Team BLE’s 15U and 16U players and families spent the Martin Luther King weekend in Mesa, Arizona playing baseball and enjoying time together. The players arrived three days prior to the tournament to get rid of some winter rust and to hone up skills before game action. All in all, it was a great opportunity to get on the field, play competitive baseball and have fun early into the 2017 campaign.
The MLK trip started the night of the arrival day, as the teams headed to the Red Mountain Complex to practice, beginning with a functional movement warm-up and stretching to work off their plane legs. The players then went through a throwing routine with Coach Albie Lopez before breaking off into stations. Catchers went with Coach Bob Didier during on-field Batting Practice (don’t worry, they hit last!) and Coach Shea Hillenbrand worked with players individually while they waited for their BP rounds. When players were not hitting they took ground balls and fly balls, remembering the great feeling of the dirt/grass beneath them!
Day 2 began at the Big League Dreams complex in Gilbert, Az, practicing on the Bank One Ballpark (the BOB) and Ebbets Field replicas. Team 16U hit on-field BP with the timeless backdrop of Ebbets Field while Team 15U worked fly balls against the high Arizona sky and ground balls with Coach Marty on the BOB field. The teams flip-flopped before heading out for lunch.
Next on the agenda was the Mesa Community College campus tour. The BLE crew parked nearby Thunderbird Field, catching glimpses of early hitting work. Tony Cirelli, Head Coach of the 2014 NJCAA Champion Mesa Thunderbirds, addressed the players and provided invaluable information regarding recruitment, the collegiate level of play and more. Former professional coach, Okotoks Dawgs founding father and current assistant with Mesa, Dave Robb, was also on hand, helping the players understand the procedure for Canadian players to be recognized and signed to schools down south.
Eddie Marin, assistant on BLE Team 16U, is a member of the MCC board and was able to have the international department of the school speak to the players to help them understand the entire process of admissions.
After a rest at the hotel, the teams headed back to the Red Mountain Complex for a scrimmage against each other. The live game was excellent in preparing the pitchers, hitters and defense for the tournament along with showcasing their abilities in front of a few college recruiters.
The mini-camp finished up on Day 3 with Team 15U going through team drills (pop-up priority, team defense, etc) at the BOB and Team 16U getting swings at Extra Innings with Coach Shea and Coach Dhanani. The teams flip-flopped once again and then met at the BOB for a home run derby to loosen the players up before the tournament began! Team 16U winner was Tim Holyk and 15U was Aiden Heintz.
For dinner and a team activity, Coach Dhanani took the players to the Arizona Mills shopping mall. The players had the option of a movie or to walk around and enjoy the shopping experience!
The 15U team was a great group of players that worked very hard and battled in every game. As expected, some January hiccups played a role in not capitalizing on some offensive and defensive opportunities. However, as the tournament progressed, the guys got back into seasoned form. In the first game the club took a 6 – 1 lead into the last inning and couldn’t finish off a persistent Arizona Selects club, losing 7 – 6. Aiden Heintz started the game and gave the club 4 solid innings.
Game 2 saw the guys start the game strong, scoring 3 runs in the 1st inning. Unable to get the big hit with runners in scoring position to extend the lead cost the team, as they eventually gave up the lead late, losing 9 – 5. Ethan McDougall threw 4 solid innings and left with a 4 – 3 lead while Corbin Smith hit his second triple of the tournament and led the team with two hits in that game.
Team 16U started out the tournament well, winning 9-0 over the Arizona Future Stars. Tyson McInnes struck out 11 hitters over 4 innings of work and Brayden Radcliffe hit 2 doubles, scoring twice with 2 RBI’s in leading the 16U team to victory. Game 2 on Saturday was played against the Arizona Phenoms. Starting pitcher Cam Jackson held their lively bats at bay for 3 innings, but surrendered 5 in an unlucky inning. Brody Comerford pitched 3 strong innings in relief, giving up 1. Josh Laukkanen hit a double in the 2nd inning and Travis Miller brought him in to give BLE an early lead, but they were unable to get a rally going the rest of the game, falling 6-2.
After each team’s second game, the BLE crews headed to a local restaurant to take in the Seahawks-Falcons Playoff game! Tucked away in a party room, the players and families enjoyed each other’s company, watched the game and a tried their hand at a football stats sheet set up by Coach Dhanani. Winner Tim Holyk received a free Jimmy Johns sandwich care of the coaches by guessing the most stats correctly!
On Day two of the tournament, Team 15U entered the victory column, getting a solid pitching performance from Tyrus Finch, Greg Rabagliati, and Sam McArdle. Sam Ableman led the team with 3 hits and the guys defeated a Flagstaff, Arizona club 6 – 2.
Pool game 3 for the 16U squad was against Queen Creek and saw Jaxon Ackerman take the mound for the start. Five innings later, Jaxon left the game shutout intact, inducing 9 ground ball outs! BLE tacked on 5 runs in the 2nd with a sequence of 5 hits in 6 batters while Jaxon went 2/3 with an RBI to triple to help his own cause. Queen Creek brought the pressure in the later innings, but BLE held them off with bases loaded in the 7th, 6-4.
Game 4 for the 15U’s was probably their best hitting game of the tournament as they scored 7 runs against a very good Minnesota Blizzard team who went through the tournament undefeated and eventually were crowned champions. Team 15U put up 2 runs in each of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd innings but they were unable to stop the Blizzard from scoring. A few timely hits and seeing-eye singles kept rallies alive and they went down 14 – 7. A number of players had hits for Team BLE, with Tyler Wilson leading the way with a single, double and SAC fly. Unfortunately, the 15U’s did not make the playoff round. But while the 16U’s played on Monday, the 15U’s were able to work with Coach Albie on their pitching and Coach Marty and Dhanani on their infielding footwork.
With a win in pool game 4, the 16U team would advance to the MLK NIT Finals. Matt Watkins got the start and pitched 2 scoreless. BLE scored 2 in the first and second, 5 in the third and 3 in the fourth to put them in position to mercy rule the Arizona Grinders. Santiago Gallo caught and called a great game to keep the Grinders off balance, while adding a double. Brody Comerford went 3 for 3 with two triples. Cam Jackson came in and shut the door, securing a berth into the final BLE by inducing a Miller-Laukkanen-Klassen double play to end the game (4-6-3)!
So onto the finals for BLE 16U in a rematch against the AZ Phenoms! BLE got on the board early with a run in the first inning, but could have gotten more if not for a bad call and missed opportunities. Tyson McInnes took to the mound for the start but was unable to get out of the first inning. Cam Jackson came in and provided relief for 2 innings, keeping BLE in the game. After another missed opportunity by BLE, the Phenoms added 5 more runs in their half. BLE was unable to gain any more momentum and fell 9-2. Watkins went 3/3 in the losing effort and Josh Laukkanen pitched a scoreless 6th.
The BLE staff was very proud of the effort put forth by the 16’s, battling through adversity from the beginning of the trip. To come away with a Finalist Trophy and Rings was a great accomplishment for the players!
All in all a great event to get the 2017 baseball year off to a start. The objective of the event was met as the guys worked hard, picked up some pointers on playing the game and honed their skills. Our approach was to get better every time we went to the field and we as a staff feel the objective was achieved. Here’s to a great 2017 baseball season!