See also: June 25 notebook
See also: June 23 notebook
The axiom “pitching wins championships" was certainly apropos in both gold medal games of USA Baseball's National Team Championships—West on Saturday at Goodyear Stadium in Goodyear, Ariz.
A pair of southpaws dominated the opposition in the 17U and 15U finales with sparking performances on a hot day with temperatures beyond the 100-degree mark.
GBG Marucci 2015, one of two teams in the 17U division representing the Garciaparra Baseball Group of southern California, rode the talented left arm of pitcher Nick Sprengel in defeating Nor Cal Valley, 2-0, bringing home the gold in the 17U game. The rising senior from El Dorado High in Placentia, Calif., pitched 6 2/3 innings of shutout ball, striking out 11 and giving up only five hits.
Sprengel, a University of San Diego commit, dominated the opposition with a combination of his high 80s four-seam fastball and upper 70s sharp curveball, which he throws with the same release point as the heater. He didn't yield his first hit until the fifth inning when Nor Cal Valley mounted the first of two threats, but the lefty turned out to be at his best with runners in scoring position.
His explanation of how he approached hitters with runners on base was simple.
“Just relax and trust the defense," Sprengel said.
GBG coach Grady Sain saw a more measured approach to how Sprengel handled the adverse moments.
“He pounded the strike zone," Sain said, “but when we did get into difficult situations he just had that little extra in the tank and was able to reach back and throw quality pitches in those situations."
It's all part of Sprengel's advanced approach to pitching.
“He's one of those pitchers that has a really live arm," Sain said. “He's just now figuring out how to control the baseball and figuring that 85 percent most of the time is going to be very effective. You can see that he can get very comfortable not throwing max effort and really moving the baseball around the strike zone, and then when he gets in those critical situations he does have the pitchability because he can reach back a little bit and put a little more on the ball and take a little something off … That comes from having consistent mechanics and, again, trusting your 85 percent."
Sprengel came very close to a complete game but didn't get to finish due to pitch count limits. His 11th strikeout should have been the final out of the game except that the low pitch went to the backstop, allowing the runner to reach first base. Reliever Drake Pingel came on for the GBG team to record the final out.
GBG Marucci 2015 scored runs in the second and sixth innings, both times capitalizing on lead-off doubles from catcher Ryan Fineman.
“I'm just really proud of this ball club," Sain said after the game. “They're playing the game the right way and we're proud to bring this national championship to the Garciaparra Baseball Group."
Lefthander Jack Owen hurled a complete game shutout in the Saturday morning game to lead BPA Gold to the 15U championship by defeating NorCal DeMarini 14U, 3-0. It was the second time in the tournament that the winners, representing Baseball Performance Academy, based in Orange County, Calif., defeated NorCal, capping a dominating 10-0 tournament run.
Owen, a member of the 2017 class at J Serra Catholic High School in Coto De Caza, Calif., used an effective three-pitch mix to limit NorCal hitters to four singles.
“Jack had everything going," BPA Gold head coach Jared Sandler said. “Good fastball command, changeup, curveball … we didn't use his slider. We feel like we have the best 2017 pitching staff in the country, and Jack's our best guy … we feel good every time he pitches."
Owen believed his success was due to his ability to locate his pitches.
“All of my pitches were working great," Owen said. “My changeup was good, it was down in the zone and I got them to chase it. I didn't throw a lot of pitches because they were getting themselves out."
BPA Gold played small ball in scoring its three runs, sparked by aggressive base running by leadoff hitter Brett Borgogno and timely hitting from Jake Palmer. BPA scored all the runs it needed with a pair of tallies in the bottom of the third when Borgogno executed the front end of a double steal with runners on the corners, then stole third base and scored on Palmer's bloop single.
This type of baseball suits the BPA style.
“We try to use our speed to manufacture some runs," Sandler said. “We try to play to our strengths and take care of the baseball … we try to put pressure on people and run and make some things happen"
The USA Baseball National Team Championship—West action continues in Arizona this week with 52 teams arriving to participate in the 14U tournament.