Top Tier Annual 16u/17u Intersquad Games Preview

McCook, IL- This week’s match-ups will slightly different, due to the fact the games will feature both the 16U and 17U age levels.  This weekend will give players a fresh start as their high school teams finish up competing for a state title. It will also give the players a chance to compete at the highest level, being that most of the players have already committed to some type of college baseball program. Not to mention, there is nothing better than being able to go out and prove your worth to the coaching staff in a friendly, but competitive exhibition game. Due to the depth of each team this weekend will give everyone a chance to earn their stripe and solidify their spot on the roster. Similarly to last weekend’s intersquad games at the 15U age level, this weekend will feature every 16U and 17U team in the program. Teams included are the 17U Americans, 17U Nationals, 17U Nationals-Navy, 16U Americans, 16U Nationals, 16U Nationals-Navy, and 16U Black. Due to having an odd number of teams, 16U & 17U teams from Morris Baseball in Indiana will also be featured in the games. Games will be played at Lincoln Way West High School and Providence Catholic High School on Saturday and Sunday.

Opening the weekend will be the 16U Americans vs. the 17U Americans on Saturday, at 9:00 a.m. This will undoubtedly be the most intriguing matchup of the week. The game will not only feature multiple Division I scholarship athletes, but also the two men responsible for leading the entire high school program. Coaching the 16U Americans, is High School Director, Griffin Phelps. Griffin will definitely get the most of out his players as Phelps is a former New Mexico Gatorade Player of the Year, as well as a former Division I left-handed pitcher at the University of Arizona. He was also a member of their College World Series team in 2004. Phelps is an experienced coach, as he began his coaching career in 2008, long before joining the Top Tier family in 2012. “I’m really excited for this group of guys,” said Phelps. “We have a chance to be a high quality team on paper. We’ve got a lot fun, athletic players.” Players can expect Phelps to be more of a “players coach”. He believes practices are for coaches, and game days are for players. Players know what’s to be expected from coach Phelps and are ready for the challenge.

On the other side, the 17U Americans will be led by Vice President, Matt Plante. Coach Plante has plenty of experience dating all the way back to his assistant coaching days at Kansas State University. He also served as a recruiting coordinator and hitting coach at Oakland University for two seasons, 2011-2012. His most notable accomplishment came when he won back to back CABA National Championships with the 17U Top Tier teams in 2009 and 2010. Plante has been with the Top Tier family since the beginning, dating back to 2004. Clearly, Plante brings that championship pedigree that perhaps will wear on the 17U Americans. “I’m really happy to be with these guys,” said Plante. “We’ve got a lot of guys with high-end talent, and I’m ready to push them to further their abilities.” Players can expect Plante to come out with lots of energy and teach them the right way to play the game.

But enough about the coaches, its time to see how the players feel going into the weekend. 16U American player, Alec Gonzalez can wait to get the season going. “The Top Tier season is going to be a blast, I’m very excited to play with these new group of guys,” said Gonzalez. “We’ve got a great group of solid ball players.” Teammate Anthony Mangano is a first-year Top Tier player looking to make a name for himself. “I’ve been looking forward to this season ever since the high school season started. I love just being in an atmosphere of always having to compete for a spot, and that no one is guaranteed anything, everyone is just pushing each other to become great.” Another teammate, Dylan Whitney, is looking to make a statement in the intersquad games. “I’m looking to prove myself as a leader of this team,” said Whitney. “I want to find a way to standout.” There’s no doubt that the 16U Americans will come out with lots of intensity, as they try to prove they are better than the older guys.

As for the 17U Americans, they are taking this weekend a little more relaxed. “I just want to get acclimated with the team, and get to know each other,” said 17U American Bryce Barnett. “Hopefully by the time we start traveling, we are all together and win a bunch of tournaments.” Looking back, Barnett has seen himself grow tremendously since joining Top Tier. Through the knowledge of the Top Tier coaching staff, Barnett has taken his mental game to the next level. Teammate, Grant Leader is also happy to finally play with people of the same talent. “It’s exciting to get back to playing with guys I’m familiar with,” said Leader.” All of us are around the same skill, so it will be a nice transition to playing a higher level of baseball.” Leader will go into the weekend and look to fix his inconsistency on the mound from his high school season. On the bump, Leader will focus on trying to limit the amount of walks he gives up.

