the ninth. Gordon also stole three bases, two in the ninth when he was stranded at third with the potential tying run.