Story: JEFF DAHN
Published: Monday, September 18, 2017

GOODYEAR, Ariz. – It had already been a special summer on the Perfect Game tournament circuit for the Wilson Sandlot 2018 before what transpired on Monday in the west Phoenix suburbs. There was a championship at the PG WWBA 18u West Memorial Day Classic May 26-29 in the West Valley, followed-up the next weekend with a title at the PG WWBA 17u Qualifier in the East Valley. It turns out those might have just been appetizers ahead of the main course.

The Chandler-based and No. 5-seeded Sandlot 2018 were steady and sure from the first-pitch, and shutdown the No. 3 TB SoCal Gold from Los Angeles by a 4-0 count in the championship game at the PG WWBA Upperclass Fall National Championship Protected by G-Form played at Goodyear Ballpark.

The ‘Lot 2018 completed an impressive 7-0-0 run at the event to go alongside marks of 5-0-0 at both the PG WWBA WMDC and the PG WWBA 17u Q. That’s a 17-0 record for this team at three important PG-sanctioned western events; Monday’s championship proved to be the most satisfying of them all.

“The field in this weekend’s tournament was as good as it comes,” Sandlot 2018 head coach Kurt Vesecky said while his players were being fitted for their PG national championship tournament rings. “(TB SoCal Gold) is loaded – they’ve got guys going to UCLA and Michigan and Cal and all that kind of stuff – but we just battled all weekend.

“We had a 12-inning game (Sunday) with bases-loaded, one-out situations every (extra) inning with the tie-breaker, and these kids just continued to fight and fight and fight. I couldn’t be any more proud of these guys; they did an awesome job.”

The championship game was shaping up to be a pitchers’ duel until the Sandlot 2018 found the firepower to score three runs in the top of the fourth, which, as it turned out, was more than enough to send them on their way to the title. Bobby Meza Jr. singled and drove in a pair of runs, Colton Cassinelli – a No. 392-ranked 2018 who has committed to the U. of Washington and was the Most Valuable Player at the previous two PG tournaments this summer – delivered an RBI double; Tyler Cranston singled and drove in a run, with those performances pacing the ‘Lot 2018’s six-hit attack.

2018 right-hander Hayden Baker threw five innings of three-hit, shutout ball with two strikeouts and two walks to pick up the win; the TB SoCal Gold finished with four hits, all singles. Those came off the bats of Shawn Goosenberg, Chris Neveau, Keaton Carattini and Cary Arboliola who hit third, fourth, fifth and seventh in the batting order, but they could never bunch enough of them together to push a run across the plate.

The championship game appearance on the mound was the only one of the tournament for the 6-foot-2, 170-pound Baker, a U. of Pacific commit from Chandler, but it was good enough to earn him the Most Valuable Pitcher Award. Vesecky said he wished the award could go to the entire pitching staff based on outstanding outings by 2018 right-handers Jordan Bach, David Watson, Andrew Hayes, Chase Webster and Meza Jr., among others.

Speaking of Meza Jr., he made one appearance on the mound and worked 6 1/3, four-hit, shutout innings with six strikeouts and one walk. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound right-hander/third baseman and Yavapai College recruit out of Mesa was also 5-for-19 (.263) with a home run and a team-high 11 RBI at the plate, and was named the Most Valuable Player. He epitomized the attitude Vesecky expects from his players, especially when bracket-play rolls around.

“It’s a win-or-go-home mentality and these guys are brothers on the field as well as off the field and I think that’s a big part of it,” he said. “We’ve got some pitchers that are kind of on break right now and we picked up some guys from around the Valley to come join us, and we really had some guys who stepped-up.

“I couldn’t be more proud of their effort and what they did at this event. … Top-to-bottom, everybody on the team contributed and again, I just attribute that to the fact that they’re just brothers, both on and off the field.”

The Wilson Sandlot 2018 moved into the championship game posting a 5-2 victory over the No. 1 Aggies Baseball Upperclass (5-1-0) from Watsonville, Calif., in Monday morning semifinals. TB SoCal Gold got there by blanking No. 7 Chaminade College Prep (5-1-0) from Moorpark, Calif., in its semifinal contest.

The SoCal Gold earned the No. 3 seed by winning its three pool-play games by a combined 15-2. They then topped No. 19 All-Star Baseball Academy, 3-1, in the second-round of the playoffs before topping No. 11 CBA Marucci, 4-3, in the quarterfinals, both played Sunday afternoon. The Sandlot 2018 came in at No. 5 by coasting past their pool partners by a combined 18-4 and then topping the Quakes Baseball Academy, 10-2, and No. 4 GBG, 11-8 in 12 innings in 2nd-round and quarterfinal-round play, respectively.

When the chickens came home to roost after another long, hot day in the desert, the Sandlot 2018 took a lot of pride in keeping the championship trophy right here in the Valley. The Scottsdale-based AZ T-Rex Baseball Club Rawlings won the precursor to this event last year.

“If you look over the years it’s very rare for an Arizona team to win these events,” Vesecky said. “This is a very special group – the 2018 class is loaded in (the Phoenix area) and we come to play. We’re not afraid of anybody and, of course, we’re on our home turf so that makes it extra-special.”