Following that game, the 17U Americans will finish their back-to-back against the 17U Nationals at 11:15 a.m. Afterward, the 16U Nationals will square off against the 16U Americans at 2:00 p.m. Next, Top Tier Baseball will move away from Providence and head to Lincoln Way West, where the 16U Black will face 16U Morris at 3:15 p.m.

After that game, the 17U Nationals will face the 17U Nationals-Navy at 4:15 p.m. over at Providence Catholic High School. This game will feature the last of the other teams in the 17U age division. For the 17U Nationals, they are lead by head coach, Zak Worsley. “I’m extremely excited to be able to coach these guys,” said Worsley. “I plan on being more of a player’s coach, who puts the players first and hopefully wins some tournaments along the way.” Worsley joined the Top Tier staff in 2015 in hopes to get some head coaching experience. Before he joined Top Tier, he gained some minor coaching experiences as a graduate assistant at North Park University in Chicago. That came after playing center field at North Park University, where he won a gold glove award in the outfield during his senior year. Not to mention, he was also a two-time All-Conference player during his stay as a player. Worsley also just finished his first year as a full-time assistant at Washington and Jefferson College. On the opposing side, the 17U Nationals-Navy team will be lead by head coach Bill Heaney. Heaney has had a variety of coaching experience before joining Top Tier in 2014. He began his coaching career in 2010 as the St. Rita freshman head coach before moving up to the sophomore head coaching position. After serving his alma mater, he transferred to Whitney M. Young Magnet High School, where he currently serves as the head coach at the JV level. Heaney has also steadily climbed the ranks in the Top Tier staff. Heaney started coaching the 13U Top Tier team before moving up age level each of the past four years.  Now coaching for the 17U age level, Heaney is set on developing his players so that he can help find his players a place to play collegiately. “Being able to coach Top Tier Baseball is a blessing,” said Heaney. “We get to coach some great kids with great talent.”

Players for both 17U squads are ready to compete for a spot in their respective starting lineups. “It’s going to be really exciting to get out there with the boys,” said Marshall Chapman, a 17U Nationals-Navy player. “Coming back from the spring season, the weathers warming up, so it should be a lot of fun to get out there and play.” Other players on the 17U Nationals-Navy are just looking to play better competition compared to their high school season. “I’m pumped to get rolling this season,” said Ben Kim. “We had a tough high school season and Top Tier will be a big step up.” Kim has been around Top Tier baseball since his days in the youth program. Throughout the years, he’s seen his arm strength increase tremendously while also growing a much sharper mental game. And with the help of the Top Tier staff, he has also seen his swing transform greatly. In contrast, for the 17U Nationals, they know how important this year is for their careers. “I’m excited to start my second year here at Top Tier,” said Owen DellaMaria. “17U is a big year, and I am definitely ready to get on the road and play some baseball.” Being that DellaMaria is a pitcher, his eyes are set on going into the weekend with a focus for throwing strikes. Teammate Jac Lindish is also looking forward to the weekend because he knows how much depth the team has this year. “I’m really excited to see how our team plays, we got a lot of potential on our roster.” said Lindish. Other teammates, like Edward Kerner, are going into the weekend with specific goals. “I want to go into this weekend and play well,” said Kerner. “But I really want to beat the 17U Americans.”

