Beckham, East Take Aflac Classic

SAN DIEGO–On a field full of the most talented rising senior high school players in the country, the most fundamental skill escaped them.

The East scored two runs on three walks, a wild pitch and a passed ball in the ninth inning, then took the lead on a sacrifice fly to claim a 5-4 victory over the West in the fifth annual Aflac Classic at Tony Gywnn Field in San Diego.

Tim Beckham’s sac fly was his second of the game, and the shortstop from Griffin (Ga.) High also walked and drove in a third run with an eighth-inning triple on his way to MVP honors. Nine of the 14 pitchers at least touched 90 mph and generally showed good command in a clean, crisply played contest in front of 3,334 fans on the campus of San Diego State.

“I thought it was good,” said a veteran crosschecker with an American League organization. “Just looking at the players, I didn’t think it was as spectacular as last year’s game when we had all of that offense, but overall the players showed us some clean play with a few highlights here and there.”

Beckham stole MVP honors from West catcher Kyle Skipworth (Patriot High, Riverside, Calif.), who drove a ball deep to right field for a sacrifice fly in his first at-bat before driving a long fly ball over the right-center field fence for a two-run home run that game the West a 3-0 lead in the third inning.

West righthander Gerrit Cole (Lutheran High, Orange, Calif.) touched 96 mph in an 11-pitch third inning that included two strikeouts, and fellow righthanders Tim Melville (Holt High, Wentzville, Mo.), Ryan O’Sullivan (Valhalla High, El Cajon, Calif.), B.J. Hermsen (West Delaware HS, Manchester, Iowa) and Bubba Meyer (Greensburg, Ind., High) were among the West pitchers to show an impressive combination of stuff and feel for pitching. An East hitter didn’t make hard contact until the sixth inning, and West pitchers allowed just three baserunners the first three trips through the batting order.

It all unraveled in the top of the ninth when West righthander/outfielder Aaron Hicks (Wilson High, Long Beach) struggled with his command in his first pitching appearance in almost two months. Hicks touched 93 mph and flashed a nasty split-finger fastball as well as an 82-83 mph breaking ball–some of the best raw stuff on display–but 20 of his 32 pitches failed to find the strike zone, including the two wild pitches and passed ball that allowed the East to tie it.

Beckham prevented any further drama when he sliced a 93 mph Hicks fastball to right field, allowing Xavier Avery (Cedar Grove High, Ellenwood, Ga.) to tag-up and score easily with the go-ahead run.

“I battled him to a full count and had seen everything he had, so there was no way he was striking me out at that point, I wasn’t going to let that happen,” Beckham said. “This is so much more than a showcase. It’™s an event where you face off against the best players from all over the country. It feels great to finally get a win for the East Coast.”

It was the East’s first win over the West since the game’s inaugural event in 2003, snapping a three-game losing streak.