By Bob Elliott
First time outdoors pitchers are usually ahead of the hitters.
The Okotoks Dawgs 18U Black team headed to the 16-team Perfect Game Academies Showdown at the PG Lakepoint Complex in Emerson Ga. and they were the lead Dawgs.
They ran laps around opposing teams like repeat winners of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race -- the long-distance sled dog race from Anchorage to Nome -- battling until the final. The Dawgs erased a two-run lead in the top of the seventh before losing with one out in the bottom half to Faith Baptist Academy Crusaders.
For Faith of Ludowici, Ga. it was its third consecutive title. The tournament has grown from eight teams in 2014 to 18 this year with academy teams coming from seven states, Puerto Rico and Canada. The tourney was played before NCAA D1, D2 and JUCO recruiters as well as pro scouts; with over 100 in attendance over the weekend.
Okotoks, coached by Val Helldobler, Jeff Duda, and Allen Cox, led the title game 2-0 after 2 1/2 innings and at that point five Dawgs pitchers had combined to throw 22 scoreless innings at the tournament. But Faith scored four in the bottom of the third on two singles, three walks, a fly ball and an error to take a 4-2 lead. It stayed that way until the seventh.
The Dawgs made it 4-3 on a two-out, RBI double off the bat of Ashton Roy in the top half and then tied the game at 4 on an Irvin Cespedes error.
Cespedes hit the first pitch of the bottom of the seventh up the middle. A single, a fielder’s choice out and an intentional walk later, a sacrifice fly that scored Cespedes with the winning run.
Faith Baptist outscored its three opponents by a combined 39-4, including wins of 13-0 and 18-0 in their first two games against NewBaldy/Team Elite (P.R.) and North Metro GA Baseball (Ga.) respectively. The Crusaders hit .472 as a team – 22 of their 28 hits were singles – and Young went into the championship game 8-for-11 (.727) with a double, two triples, eight RBI and five runs.
The Dawgs came into the championship having outscored their previous three opponents by a combined 23-0. Four pitchers combined to throw 20 scoreless innings on eight hits, with 26 strikeouts and five walks.
RHP Zack Demchenko threw a complete-game no-hitter with nine strikeouts and one walk in a 9-0 victory over Brunswick School (Conn.); senior right-hander Ben Thompson threw a complete-game three-hitter with six strikeouts and senior lefty Jared Spearing delivered five-inning four-hitter with 10 strikeouts in the other two wins.
The Dawgs used eight pitchers who combined to allow three earned runs over 26 2/3 innings (0.79 ERA) on 16 hits with 31 strikeouts and 10 walks in the four games. Okotoks struggled at times at the plate hitting .279 (31-for-111), but counted nine doubles and three triples.
Faith Baptist headed for St. Petersburg, Fla., where they ran into RHP Austin Shields (Dundas, Ont.) of the Great Lake Canadians on Monday.
Games 1 vs Home Plate Citadels
The Dawgs started with a bang against the Citadels, winning 12-0 in six innings, led by a strong outing by Jared Spearing, who is headed to Indian Hills Community College pitching five innings while striking out 10 and surrendering four hits. Offensively, the Dawgs were led by Luke Lepine, a Northeastern JC signee, going 2-for-3 with two doubles and three RBIs. Peter Hutzal, headed to Washington State University, also went 2-for-4 with a single, a triple and three RBIs. The Dawgs managed eight hits including four doubles and a triple.
Game 2 vs Johnson Ferry Christian Academy Saints
The Dawgs managed to come out on top against the Saints; winning 2-0 and clinching the No. 2 seed in the championship bracket. Ben Thompson pitched a three-hit complete game shutout throwing only 78 pitches. Offensively, the Dawgs managed to put seven hits on the board with Ryan Humeniuk, also bound for Indian Hills and Shaun Atamanchuk collecting two hits each; Atamanchuk got the only RBI in the game.
Game 3 vs Brunswick School (Semi-final)
In what was possibly the most well-played game by the Dawgs, Zach Demchenko, a Northeastern JC commit, stole the spotlight throwing a complete game no-hitter in a 9-0 victory over Brunswick; a starting a line-up with 5 D1 signees. Demchenko ended with nine strikeouts while walking only one batter. In any no-hitter there is always stellar defense, this game was no exception. Brett Esau, Jacob Bouzide and Hutzal each made diving plays to preserve the no-no. Offensively, the Dawgs bats came to life putting 10 hits on the board including two doubles and a triple. Led by Justin King, who is headed to Northern Kentucky University, with three hits including a double and two RBIs; and Hutzal with two hits including a two-run triple.
Game 4 vs Faith Baptist Academy (championship)
The Championship game against Faith Baptist Academy was a nail-biter down to the last batter. This game would prove to be the toughest competition for both sides. The Dawgs had their work cut out for them facing two arms that sat in the low 90’s, Shameko Smith and Julio Blanco, respectively. Dawgs hitters managed to jump ahead to an early 2-0 lead. Dawgs Starter, Tyler McWillie, pitched two scoreless before running into some trouble in the bottom of the third. After giving up a lead-off single followed by a walk, Ryan Morgan came into relief to try and minimize damage. After an error and back to back doubles, the Dawgs lead vanished as Faith took a 4-2 lead. The score remained the same until the seventh when down to their last out, the Dawgs managed to tie the game on an RBI double from Ashton Roy, who is headed to Pratt Community College. A walk-off fly ball decided the championship.
Pre-tourney scouting report
Okotoks Dawgs Baseball Academy (Okotoks, Alberta)
Top Prospects (Position, Class, PG Rank)
• Justin King (OF, 2016, 384)
• Peter Hutzal (SS, 2016, Top 1000)
• Luke Lepine (C, 2016, High Follow)
• Zack Demchenko (RHP, 2016, High Follow)
• Brett Esau (3B/MIF, 2016, Follow List)
Senior Zack Demchenko looks to take the No. 1 spot in the rotation armed with a mid-80s fastball and feel for a changeup. Ben Thompson looks to follow up his appearance in the World Baseball Classic Qualifier with a strong performance as well. The coaches are also excited about sophomore Tyler McWillie, who’s already hitting the mid-80s and should eat innings for them this year.
Northern Kentucky commit Justin King will man the middle of the lineup for the Dawgs as the top ranked player on their team. Brett Esau also looks to show off the pop in his bat, while shortstop Peter Hutzal mans the middle of the infield and top of the order.
Head Coach Allen Cox returns many of his top players with a loaded senior class. They look to repeat as Provincial State champs behind a strong crop of seniors, highlighted by a deep lineup and strong defense.