Stacked National and Excel Blue Wave Set to Wrap up 15U Champs NC in Gold Medal Finale

Bracket play got underway at the 15U National Team Championships in Cary, North Carolina, with teams competing for a chance to progress through the field and get one step closer to claiming gold.

The quarterfinal round was packed with action, seeing two team’s undefeated campaigns fall victim to crushing losses and another game spiral into an extra-inning thriller.

The Dirtbags were the first to register a win within the early slate of games. Entering the postseason after a tough 4-3 loss to PRD, the Dirtbags looked like a brand new team on Wednesday morning in an 11-3, six-inning rout of the East Coast Sox. After scoring 10 runs combined in three pool play games, the Dirtbags lit up the scoreboard with eight runs in the bottom of the first inning and never looked back.

Three walks loaded the bases before two hit batters sent home a pair of runs to put the Dirtbags ahead 2-1. RBI singles from Cooper Partin and Tristan Lange along with RBI doubles from Kaden Parker and Hudson Tuttle ballooned the lead to 8-1 before the end of the frame. Jaden Pipes would add an RBI groundout in the bottom of the third, and a two-RBI single courtesy of Carter Beck delivered the final two runs in the bottom of the sixth for the Dirtbags.

Beck, Curtin, and Tuttle led the way at the plate for the victors as all three tallied a pair of hits. Both Beck and Tuttle drove in a pair of RBIs, with five other Dirtbag hitters also sending a run home. Eight walks helped lay the foundation for the win as well.

The Excel Blue Wave notched the second big win of the day, breaking up an undefeated run from the Motor City Hit Dogs. After jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the top of the first inning, Excel Blue Wave National blanked Motor City Hit Dogs in a battle of first-time postseason teams. Loading the bases early, Jackson Burgess sent the opening run home by raking a single into center. A fielder’s choice and fielding error added two more runs shortly after.

Shelby Houston was outstanding on the mound for Excel, going all seven innings and protecting the lead the entire way. Houston struck out four Motor City batters while allowing three hits and another three walks, though he kept the Hit Dogs at bay any time a runner threatened. Another fielder’s choice provided the fourth run for Excel in the seventh inning, and the Blue Wave defense completed the shutout by turning three ground outs.

The Wave wasn’t the only team to spoil an undefeated campaign as USA Prime upended the Texas Twelve Red Sox to advance to the semifinals.

After rattling off seven runs in the fifth frame, USA Prime rolled its way into the semifinals with its’ 11-3 win across six innings over the Texas Twelve Red Sox. It was the Red Sox who struck first in the top of the third innings thanks to Jackie Bryant’s bases-loaded RBI. USA Prime responded at the turn of the inning with Jordin Griffin sneaking home on a wild pitch which would lock the game at one run each. The Red Sox answered with an RBI triple from Karson Schulz and a Ryan Morgan sacrifice fly to take a 3-1 lead. With the bases loaded in the bottom of the fifth inning, Prime’s Aiden Salinas delivered a two-RBI double to knot the score at three runs. The scoring rally didn’t stop there as USA Prime would go on to notch five more runs, seeing Lash Henderson cap off the inning with a sacrifice fly. USA Prime’s defense held strong in the top of the sixth frame, allowing for its offense to tack on more runs. In the bottom of the sixth, the trio of Eli Jones, Maddux Lessard, and Griffin each registered RBIs to push the USA Prime lead to eight runs which would be enough to secure the victory.

Prime’s Salinas had a stellar performance at the dish as he went 3-for-3 with two RBIs and a walk while also making his way across the plate twice. The duo of Griffin and Lessard added on four runs as the registered two RBIs a piece for USA Prime.

Stacked National remained the lone undefeated squad, as Kyle Plasman crushed a walk-off single into right in extra-innings. Stacked took the initial lead in the bottom of the first inning, thanks to Aiden Sun roping a line drive single into center to score a pair of runs. The lead wouldn’t last, though; Andrew Brech put Team Elite up 3-2 in the top of the second inning, clearing the bases with a double blasted into center.

Another double, this time off the bat of Caden Borcherding, handed Team Elite a 4-2 lead in the top of the third inning. But a wild pitch and a fielding error brought in two runs for Stacked National to tie the game, and for the final three innings neither team would score a run. Andrew Jimenez, who pitched the final four innings for Stacked National, struck out two of three batters he faced in extra innings to give his side a chance in the bottom of the eighth. Plasman wouldn’t waste the opportunity, lining a ball high and deep into right to send the game-winning run home.

After an eventful quarterfinal round, it all came down to just four teams to punch their way into the championship game and claim gold for the respective squads.

Stacked National rolled its way to a 5-0 victory over the Dirtbags to secure the first spot in the gold medal game behind a stellar pitching effort on the mound from Roy Kim. Head coach Kyle Davis praised Kim for allowing the offense to operate confidently at the plate.

