16u Americans Perform Well While being under manned in Lockport

Lockport, IL- The 16u Americans picked things back up after a long week off since traveling down to Atlanta, Georgia. Playing in the 2018 Cangelosi Sparks Summer Invite, the 16u Americans saw it all from blowouts, close-games, walk-offs, and even a little bit of trash talking.

The 16u Americans had themselves a tough weekend however as head coach Griffin Phelps took most of his typical starters to Georgia for the 16u Perfect Game World Series after Friday’s games. The team combined with their expansion team from Tampa, Florida the Top Tier Roos the compete in the invite only tournament leaving the remaining 16u Americans undermanned for their final pool play game and playoffs in the Sparks invite.

Missing some of their key players the 16u Americans didn’t have trouble advancing out of their pool. Top Tier ended up finishing pool play a perfect 3-0 after big victories against Rhino Baseball, GRB Rays, and Indiana Bulls Black.

In Games 1 & 2 on Friday, the 16u Americans were playing at full strength. Their full team was in attendance ready to start the weekend off strong against Rhino Baseball. Three pitchers worked together as the Top Tier 16u Americans defeated Rhino Baseball in a shut-out in the midst of some rain showers.

“Our main focus was getting a win to start,” said 16u American, Anthony Mangano. “It’s been our goal every time we step on the field, especially knowing we will be missing some key pieces come Saturday.”

That’s exactly what Top Tier did as they beat down on Rhino Baseball, 7-0. The 16u Americans got things moving early, in the first inning Mangano hit an RBI single to right field to get Top Tier out front 2-0 after the first half inning of play. Left-Handed pitcher Cole Anderson toed the rubber for the 16u Americans. Setting the tone early, he lasted four innings, allowing one hit and zero runs while striking out six.

“They weren’t really looking at the outside half,” said SP Anderson. “So, I was just trying to sit there with my fastball and off-speed, and it ended up working out for me.”

With cloudy skies all game the rain started dripping down in the fourth inning. Top Tier was already up 2-0 before Mangano continued his onslaught at the plate lacing a RBI triple to center field followed by a Ryan Thiesse sac-fly RBI. At this point, rain showered the field causing a rain delay after five innings of play.

After about a thirty-minute delay play resumed. Rhino Baseball couldn’t seem to get anything going against the combination of Anderson, Joseph Shapiro, and Dylan Whitney on the mound. 16u American, Anthony Livermore was able to extend Top Tier’s lead in the seventh inning when he hit a laser homerun down the right-field foul pole scoring Jack Lochner and Joel Sarver. Whitney then closed things up in the seventh as Top Tier secured their first victory of the tournament.

Mangano led Top Tier with hits, going 2-4 with a team high two RBI’s. “In Georgia I wasn’t taking the best at-bats,” said Mangano. “So I worked in the cages and focused on trying to make hard contact and led the ball fly.”

Game 2 was a lot closer than Game 1 for the 16u Americans. Playing in their second game of a rainy double-header Top Tier looked to finish the afternoon on a high note. Rain continued to pour on during this game causing multiple delays to fix the pitching mound. Pitchers from both sides struggled to throw strikes in slippery conditions. The game featured 19 walks in a back-and-forth game against the GRB Rays. In the end, the 16u Americans were able to come out on on top after claiming the lead in the fourth inning.

Top Tier 16u Americans ran off with the lead late in a closely contested battle. The team won their second game after defeating the GRB Rays, 8-7 on Friday. The game was tied at four with Top Tier batting in the top of the fourth when Sarver tripled in a long at bat, scoring the leading run.

Despite falling down by four runs in the fifth inning, GRB Rays tried to fight back. The Rays scored three runs on a bases clearing double in the bottom on the fifth inning before time limit was called.

In the first inning, GRB Rays got their offense started after they got a RBI single, giving them the early, 1-0 lead. Top Tier rallied back however, scoring four runs in the second inning after some wild pitches and Lochner’s 2 RBI homerun. Still, the Rays never back down as they were able to tie things back up at four in the bottom of the third inning.

After Top Tier scored three runs in the top of the fifth, GRB Rays answered with three of their own. The 16u Americans scored when Michael Ellingsen singled on a hard hit single to left field. Due to time limit, Top Tier 16u Americans came out with an 8-7 victory over the GRB Rays after five innings of play.

