Canes National Team Wins 2018 Wilson Premier Classic With Walk-Off Home Run

Image credit: Canes National Team (Photo by Carlos Collazo)

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — For close to nine innings, the Canes National team couldn’t find a way to get past team Exposure in the 2018 Wilson Premier Classic championship game.

The two clubs were locked in a tense, back-and-forth affair tied at one run apiece after the top of the second, and every time the Virginia-based Canes looked to edge out a lead, there was an Exposure fielder robbing a hit.

In the bottom of the fifth with a runner on base, Canes designated hitter Alex Milazzo (La.) hit a deep, towering fly ball to center field. But there was Exposure center fielder Liam Cogswell (Fla.) tracking the ball down with an excellent jump and a running, over-the-shoulder catch to erase the threat.

In the bottom of the sixth, Canes rightfielder Tucker Flint (R.I.) hammered a hard ground ball down the first base line, but there was Exposure first baseman Bryan Pazos diving to his left and making a slick snag to help ensure a 1-2-3 inning.

While the Exposure pitching staff didn’t notch many strikeouts—just two over eight innings between four pitchers—the defensive play behind them kept the game tied and the championship within grasp for eight innings.

Naturally, the only option was for the Canes to not give any defender the chance to make a play. So, stepping to the plate to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning with the score still locked 1-1, corner infielder Drew Compton (N.J.) jumped on an 84 mph fastball and barreled it.

No opportunity for a highlight real defensive play this time — it was a no-doubt, walk-off home run that pushed the Canes to a 2-1 victory. 

“Drew is a consistent bat in the middle of our order; he’s had a great summer,” said Canes President and coach Jeff Petty. “I think he’s hitting around .370 or something like that with a wood bat, and against the guys we’ve faced he’s had a very consistent summer.

“I love these kids, and to see Drew get that moment, I feel like he works hard—he’s committed to this club, he’s committed to our organization—so for him to have that moment is really gratifying as a coach.”

In addition to his home run, Compton made a few crucial defensive plays at third base in the top of the eighth inning after moving to the hot corner when starting third baseman Cade Doughty (La.) went to the mound in relief of starting pitcher Tyler Nesbitt (Fla.).

Named the most valuable pitcher after the game, Nesbitt threw five innings and allowed just one run, striking out seven batters and walking one. Nesbitt worked mostly in the upper 80s, but touched 90-92 mph at times throughout the game as well. He also worked in a 79-82 mph slider with 9-to-3 sweeping action that generated multiple swings and misses out of the zone.

The 6-foot-3, 185-pound righthander threw 47 of his 67 pitches for strikes (70.1 percent) and also helped himself out by getting ahead in the count against 14 of the 18 total batters he faced. A Florida Gulf Coast commit, Nesbitt throws from a three-quarter slot with some length in the back of his arm stroke, wrist wrap and slight crossfire in his landing to the plate.

Petty and the Canes planned to have Nesbitt available for Monday’s championship game and took advantage of the club’s impressive depth of arms on the final day of a four-day tournament, when many teams are forced to use position players and part-time pitchers.

“That was by design, holding him back,” Petty said. “We held a couple kids back, but with that said the guys that we ran out early we had a lot of confidence in them too. One thing we’re blessed with is pitching depth. We have guys—multiple guys—who can command their fastball and a secondary pitch. We’re really fortunate in that way, where if you brought 10 pitchers down here—how about Cade Doughty coming in and he’s a position player and he comes in and battles for us?

“If we brought 10 pitchers down here, I think you’d have a really hard time ranking them one through 10. And that’s how you win these events. When there’s a lot of parity between your so-called No. 7 guy and your No. 3 guy.”

Offensively throughout the entire tournament, the Canes were led by leadoff hitter and second baseman Patrick Alvarez, who went 2-for-4 with an infield single and a double to left-center field in the championship game. In six games throughout the tournament, Alvarez went 11-for-21 (.524) with seven runs, 12 RBIs, three doubles, three triples and a home run.

For his efforts—which also included a slick, sliding backhanded play up the middle during the championship game—Alvarez was named the tournament’s most valuable player.

“Patrick shows up every day. He doesn’t pick and choose when he’s going to play or how hard,” Petty said. “He plays hard all the time. He leads by example and he’s got the respect of everyone on this team. As a matter of fact, when they gave us the championship trophy I told him to go get it. Because he’s the leader of this club. He’s the captain of this team, unofficially, officially, whatever you want to say—he’s the captain of this club.

“We’re really fortunate to have him. We had a really good leadoff hitter last year in Xavier Edwards and I said going into the summer it’s a sad day when you come to the ballpark and you don’t write ‘Edwards’ into the one-hole. But it’s going to be a sad day next year when you don’t write Alvarez in that one-hole. So we’re blessed. We’re definitely fortunate.”

On the other side of the field, Exposure was led offensively by Peyton McGregor (Ariz.), Miguel Useche (Fla.) and Ryan Bogusz (Texas). The three combined to go 4-for-8 with a double (Bogusz) and a triple (McGregor). Useche also threw two shutout relief innings on the mound, while Patrick Norman (Tenn.), who, like Useche, isn’t listed as a pitcher, turned in five shutout relief innings to keep Exposure in the game.

“I have a lot of respect for Exposure,” Petty said. “They have a great baseball team and they played great the whole time they’ve been down here. They fought us tooth and nail. Nothing against the guys that they ran out there (one the mound), but I’m going to assume that they probably threw a lot of their top-end arms already, and the kids that they put out there on the mound really battled for them. They did, they battled. They made so many great defensive plays that kept them in the game, so really a lot of respect for them.

“As far as our guys are concerned, we had to face a little adversity there and we found a way to get it done. We’re tired. But the fact that they stayed engaged and found a way to win the baseball game is the mark of a good team. I’m proud of our kids.”

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