“Roy Kim and his six shutout innings. I mean, we played four close games earlier. All games were close since a lot of them were one run or two run games. It was nice to get an early lead in our last game. Roy Kim did what he always does on the mound, and we finished the game,” Davis said.

Getting into the medal game did not come with ease for Davis and his crew. Stacked overcame close contests, winning two games by a single run and another two games by two runs. Coach Davis’ message to the team for the rest of the way is clear though: “stay calm.”

“When I talked to them I told them to take a deep breath and stay calm. Baseball is a crazy game. That game was pretty wild too for everyone that saw us play. We had our best guy up, Kyle Plasman, with the bases loaded. We just tried to keep manufacturing our way to the base path,” Davis stated. “Walks, being hit by pitches, whatever it took. We finally got the job done to secure ourselves some runs.”

Stacked now sits with a perfect 5-0 record throughout the tournament which is not a fluke. Stacked has been able to keep the same core group of players which has built a tremendous amount of camaraderie within the team.

“We're a family. We're all within a 20 mile radius. We all practice together,” said Davis. “We all know each other well and want to play for each other. There's no guys here that are in it for themselves. We're a family. We're one big family. It has helped us get to the championship game.”

Stacked will look to take its tight-knit group of players into the gold medal game and secure its first podium finish at 15U Champs NC. Davis acknowledges his squad has what it takes to clinch gold and knows that his squad packs a fiery punch.

“Their fight has been something to watch. The way that they compete on a day-to-day basis is amazing. The way these boys play is just so much fun to watch. It’s so enjoyable. The way all guys on the field go to work as a unit is something that has contributed to what we have done here.”

The Excel Blue Wave pushed its way into the championship game, scooting by USA Prime in the seventh inning to secure a 6-5 win.

With the game locked at five runs each, Evan Taylor played hero and delivered a double to right field to register the winning run. The Wave’s defense held strong in the bottom of the seventh frame in dramatic fashion, gunning a runner down at second base for the final out.

Head coach Manny Maniscalco was immensely proud of his crew due to them making their way to the championship game in only their first year at 15U Champs NC.

“You know, I can't say enough about this team and their mindset and just the ‘never say die attitude.’ It really is just a lot of belief in each other, those guys. We're pitching a kid who threw more pitches in this game than he's thrown all summer, and when they moved the days up on us, it kind of made a stretch on somebody like us. And so you never doubt, just a lot of belief. These guys just really have kind of taken on that motto with the blue collar mindset. And they're out here with something to prove. I'm so proud of them,” said Maniscalco.

Maniscalco and the Blue Wave knew the journey to the gold medal game would be an uphill battle, but stayed confident throughout the process. After a week playing in pool play and bracket play, Excel will get its shot performing on the big stage.

“I kind of use that as some motivation with my guys too. Just tell them ‘Hey, we’ve got to win our way to it. It's like my dad used to always tell me, ‘if you want to get seen, you better be good enough, boy, I'm not paying all this money for stuff.’ And so it's kind of the same mindset that we have, where we’ve got to earn it,” said Maniscalco. “We're not going to be given anything. We don't deserve to be given anything. And these boys have earned that.”

For Maniscalco, the trip to the championship has been much sweeter than most outsiders realize. His son, Rocco, is a member of the Blue Wave and has been a big contributor to Excel on both the offensive and defensive side of the plate.

“I'm just proud of the man that he's become. It's not about the performance on the field. He's always been a good player his whole life, and we've been proud of him. My wife and I have been proud of the teammate and the kid that he is and he gets along with everybody. He's a lot better of a kid than I ever was, and I appreciate that. But, man, we're just we're grateful that he is the way he is, and then, fortunately, he was able to capitalize while he had the opportunity today for his team,” Maniscalco stated.

Coach Maniscalco wants his team to play loosely while also playing with confidence since it is their first time competing at Champs NC.

“We’ve got nothing to lose. I mean, we really don't. We're playing with house money right now, and we're just going to try to represent our academy and all the guys and teams that came before us, and put something on the field that they can be proud of.

Maniscalco knows that a gold medal would symbolize much more than individual performances and even what his team has done as a group. He knows that this opportunity has the potential to pay tribute to his academy and represent the values in which Excel’s program exudes.

“The main motto for us is that it's bigger than each individual player on this team, it's bigger than me. It's way bigger than me. I never dreamed it would be like that. But, I mean, these boys, it's a big family and there's so much tradition that we have now. We had another guy called up to the big leagues two days ago, and it just makes us so, so proud of these guys. They're going out there to represent our academy, and the name on the front. Their parents, I'm sure, are proud of each and every one of them, as I am,” said Maniscalco.

Tomorrow, the matchup between Stacked National and Excel Blue Wave will not only conclude 15U Champs NC but will also finalize the 2024 National Team Championships. The two will square off at 10:45 a.m. at Coleman Field.