“Oh, We Do Belong:” The Wave That’s Hitting 15U Champs NC For the First Time

Making its debut, Excel Blue Wave National showed it belongs on the Champs stage with a pair of big wins on Monday. Head Coach Manny Maniscalco believes it’s just the beginning.

At the end of a thrilling opening day of the 15U National Team Championships in Cary, North Carolina, on Monday, three teams now stand at 2-0. One of them is Excel Blue Wave National, which made its debut on the big stage after coming all the way from Oxford, Alabama.

Head Coach Manny Maniscalco’s crew is now in prime position to reach bracket play in the team’s first summer at the USA Baseball National Training Complex. Excel took down fellow debutant Indiana Bulls Black 3-1 in the first slate of games behind strong pitching performances on the mound from Austin Kightlinger and Ayden Noyola.

Coach Maniscalco also credits the defense behind his pitching staff and believes as long as his guys on the bump can let hitters put the ball into play, his team will be just fine.

“We're a strong defensive team. With us on the mound, we're not going to throw out the guys that are throwing 95 miles an hour or anything like that. But our guys were able to locate the zone well. At this age, if teams throw strikes and mix up pitches, it's hard for them to score runs … And that was the key for us on the mound. Defensively, our infield, I'll put them up against anybody. Our outfield made a bunch of good plays today as well. Our catching was incredible. I think defense is our strong point as a team. Like I said, as long as our pitchers throw strikes, mix up speeds, and have a good tempo, we'll have a chance against anybody.”

As for game two, Excel had a much different approach than its first time around. The Blue Wave doubled the amount of runs they scored courtesy of huge RBIs from Slade Bounds and Rocco Maniscalco to help push them to a 6-2 win over Wow Factor National. As the offense improved, the defense remained as steady as it had in the opener.

“Every game is different. Each one of these pitchers that we've faced has been so talented, and so we're just trying to find a way that we can put pressure on opposing defenses,” Maniscalco highlighted when speaking about the difference between the two games. “We had a lot of leadoff hitters get on base today, and when you do that, you can continue to just plug away. We're kind of a pesky team because we continue to just hack away to put ourselves in a position to have an opportunity to win. Fortunately, we were able to do that twice today.”

Now, this so-called ‘pesky team’ under Maniscalco finds itself 2-0 and in a great position going into Tuesday. This might be their first time competing in Champs NC for Excel Blue Wave, but his squad looks like seasoned veterans two games in.

“I’m just proud. Those are two quality teams that we played today. Both of the games could have gone either way, but my guys had a lot of fight, and they were able to make some plays when we needed them the most,” Maniscalco said. “They played very good ball. We're excited to be out here as well. We started out a little shaky in the first game and got behind on a couple of plays we don't typically make. So at the beginning I thought we might be in for a tough day, but then they responded so well. That's what they do, they answer back.”

For Maniscalco’s players, their first time in Cary at the National Training Complex has already been an experience they’ll never forget. While Monday’s wins have the players fired up for what’s next, they’re absorbing everything that the Champs experience has to offer.

“The talent on every field has been amazing. It's awesome, the things that USA Baseball provides have been amazing for us. Seeing all these pictures of these big leaguers and guys with the U-S-A on the front of their chest, I know my guys were starstruck when they saw some of that stuff and just knowing that this is one of their first experiences in an environment like this,” Maniscalco said with a smile. “It’s been great to see the twinkle in their eyes and that they're dreaming of being in that position one day. And so I think that my favorite thing about this experience is that right now these guys are going home with the feeling that they belong.”

If Excel Blue Wave continues to play like it has to begin the tournament, the players will be leaving with more than just the feeling they belong. Now, they’re seeking to capture something physical: a medal. Maniscalco’s main goal now is to keep his players focused, while allowing them to still enjoy everything this week has to offer in Cary.

“My message was pretty clear. My guys didn't know the difference between blue collar and white collar, so I told them what we were,” Maniscalco explained after his squad’s second game. “I told them that we don't have a bunch of guys with numbers by their names and rankings or many guys that are committed so other teams play us with a chip on their shoulder. Nobody expects us to make any noise here so let's go out and be the best team that we can possibly be.”

Already on Monday evening, Excel Blue Wave has made plenty of noise with its 2-0 start. The team has a chance to make even more when it takes on Stacked National at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, also currently sitting at 2-0 after the opening day’s action. Maniscalco’s team might be a newcomer to the Champs scene, but his players have been everything a squad here should be.