Tommy Springer, Most Valuable Pitcher - Kernels Foundation Championship / no-hitter in championship game
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – A Blizzard blew through Perfect Game Field-Veterans Memorial Stadium on Monday leaving nothing in its wake but good feelings while also vowing to re-emerge with equal force and fervor in just about three weeks’ time on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean in Jupiter, Fla.
The No. 5-seeded Minnesota Blizzard Blue combined a five-inning no-hitter from versatile Tommy Singer with a 13-hit onslaught of its own, and ran past the No. 7 Nebraska Prospects 2018-Kenny, 8-0 in five innings, in the championship game at the Perfect Game WWBA Kernels Foundation Championship. The contest was played on a cool and cloudy but certainly very comfortable early autumn afternoon in Eastern Iowa.
The Blizzard Blue (5-0-1) overcame the scare of having to settle for a tie in its final pool-play game, and went on to win three playoff games in two days en route to their first championship at the long-running PG WWBA Kernels Foundation event. And this PG tournament title delivered more than just a shiny gold trophy and banner. It also means these ballplayers and their coaches received a paid invitation to the exclusive PG WWBA World Championship, to be played in Jupiter Oct. 20-24.
“This is what our program has been working towards since 2003,” Minnesota Blizzard program founder and head coach Adam Barta said after the championship game victory, his eyes reddening and his voice cracking ever-so-slightly. “It’s an emotional win because this is a pretty special group. Some of these kids … have been in the program since they were 10 years old and now they’re 18.
“They started in the program when they were (youngsters) and now they’re men, so they earned it,” he said. “This isn’t a team that we just happened to throw together. This is a team that has been playing together, for some of them, 10 years; it just makes it really special.”
Springer, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound top-500 2018 right-hander and Missouri commit from Apple Valley, needed 90 pitches to complete his five-inning, no-hit shutout; he struck-out three and walked four. It was his only pitching performance in the tournament and it was good enough to earn him Most Valuable Pitcher recognition.
“I just wanted to attack the zone and give my team the best chance to win the game,” said Springer, who also helped his own cause with a pair of singles, an RBI and a run scored. “After the semifinal win (earlier Monday), I felt the momentum was on our side.”
The Blizzard Blue hitters certainly felt something resembling momentum with their 13 hits, which included four doubles. Erik Holloman smacked two of those doubles, drove in two runs and scored one; Cole Albers doubled, singled, drove in one and scored one; Dylan Criquet-Danielson (an Oklahoma recruit) singled twice with an RBI and a run; Zachary Smith (North Dakota State) singled twice and drove in a run and Cam Kline singled and had an RBI and a run scored.
Both Albers and Kline put up MVP-like numbers, with Kline batting 9-for-16 (.563) with four doubles, six RBI, four runs and a 1.339 OPS; Albers went 9-for-19 (.529) with three doubles, a triple, six RBI, five runs and a 1.402 OPS.
Minnesota was awarded its pool championship by tie-breaker criteria after tying the Zepp Prospects 18u, 3-3, in its final pool-play game. Once in bracket-play it outscored its three playoff opponents by a combined 17-4.
“That game was our first playoff game,” Barta said of pool-play game No. 3. “The Zepp Prospects are a really good team, but our resiliency shows you that we’re going to fight no matter who it is, and that’s a good precursor to Jupiter. Obviously, every single game we play in Jupiter – it’s fun to say that, ‘Every game in Jupiter!’ – is going to be just like this and we’re going to have to show that same kind of resiliency down there.”
The Nebraskans lost their pool-play opener on Saturday but then won their next two, including a 6-1 victory over the favored Reds Midwest Scout Team on Sunday. They earned the No. 7 seed, just good enough to avoid the 8-9 play-in game, and then pounded the No. 2 Lakeside Legends in the quarterfinals, 11-5, which moved them into Monday morning’s final-four.
It’s hard to comprehend the Prospects making such a deep run into the bracket without the play of Drew Gilin. A 6-foot-2, 185-pound 2018 left-side infielder from Omaha, Gilin – who is unranked and uncommitted and was playing in his first Perfect Game event – went 9-for-14 with three doubles, and posted a slash-line of .643/.737/.857; he drove in four runs, scored five and stole five bases for good measure. The performance earned him the tournament’s Most Valuable Player Award.
Both semifinal games were played on Perfect Game Field ahead of the championship game Monday morning, with the Nebraska Prospects 2018-Kenny downing No. 6 Cangelosi 2017 Black (3-1-1) from Lockport, Ill., 3-1, in a snappy affair, and the Blizzard out-lasting No. 8 Hitters Baseball Navy (3-1-2) out of Racine, Wis., 3-2.
2017 right-hander Will Hanafan pitched six innings of one-hit, one-run relief with four strikeouts and six walks while picking up the win for the Prospects in a seven inning game that was played in about an hour-and-a-half.
The Prospects used a double by Northern Colorado commit Garrett Olson and two walks to load the bases in the top of the third and then scored their first run when Dylan Phillips drew a two-out, bases loaded walk. They added two more in the fifth on an RBI double from Gilin and an RBI fielder’s choice groundout from Phillips. Cangelosi scored its only run on a sacrifice fly from James Krik in the bottom of the third inning.
All of the scoring in the Blizzard Blue’s victory over the Hitters Navy was done in the first inning and then both pitching staffs settled-in for the duration.
Blizzard Blue starter Samuel Carlson – a 6-foot-4, 180-pound 2017 right-hander and Florida recruit from Savage, Minn., who is ranked No. 75 nationally – gave up singles to Jack Blomgren and Alex Binelas and walked a batter (there was also a fielding error) in the Hitters Navy’s two-run first (one earned run).
He allowed only four more hits and walked one over his next five shutout innings, finishing with a six-inning, six-hitter, and nine strikeouts and two walks; his fastball sat 90-92 and topped-out at 93. 2017 right-hander Gabriel Pilla (North Dakota State) needed only 16 pitches to strikeout the side in the seventh inning.
To Barta’s thinking, the performances of Carlson and Springer reveal the true depth of the Blizzard Blue’s pitching staff, mostly because several players were unable to be attendance due to college visits or other obligations. But some players drove down here from the Twin Cities area to play just one game, or in Pilla’s case, just one inning.
“Pilla's one inning against the Hitters meant the world to this team,” Barta said. “The pitching staff this weekend was unbelievable.”
The Blizzard used doubles from Albers and Carlson, a sacrifice fly from Kline and a two-run single from Criquet-Danielson to score its three runs in the bottom of the first. Hitters’ starter Alex Binelas – a 6-foot-2, 180-pound 2018 right-hander and Louisville commit ranked No. 180 nationally – allowed all three earned runs on three hits and left after two innings. Blomberg, a 2017 right-hander and Michigan recruit, worked the final four shutout innings, giving up three hits and striking out three.
“It’s been a great time down here. Great tournament, great fields, great opponents – just great everything,” Springer said. “It’s really important for our team (getting the PG WWBA World bid). It’s the first time for us winning this tournament and it’s really special for us.”