PEORIA, Ariz. — From the moment they stepped foot onto the Peoria Sports Complex at the second annual Wilson Premier Classic, it was evident that Canes Baseball 2018 was going to be a tough out for any of their 17 competitors throughout the four-day event.
Equipped with a roster that featured a tournament-best 22 players who are committed to play college baseball at major Division I programs next fall, the Canes stormed through the rest of the field, winning their six games by a combined final margin of 51-18.
The dominating performance was capped off Monday afternoon, when the Canes first defeated the Hitters 2018 team by a final score of 3-0 in the semifinals before turning around 45 minutes later and beating the San Diego Show 9-3 in the event’s 2018 championship game.
The tournament’s ending was a far cry from last year’s result for the Canes and head coach Jeff Petty, who lost a rain-shortened, 2017 championship game to the Orlando Scorpions 6-4 in Sarasota, Fla. This time playing across the country in the desert heat of Arizona, the Canes led after 33 of the 39 innings they completed, including all 14 innings of Monday’s semifinals and championship games.
The Canes Baseball 2019 (current high school juniors) team also won the Wilson Premier Classic with a 9-3 win over Elite Squad Prime 2019 in their age division, while BPA 2020 topped SGV Arsenal 2020 by a final score of 7-3 to win their tournament championship.
“This is a big deal for us, especially after last year, because it’s a prestigious event and Wilson does a great job with everything they do all weekend,” Petty said. “You’re talking about a power baseball brand with Louisville Slugger, DeMarini and EvoShield underneath their umbrella, so it’s an honor to come out here and win this tournament among all these great players and really quality teams.”
The Canes’ championship day began with an outstanding pitching performance from 6-foot-3 righthander Owen White, who threw a complete game, one-hit shutout against the Hitters in the semifinals. White, who is from Mount Ulla, N.C. and is committed to South Carolina, commanded his 89-93 mph fastball to both sides of the plate and eventually finished with 73 strikes in 99 pitches.
White, who kept hitters off-balance with a sharp, high-70s curveball and feel for a quality third-pitch changeup, also received the win in the Canes’ 5-4, come-from-behind quarterfinal victory on Sunday, when he threw 24 pitches in the final 1.1 innings. For his efforts, White was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Pitcher, ending with a combined line of 8.1 innings, two hits, two walks, 15 strikeouts and zero earned runs.
“Owen White, man–I can’t say enough about what that kid did,” Petty said. “We went up to in the fourth and the fifth innings to talk about getting it out of the game because he threw (24) pitches the day before, but we would have had to pry to ball out of his hands because he wasn’t giving it up.
“He just got stronger and stronger as the game went on and I just felt like he deserved to close it out if he wanted to. He had everything working–fastball, curveball, changeup. He was just pounding the strike zone and going after hitters, especially with his fastball because his command was so good.”
In the championship game, the Canes got seven more quality innings on the mound from righthanders Stephen Pelli and Nick Northcut, who combined to strike out 12 San Diego Show hitters and allowed only three runs.
Pelli, a 6-foot North Carolina commit from Arnold, Md., got the start for the Canes and flashed an 88-92 mph fastball and 74-77 mph curveball that he used as a wipeout, strikeout pitch. Northcut, a Vanderbilt commit who is more known for his hitting ability and playing third base, threw mostly high-80s in his short, 1.2-inning relief appearance, but also featured a quality curveball that received several swings-and-misses.
“Our pitchers were just dominating all day, so that was really fun to watch,” said Canes infielder/outfielder Matt McLain, who won the Wilson Premier Classic’s Most Valuable Player award.
“Every one of them was out there pounding the zone, so that makes it a lot of fun to go out there and play defense. Makes it pretty easy on us to play behind them, too.”
Making it even easier to play defense was that fact the Canes offense continued to score in bunches throughout the tournament.
On Monday, six different Canes players recorded at least three hits, including right fielder and Texas A&M commit Miko Rodriguez, who went 3-for-5 with a home run and three RBIs, and Northcut, who finished the championship game 3-for-4 with two doubles and four RBIs.
No offense performance was more impressive than McLain’s, however, which saw the 5-foot-10 UCLA commit end the tournament 12-for-19 with 11 runs, 10 RBIs and six extra-base hits during the six-game stretch. McLain, who is from Tustin, Calif., also showed solid defensive tools and versatility, spending time at both middle infield spots, as well as third base and left field during the tournament.
“We have a lot of really talented guys that had really good weekends, so I wasn’t expecting them to call my name or anything when they were announcing the MVP,” McLain said. “For me, it was nothing more than just looking for my pitch and putting a good swing on it once I saw one I liked, but it’s pretty cool because I know it could have gone to a lot of really good guys on this team.”