GLENDALE, Ariz. – The head coach of the Pacific Northwest Regional Baseball 2016s has a message that he wants everyone to hear, in the event there were folks out there that had somehow missed it before what transpired late Monday afternoon.
“We’re from the Northwest and we can play some baseball,” Rob Tomlinson proclaimed. “We put everybody else on notice that we’re from the Northwest and we’re coming.” Coming? Heck, it seems like these guys from Washington and Oregon arrived a long time ago and don’t plan on going home anytime soon.
The No. 2-seeded Pac NW 2016s (PG’s abbreviation for the elongated team name) won three games on Martin Luther King Jr. Day Monday – including a gripping 5-2 victory over determined and talented No. 8-seed Aggies Baseball in the day’s final game – and won the title at the Perfect Game MLK West Upperclass Championship at Camelback Ranch Stadium.
While there were undoubtedly many in attendance wondering how the No. 8-seed in an eight-team playoff bracket advanced to the championship game it is safe to say that the players and coaches for the Watsonville, Calif.-based Aggies Baseball squad weren’t among them.
In fact, the Aggies (4-2-0) jumped to a 1-0 in the top of the second but then watched that lead vanish when the Pac NW 2016s (6-0-0) scored single runs in the bottom of the third and fourth, and then cinched the win with a three-run sixth.
The difference-makers? Top 2016s Morgan McCullough and Brady Whalen delivered an RBI single and a two-run single, respectively, in the frame to give the 2016s a 5-1 lead. The Aggies added a run in the seventh but it just wasn’t enough.
McCullough finished 3-for-4 with two RBI, Whalen was 1-for-4 with the two ribbies and another 2016, Kenyon Yovan, doubled and scored a run. McCullough, Whalen and Yovan hit 2-3-4 in Tomlinson’s batting order and, interestingly enough, all three have signed with the University of Oregon. Three other prospects on the roster have signed with or committed to Washington and three more with Oregon State.
“This is great for these guys,” Tomlinson said. “A lot of these guys are going to play together in college … so they’re still going to see each other. This is kind of a warmup for them when they head back to the Northwest and play with their high school teams.”
Sahid Valenzuela was 2-for-3 with a triple and an RBI and Gage Johnson was 2-for-3 with an RBI to lead the Aggies’ nine-hit attack. As impressive as the output was, it wasn’t enough to crack the cool and calm demeanor of Pac NW 2016s’ starter and winner Sam Leach.
Leach worked in and out of trouble during his complete-game effort and scattered the Aggies’ nine hits over those seven innings evenly enough so that no more than the two runs crossed. He showed an 85 mph fastball, 76 mph changeup and 75 mph curveball, and threw 52 of this 76 pitches (68 percent) for strikes.
“My mindset was really just to trust my teammates,” Leach said. “These guys are some of the best players in the Northwest – even in the nation – and it was in my mind to go out there and throw as many strikes as I possibly can.
“I was so pumped just to go in there and just throw a bunch of strikes. That was my game plan, just strikes, strikes, strikes and let them hit the ball to my teammates; that’s what I ended up doing.”
The championship start was Leach’s second appearance of the tournament and he wound up working eight innings and allowing the two earned runs (1.75 ERA) and the nine hits while striking out four and walking one (he also hit .545 with six hits, including three doubles). He was named the Most Valuable Pitcher.
The Pac NW 2016s pitching staff posted two shutouts during pool-play and then two more in the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds of the playoffs Monday; 10 pitchers combined to work 39 innings and allow only four earned runs (0.72 ERA) on 22 hits while striking out 40 and walking 23. The staff worked very well together.
“I’ve made a lot of good friends,” Leach said. “I’ve met a bunch of good players and a bunch of good friends now, so it’s been so much fun these last four days. The place is great, the complex is great, the tournament is the best – I’ve just had a lot of fun and it’s been exciting.”
McCullough posted a slash line of .471/.550/.647 and drove in six runs and scored four; Washington signee Jacob Hirsh slashed .389/.476/.611 and drove in six and scored three.
Aggies Baseball provided a pretty good story of its own down here over the last four days. It managed to win its pool championship over heavy favorite North East Baseball, and then on Monday upset the top-seeded West Coast Braves from Whittier, Calif., in the quarterfinals and No. 5 Mountain Lion Baseball out of Glendale, Ariz., in the semifinals.
The Aggies hit just .283 as a team but two individual performances rocketed to the top of the charts. Tervont Johnson, a 2016 shortstop/utility from Atlanta who has signed with Eastern Kentucky, blew everyone’s socks off while slashing .444/.545/.833 and counting two doubles, a triple and a home rum among his eight hits; he drove in 10 runs and scored seven more. 2016 Watsonville shortstop Sebastian Perez slashed .450/.500/.600 with a double and triple among his nine hits, and scored nine runs. Johnson was the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
Aggies Baseball topped No. 5 Mountain Lion Baseball (4-1-0) 7-2 in the semifinals. Tervont Johnson was 3-for-3 with a double, triple, two RBI and two runs scored and Perez was 2-for-3 with a triple, an RBI and three runs; 2017 right-hander Ramon Miranda threw a complete-game five-hitter, giving up on earned run and striking out six.
2016 left-hander and Washington signee Brendan Ecklebarger ad 2016 righty Jack Gordon combined on a two-hit shutout in Pac NW 2016s’ 3-0 semifinal win over No. 3 eXposure West (4-1-0) from Chattanooga, Tenn., in the other semifinal. Whalen hit a two-run home run in the win.
And with that, Pacific Northwest Regional Baseball 2016s found themselves in the championship game ad soon proved once again to anyone who will listen that the boys from the Great Northwest are pretty good at this stick and ball game called baseball.
“We have the best kids from the Northwest here and I think we really went out and handled our business,” Tomlinson said. “We played some really good teams today and I’m just really proud of these guys. Our pitching came through, our defense came through … and these really did a great job down here.”