By Blake Dowson
FORT MYERS, Florida -- The road to Perfect Game’s WWBA World Championships began early for Chicago Scouts Association this year, on a number of Wednesday nights leading up to what has become the biggest travel ball tournament held in the country each year.
With a number of area pro ball players out of structured workouts within their organization and needing to get work in, there was an opportunity for CSA to see a few live arms before they even boarded a flight down to Florida.
Ian Krol, a 7th round draft pick of the Oakland A’s in 2009, and Tyler Schlaffer, a 9th round pick of the Cubs in the 2019 draft, were among the arms CSA faced at Triton College on those Wednesdays.
“Every starting pitcher we saw [at Worlds], it was top fastball 92 mph, top fastball 94 mph,” head coach Andy Deain said. “But to our guys, it was nothing they hadn’t seen. We saw 97 from the left side, facing Ian Krol on one of those Wednesday nights. So after you see that, no one could throw anything at us that we weren’t prepared for...That was invaluable. I think our success that we had this year, a lot of it has to go to those Wednesday nights.”
Noah Miller hit .444 at Worlds, with 8 hits and 5 runs to his credit. Perfect Game ranked his performance as the 15th-best stat line of the entire tournament, according to their game score metric.
To Miller, he couldn’t have had the success he did down in Florida without those reps under the lights.
You see pro pitching enough, and whatever you dig into the box against after that doesn’t seem so nasty. It doesn’t matter if it’s one of the top prospects in the country or not.
“It got us ready for the pitching we were going to see down there,” Miller said of the Wednesday night scrimmages. “We struggled at first on those Wednesday nights, but the more we saw, the better we got. I think that’s one of the main reasons we were able to hit the pitching that we saw.”
CSA beat up on the rest of its pool, which included the Dulin’s Dodgers 2021 Prime based out of Memphis, Upstate Mavericks Scout Team out of South Carolina, and Florida Burn 2021 National, by a combined run differential of 18-5. The 18 runs the lineup produced were the most in the pool, and the 5 runs given up were the fewest.
Florida Burn was a trendy pick to win the entire tournament, after winning it the past two years. CSA beat the Burn by a score of 4-2 thanks to a combined seven-hit performance on the mound from Evan Clark, Jacob Kisting, Gavin Sitarz, and Ryan Smith, who struck out the side in the seventh inning to close it out.
CSA got hits from the top three spots in its order in that one; Donovan McIntyre out of the leadoff spot, Miller in the two-hole, and Nick Demarco following Miller.
With a 10-3 win over the Upstate Mavericks and a 4-0 blanking of Dulin’s Dodgers added to the win over the Burn, CSA earned the No. 6 overall seed in the championship bracket.
McIntyre, who hit leadoff for the entire tournament, notched at least one hit in each pool play game. He entered the tournament uncommitted, though that status didn’t last long once he showed his diverse skill set in Fort Myers. McIntyre committed to Kent State a few days after he returned home.
He knew how big of an opportunity it was to play in front of so many coaches and scouts at Worlds.
“It was really important for me, because I felt like it showed all the teams out there that were on the fence about me that I can play with the best players in the country,” McIntyre said. “We faced a Florida commit, we faced an Oklahoma commit, we faced an LSU commit. We were hanging, and I was hanging with them. It just showed that they can take a chance on me, and that’s big.”
McIntyre’s performance - 6 runs, 5 hits, 3 walks, 3 RBI, and 2 stolen bases - earned him a top-50 ranking by PG for the tournament, joining Miller in that respect.
CSA added one more player to that top-50 list, as Alex Calarco turned himself into an RBI machine during the team’s time down in Florida.
Calarco’s 10 RBI out of the cleanup spot were the second-highest total of the entire tournament, and were a big reason the team swept its way through the pool.
“Every clutch situation where we needed a big hit with guys on base, he got it done,” Deain said of Calarco. “He had a three-run home run, a three-RBI double, and a two-RBI double, all in times where we were either down or in a tie ballgame. He did exactly what your four-hitter is supposed to do.”
The three-run home run came in CSA’s first game of championship bracket play, an 8-0 win over Banditos Scout Team 2021, a program out of Tomball, Texas. Calarco added two more RBI in the game to total five for the contest.
His bases-loaded walk in the first inning of that game was enough to move CSA on to the Sweet 16, thanks to Connor Lockwood’s brilliance on the mound.
Lockwood, a Valparaiso commit, went the full five innings in a run-rule shortened contest, giving up just two hits and striking out three along the way.
“[Lockwood] had tried out for the team for three years and never made it, and he finally made it this year,” Deain said of his first round playoff starter. “He pitched his butt off for us. He threw a shutout over seven innings across two outings for us. He was a huge asset.”
Lockwood was part of a pitching staff that performed at a high level for the entire tournament. Grant Ross put together a five-inning, nine-strikeout performance against Dulin’s Dodgers during pool play, while Jackson Kent contributed five innings, seven punchouts, and two hits against the Mavericks to jumpstart the team at the beginning of the tournament.
CSA’s tournament came to an end in the second round of the championship bracket at the hands of the Scorpions Marucci Franchise Team, a semifinalist at Worlds in 2020.
The success came from a willingness to play for each other, Deain said. Not many teams in Fort Myers were as familiar with each other as CSA was, having built out its roster over the course of four years around the Chicago area.
That’s what led to the 3-0 pool play record and the No. 6 overall seed in the championship bracket, the highest seeding CSA has ever received at the tournament.
“The atmosphere in our dugout and the way these guys play for each other, it’s not something that you see out of these scout teams when they fly in all this talent,” Deain said. “With us, everyone plays for each other. It felt like a college atmosphere, where everyone wanted everyone to succeed.
“Guys weren’t just trying to get their own. But that goes hand-in-hand, where the team does well and guys get those individual accolades. So I’m expecting some guys to get those accolades because of how our team performed. But it wasn’t because the kids were chasing that.”