Wrapping up Saturday night, is a game featuring the 16 year-olds. Beginning at 5:45 p.m. the 16U Nationals play the 16U Nationals-Navy. This game alone, will feature some of the best coaching from the Top Tiers staff. Luis Gil, the 17U Nationals head coach, leads the way with an impressive resume. Growing up in the Dominican Republic, Gil played high school baseball with Jose Reyes, a former MLB All-Star. After coming to the U.S. 11 years ago, Gil has done nothing but put his attentions towards coaching baseball. “Hopefully I can make these guys even better than last year,” said Gil “Baseball is what I love and perhaps these guys can carry on what I teach them.” At age 16, Gil was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, but after an injury, he was forced to leave and switch positions to short-stop. That was when he was awarded a full scholarship at Trinity Christian. Gil then went over seas to play in Germany before hanging his cleats up to become a coach. His coaching career began with the Chicago White Sox training academy before leaving becoming an assistant coach at Trinity Christian. He’s been apart of Top Tier since 2014, and seen a lot of players mature throughout the years. “Its been cool to see people grow in the program as both men and ball players.” said Gil. As for the 16U Nationals-Navy team, they have both experienced head coaches and assistant coaches. Scott Marks, 16U Nationals-Navy assistant coach has seen it all. Growing up in South West Michigan, Marks made his way to Grand Rapids Community College, where he was a part of back-to-back national championships at the JUCO level. Following that, he transferred to Division II college, LeMoyne-Owen in Memphis Tennessee, where he was named All-Conference designated hitter. After that, he began his coaching career as an assistant coach at Purdue North Central College. Marks then became the head coach of Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) and in his third season, won National Coach of the Year. Mark is set to begin his travel coaching career this year after taking time off to start a family. “I’m really excited to get the season started,” said Marks. “All through my coaching years, especially on the recruiting side, Top Tier was always the top name you’d talk about, they always had the best players and I'm humbled to get to coach these skilled players.” Going into this season Mark will look for the team to be able to focus on its ultimate goal, winning. He says he’s a serious guy when it comes to baseball, but he also realizes the season is meant to further develop kids and help the players reach their personal goals.

So, knowing how talented and experienced the coaches are, the players realize that this season is not one to be taken lightly. “High School season was pretty average competition,” said 16U Nationals player, Dominic Czerwinski “I’m looking forward to coming into Top Tier and playing elite competition.” Czerwinski has his eyes set on batting .400 throughout the three games this weekend, while hopefully coming out with some W’s. Other players like Will Dietz, want to see how much they’ve grown. “I want to see how I compare to the other guys,” said Dietz. “I can’t wait to get my name out there, and prove myself as a first-time Top Tier player.” Although, only being apart of the Top Tier tradition for one year, Diets has already seen major improvements in his game. For example, he has increased his velocity by 5 mph in the Velo-Depot program. Others are ready to show the coaches how much they’ve improved since the coaches last saw them the previous summer. “Personally, this weekend I want to show what I can do, not just for the team but for myself,” said 16U National player, Patrick Quirk. “I want to prove how much I’ve gotten better since last year.”

For the 16U Nationals-Navy team, they are looking to find a balance between competing hard while also having fun and get back into things. “I’m ready to focus on summer ball now that the high school season is over,” said 16U Nationals-Navy player, Brock Bevil. “I want to get some wins this weekend.” Teammate Matt Kaleta just wants to “Get out there and play hard while having fun doing it” as he gets set to start another year with Top Tier. Other teammates like Carl Braxton II expects his team to turn some heads this weekend. “Mark my words, this team is going to make a statement, I’m saying this right now,” said Braxton II in regards to the 16U Nationals-Navy team. Other teammates are looking to incorporate what they’ve learned from the high school season and carry that on into the Tier season. “I’m ready to get acclimated with my new team,” said Michael Passarelli, “I’m ready to incorporate what I learned over my high school and previous summer seasons.” Over the past few years at Top Tier, Passarelli has seen his catching skills skyrocket. “Top Tier taught me many things that I never knew,” said Passarelli, “They also helped me perfect some of the little things.”

Sunday morning begins at Providence Catholic, where the 17U Americans will go against the 17U Nationals-Navy at 9:00 a.m. Meanwhile, at the same time the 17U Nationals will be facing the 16U Black over at Lincoln Way West. Following those games will be the 16U Nationals vs. 16U Morris at Lincoln Way West at 11:15 a.m. On the other side, at Providence, the 16U Americans will face the 16U Nationals-Navy starting at 11:30 a.m. The weekend will finish with the 17U Nationals-Navy playing against 16U Morris at 1:45 p.m. at Lincoln Way West, meanwhile at the same time the 16U Nationals-Navy will square off against 16U black at Providence to finish out the weekend.

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