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Eight teams to settle championship on Monday

October 29, 2000

By Allan Simpson

JUPITER, Fla.—From a field of 50 teams that started play Sunday at the Baseball America/Perfect Game World Wood Bat Championship, just eight remained by the end of Sunday.

Ten pool champions and six at-large teams advanced to bracket play, with almost all the pre-tournament favorites making it through to the round of eight with late victories on Sunday. The quarterfinals, semifinals and championship game will all be played on Monday.

Though pre-tournament favorites Team California and Baseball America qualified for bracket play as at-large teams, both advanced safely to Monday's action.

Team California, featuring a number of the state's top high school prospects, squeezed out a 4-2 victory over the West Side All-Stars from Puerto Rico as junior righthander Chris Gruler (Liberty High, Brentwood, Calif.) and sophomore righthander Xavier Paul (Archbishop Rummel High, Slidell, La.) combined on a four-hitter. Paul, a sophomore, was clocked at 92 mph.

Junior lefthander Scott Kazmir (Cy Falls High, Houston) pitched Baseball America to an easy 9-0 victory over the Bill Hood (La.) Broncos, striking out 12 in six innings. Baseball America, an all-star team of top players from around the country, was in danger of not even making bracket play at one point in the tournament but got shutout pitching from lefthander Jeremy Sowers (Ballard High, Louisville) and righthander Kevin Guyette (Chaparral High, Scottsdale, Ariz.) in its final two games of pool play. Kazmir's shutout was the team's third straight.

The Baseball America team is being managed by Devil Rays lefthander Jim Morris, who took time out from consulting with Disney on a movie about his rags-to-riches ascension from a high school coach to a big league pitcher last year. Coaching first base for the BA team has been Reds outfielder Dmitri Young, older brother of outfielder Delmon Young (Camarillo, Calif., High), the top-rated player in the Draft Class of 2003.

The unbeaten East Cobb (Ga.) Astros also advanced Sunday with an easy 11-4 victory over Team Florida Red. East Cobb went 3-0-1 in pool play.

Team Ontario, meanwhile, continued to be the surprise team of the tournament as it scored a 2-0 win over the prospect-laden Dallas Tigers. In five games, Team Ontario has allowed only one run—against Team California in a 1-1 tie in the tournament opener for both teams.

Righthanders Scott Robinson (Pickering High, Ajax, Ont.) and Paul Bruder (St. James High, Guelph, Ont.) combined to stop the Tigers on two hits, striking out nine. They outpitched heralded righthanders Mike Pelfrey (Wichita Heights High, Wichita) and Jeremy Bonderman (Pasco, Wash., High), two of the nation's top junior pitchers.

In all, eight of the teams to advance to the round of 16 were from Florida.

The Treasure Coast Pirates, the only team to post a perfect 4-0 record in pool play, were upset 4-2 by the North Carolina Warhawks—even though the Warhawks were forced to go without ace righthander Jason Neighborgall (Riverside High, Durham, N.C.), who took himself out of the game in the second inning with a muscle strain in his lower back after striking out the first four Cardinals batters. Another Riverside product, righthander Ted Reedy, came on to finish the game.

Neighborgall, a 6-foot-5, 190-pound righthander, surged near the top of the list of players in the Draft Class of 2002 off his performance in Jupiter. He was clocked up to 94 mph and retired all 16 batters he faced, 10 on strikeouts.

In all-Florida first-round bracket games, West Palm Beach defeated the Pinellas County scout team 6-1, the Rough Riders beat the Miami Sluggers 6-3 and the Southwest Florida scout team defeated the East Florida scout team 3-2.

Nine members of the Rough Riders team are from Seminole (Fla.) High, an early favorite to be the No. 1-ranked high school team in the country next spring. Rough Riders first baseman Casey Kotchman, who was injured most of last spring after being the nation's top-ranked junior entering the 2000 season, has been the hitting star of a tournament that has featured dominating pitching. Kotchman slugged two doubles in his team's win over the Sluggers.

West Palm Beach, which outscored opponents 25-6 while going 3-0-1 in pool play, got an outstanding pitching performance from righthander Andy Lambert (Wellington, Fla., High) in beating Pinellas County, which also went 3-0-1 in pool play. Lambert pitched a route-going four-hitter, walking one and striking out 11.

The World Wood Bat championship has brought more than 1,000 of the nation's top high school players to Jupiter. The event is being played at the 12-field spring-training complex used by the Cardinals and Expos.

In Monday's 8 a.m. quarterfinal games, Team Ontario will meet Baseball America, East Cobb will take on West Palm Beach, Team California will play the North Carolina Warhawks and Southwest Florida will meet the Rough Riders.

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