WWBA Recap. Oct 22-26, 2015
For high school-aged baseball prospects, any mention of “Jupiter” sets minds not to thinking about astronomy, but to Perfect Game’s annual World Wood Bat Association fall World Championship in Jupiter, Florida.
Since its first run 16 years ago, the Jupiter tourney has been held strictly on the MLB spring training fields behind Roger Dean Stadium, on the adjoining facilities of the St. Louis Cardinals and the Miami Marlins. Amidst that pro atmosphere, the nation’s best players and the nation’s best teams gather to play over 200 games in five days, watched closely by over a thousand college and MLB scouts who roam field to field following players of interest. Unlike other tournaments that have grown much larger in size, the Jupiter tourney remains limited to only 85 teams – and thus is known as the most exclusive tournament of the year, every year.
In only their sixth year of existence, the Virginia Cardinals headed to Jupiter for the last weekend of October, their ticket punched to play at the pinnacle of travel baseball. When all was said and done, the Cardinals headed home as one of only two teams in the tourney field to complete play without suffering a defeat.
As a newcomer to the field, the Cardinals were not even mentioned in pre-tournament news reports or prognostications over which teams would excel over the weekend. Among their pool play opponents would be the vaunted Orlando Scorpions (playing via sponsorship as the Mets Scout Team), perennially among the tournament’s title contenders and featuring several 90 mph-plus pitchers as well as a handful of high school All American hitters. Two separate promotional articles for the event extolled the Scorpions as a favorite to win the event while mentioning the Cardinals only in passing. Given that the Cardinals had won the larger, underclass event held in Ft. Myers in 2014, the slight did not go unnoticed.
So when the Cardinals hit the field Friday afternoon for their first game against Team Citius (a national team based out of Dallas, TX), it jumped on the favored team for five quick runs en route to an well controlled 5-2 victory. Justin Sorokowski (Lee-Davis HS 2016) and William Simon (Benedictine 2017) led off the Cardinals’ 2nd with back-to-back hits to spark the first scoring rally. Robert Fultineer (Matoaca HS 2016) extended his WWBA scoreless innings streak to 17 with three shutout innings before developing a foot blister that forced his exit. Guest pitchers Hunter Cochrane (Glen Allen HS 2017) and Jakob Ryan (Smithfield HS 2016) kept Citius under control to the finish.
Saturday was showdown day, with the anticipated matchup against the Scorpions/Mets drawing scores of pro scouts in their golf carts, armed with RADAR guns. The favorites’ D.J. Roberts did not disappoint, peaking at 92 mph and holding the Cardinals without a run until Grant Keller (Midlothian HS 2016) bounced an RBI single to cap a three-hit fourth, scoring William Simon and ending Roberts’ outing. A rare defensive breakdown by the Cardinals allowed the Scorpions their only run, as guest pitcher Ralph Gambino (Freehold, NJ 2016) otherwise shut down the vaunted offense, indeed notching two strikeouts against the Scorpions’ highly regarded cleanup hitter. Noah Murdock (Colonial Heights HS 2016) satisfied the scouts who crammed behind home plate to see his outing, matching Roberts’ 92 mph fastball and also posting one of the event’s top spin rates on his wicked slider, before Jakob Ryan again closed the door on a 1-1 tie.
Immediately after that taut contest, the Upstate (SC) Mavericks filed into the dugout vacated by the Scorpions and ultimately found themselves on the short end of a 6-0 shutout. Guest pitcher Liam Eddy (Brighton, CO 2016) had the leadoff man reach in all five of his innings but never allowed anyone to cross home plate. Eli Ottinger (Benedictine 2017) closed with two strong innings to complete the shutout. Grant Keller’s 2-rbi hit capped a 4-run burst in the first inning as the Cardinals led all the way in this one. Speedster Cal Sigler (Deep Run HS 2017) would later steal home to cap the scoring. At day’s end, the Cardinals were in first place in the pool standings, tied with the Scorpions at 2-0-1 but having allowed two fewer runs in their three games.
In Sunday’s pool finale, All-Star Baseball Academy (Philadelphia) jumped to an early 5-0 lead, finding holes or foul line chalk with seemingly every at bat, while the Cardinals had early scoring opportunities dashed by a pair of “at-em” balls converted into double plays. Knowing that the five runs had dashed their playoff hopes, the Cardinals resolved to post a comeback win and end the tourney undefeated in their maiden voyage. Hunter Cochrane, Eli Ottinger and Justin Sorokowski pitched five scoreless innings to close the game, while the offense came alive to score 10 runs in the final four frames for a convincing 10-5 triumph.
Despite their undefeated 3-0-1 record, the Cardinals missed out on the playoff rounds of the tourney, as the Scorpions also went 3-0-1 but allowed 1 less run in their four pool games. The Cardinals actually outscored the Scorpions in pool play, but unfortunately fell just short.
Eight Cardinals players (40% of the team’s roster) earned All Tournament Team honors: pitchers Liam Eddy, Ralph Gambino, Hunter Cochrane and Eli Ottinger, who combined for 18 1/3 scoreless innings; plus hitters Vinnie Pasquantino, Grant Keller, Cayman Richardson (Hanover HS 2016) and William Simon, who combined to hit .365 in their weekend facing the nation’s toughest pitching.
The tournament provided a fitting capper to the long Cardinals careers of several members of the Class of 2016. In addition to Fultineer’s strong final start as a Cardinal, Noah Murdock’s Saturday outing on the mound cemented his standing as a high prospect for June’s MLB draft. Vinnie Pasquantino (James River HS) finished the tournament 7-for-15 (.467) despite having a blast to the outfield wall snagged in his final at bat. Cayman Richardson hit .286 for the tournament despite having several line drives caught, and added a line shot home run in his final game. Justin Sorokowski not only notched a K on the mound for Sunday’s final out, but also finished with a hit in his final at bat, as did teammates Steven Carpenter (New Kent HS) and Henry Moore (Atlee HS). Mitch Carmody (James River HS) extended his amazing all-time team record by “wearing” three hit-by-pitches en route to a team-leading .667 on-base average.
Those 2016 players carried Cardinals teams through 5 WWBA events dating back to fall 2013, compiling an aggregate record of 25-5-1 in those events – 16-1-1 in the most prestigious fall tourneys. No other program in the country can match that record of achievement.