EMERSON, GA.—On Friday night, the EvoShield Canes won the most competitive tournament of the summer travel ball circuit.
You've read this story before. They have (insert 10 big-name prospects here). They're really deep. They're really talented. Such-and-such will be a first-round pick, et cetera.
So what makes the Canes' victory Perfect Game World Wood Bat Association championships any different?
"This group just wants to . . . win so bad," head coach Jeff Petty said. "We have won some stuff in the past and it's attracted guys that want to win."
There's a difference between saying you want to win and proving it. Top prospects know what they're supposed to say. Even if a player is only in it for himself, they'll always say they're in it for the team.
Scouts see that type of personality all the time.
"Part of that is showcase culture, me-first culture, but part of that is just the world and the country we live in and it's sad to see," one veteran American League area scout said. "I've seen kids who are really talented blow it and blame everyone else around them. Those are the guys who are stocking shelves at the grocery store when they're 30."
Petty is all too familiar with this. He has a reputation in the scouting community for doing whatever it takes to win. The EvoShield Canes have first-rounders on the team every year, but they are not a scout team. They're a real team.
"In this day and age, a lot of kids just want to get showcased and scouted and they could give a s— if they win or not," Petty said. "But we don't have one guy in our dugout that cares about getting scouted over winning. They want to get scouted but they want to win over that. Every one of them. That's rare, to have 25 guys like that."
Scouts can read right through that kind of thing. Years of experience evaluating players and building relationships with players and families makes it easy for a scout to tell the difference from someone who loves to compete and someone who wants their friends to see an article about how they love to compete.
"When you get to Double-A everyone is talented," the scout said. "If you're a competitor, you're going to keep trying to get better. You have to love to play and compete to make it to the big leagues."
The Tournament of Stars wrapped up in the middle of the afternoon in central North Carolina on July 1, the first day of the WWBA tournament. For some players, it was time for a break. For others, it was off to LakePoint, Perfect Game's complex in Cartersville, Ga., for another week of playing every day.
They don't admit it when the recording devices are turned on, but the players are tired. Some of them are dealing with minor injuries, sore backs and tight hamstrings. Most of them are 16 or 17 years old, not used to the grind of playing every day, and this summer's grind will harden their chins for the next level.
On the final day of TOS, the top players from several travel teams took a bus or hopped in the car with their parents or teammates. Because of weather delays, the Canes were playing in the wee hours of night, and some players played on the same day.
To be clear, they played in the morning, drove for seven-plus hours and then played in the middle of the night. For the Canes, that group of players includes Joe Gray, Anthony Seigler and Emilio Rosas, in addition to a few pitchers who made the trip and were in the dugout to root for their teammates—Austin Becker, Carter Lohman and Landon Marceaux.
It was a stormy week in Georgia, with intermittent rain and lightning destroying the schedule and creating difficult circumstances for the final few days. On Thursday, teams had to win four games to advance to Friday's semifinals—which were originally scheduled for 8 a.m.
"Our kids just dug deep," Petty said. "We kind of took the thought process of, 'Well, someone's got to win this thing. Someone's got to stay up and play through this thing until two or three in the morning. Someone's got to turn around and wake up early the next morning and figure this thing out and why can't it be us?'"
On Thursday night, the Canes met their toughest opponent yet, facing Team Elite and appropriately named class of 2019 pitcher Nolan Crisp (Locust Grove High, Henry County, Fla.).
Crisp, a Florida recruit, had late life on his mostly-upper-80s fastball, showing feel for a changeup and a sharp breaking ball as well. As Crisp, a 6-foot righty, cruised through the first few innings, it looked like the beginning of the end for the Evoshield Canes. But Petty's boys kept fighting.
"Our guys just would not take no for an answer."
— Hudson Belinsky (@hudsonbelinsky) July 7, 2017
The Canes had their own 6-foot righthander on the mound. Landon Marceaux filled the strike zone with his 88-92 mph fastball, working inside and out with above-average control. He could have told opposing hitters that he was going to throw his curveball, and they still wouldn't have been able to hit. The pitch showed tight 12-to-6 break from Marceaux's over-the-top arm slot. The LSU recruit struck out 11 in a complete game shutout.
The Canes scored the go-ahead run in the top of the fifth inning, with speedster Xavier Edwards scoring what turned out to be the game-winning run.
The Evoshield Canes take the lead in the top of the fifth inning. pic.twitter.com/SXGGQU6qNM
— Hudson Belinsky (@hudsonbelinsky) July 7, 2017
"He's just special, he makes it look easy," Petty said of Edwards. "Defensively, he reminds me of Ozzie Smith. He just gloves everything and he makes it look easy—hard plays (are) routine. He's saved us so many times defensively. And he swings the hell out of the bat."
Edwards was the MVP of the tournament. He's a sure-handed defender, a plus-plus runner and a switch hitter with loose wrists and the ability to drive the ball to all fields from either side. He's a Vanderbilt commit with sneaky power, and he's a significant draft prospect for 2018.
Edwards and the Canes played two more games on Friday, taking an 11-0 victory Canes American—another team in the EvoShield program—in the semifinals, and the Canes wrapped up the week with a 6-2 victory over Texas Twelve to put the finishing touches on another championship.
The Evoshield Canes win the 2017 17U WWBA Championship. pic.twitter.com/ztRS4doMGK
— Hudson Belinsky (@hudsonbelinsky) July 8, 2017
It's finally time for the Canes to rest and take a deep breath, but before long it's on to the next event—the Perfect Game World Series in Arizona.
"Champions, they only remember their last one," Petty said. "So let's go after another one. Let's get back on the saddle and get another one."