Ben Hernandez led things off on the pitcher’s mound for Top Tier 16u Americans. He surrendered four runs on two hits over two and two-thirds innings, striking out five. “I thought I did pretty bad,” said Hernandez. “It got all rainy and the mound was all muddy leaving the ball to get slimy and it got to me. I can’t complain though because we got out of it and managed to get the win.”

Top Tier racked up seven hits on the game. Ellingsen and Sarver each racked up multiple hits for the 16u Americans. Ellingsen led Top Tier with three hits in three at bats. “I saw the ball really well,” said Ellingsen. “Today I felt good, it was a rainy day so I knew the ball was probably slippery and their pitchers probably weren’t trusting their off speed. So I was looking fastball and they were making a lot of mistakes which allowed me to hit them well.” 

Additionally, Top Tier tore it up on the base paths as three players stole at least two bases. “It gives you confidence as a pitcher,” said Hernandez. “Knowing that you had a bad day and mother nature didn’t really help out as well as you wanted to. Your offense starts out swinging, it gives you confidence that you don’t always need to pitch your best to win games.”

Game 3 was far different than either of Top Tier’s previous two games. The sun was out with clear skies and the field was in perfect conditions. But playing against an elite travel team like the Indiana Bulls Black, things could get chippy. Before the game even started, Indiana started the trash talking. “Have fun playing in the conciliation game,” said players from the Bulls as they walked to the home field dugout for warmups. Rightfully so, emotions were high as the winner of this game would move on into bracket play.

From the parents to the coaches, everyone on the field was chirping at one another. Top Tier even lost their first base coach Dave Navarro after he got tossed in the second inning for arguing with the umpires.

Nonetheless, Top Tier 16u Americans seized the victory in dramatic walk-off fashion, thanks to a walk-off double at the end of the game to topple Indiana Bulls Black. The game was tied at five with Top Tier batting in the bottom of the seventh when Ellingsen doubled on the first pitch of the at-bat, scoring the winning run.

“I was going up to the plate knowing the kid has been wild,” said Ellingsen. “First pitch I knew he was going to throw I fastball, so I sat on it and I got a good piece of it.”

Like I said before, this game was an intense one to say the least. Top Tier beat them earlier in the year 6-0, so the Bulls came out with a chip on their shoulder. “I’ve never been apart of a game where the first inning was that intense,” said Ellingsen. “It was fun to be apart of, we know each other as teams and there was a lot of trash talking in between the innings, but it was a lot of fun.”

Even while being under manned, Top Tier 16u Americans managed to secure the No. 4 seed after a perfect 3-0 record in pool play. Bringing some players up from the 16u Nationals, Top Tier was set to play the 15u Cangelosi Sparks Black in the semi finals.

15u Sparks captured the lead early and never looked back as they defeated Top Tier. The 16u Americans watched the game slip away early and couldn’t recover in an 8-4 loss to the 15u Sparks on Sunday. The game started off by back-to-back 1-2-3 innings pitched by both the Sparks and Cole Anderson in the first inning.

Then, the Sparks got on the board in the second inning after a two RBI double. Knowing how undermanned the 16u Americans were, the team didn’t look like it had the same intensity when they had all their players and head coach on Friday.

You could just see that the Sparks wanted the victory more than Top Tier.

Starting pitcher Cole Anderson only lasted one and two-thirds innings allowing two hits and four runs while striking out two. At the plate, hits were hard to come by for Top Tier as Napleton, Lochner, Ellingsen, and Whitney each managed one hit to lead the 16u Americans. Overall, it was a disappointing end for the Top Tier 16u Americans who fought hard to get themselves in the position they were in.

“It’s tough when the leaders of your team are gone,” said Napleton. “It changes the whole mentality of everyone around you. I don’t think we were ready when we came out on the field today. Bottom line, we weren’t ready to play”.

Although the team didn’t finish the weekend on a high note, there were still some positives. Players got a chance to step up and perform at a high level with some of their key position players missing. On top of that, even while undermanned, the team had a chance to move on to the championship game. No doubt, this team will have a good shot to win their final tournament at full strength next weekend in Kentucky.

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