A Dynasty Gears Up for a Potential Disruptor in the 10U Futures Invitational Title Game

Newcomer Tennessee Elite will meet the ZT National Prospects in a Championship duel on Sunday where both teams will compete for all of the marbles. Both Head Coaches share how their teams got here, and what makes them championship caliber.

On Saturday morning, anyone hoping for an upset in the semifinals of the 2024 10U Futures Invitational were left disappointed as the top two seeds moved to 4-0 and showcased to those watching at Thomas Brooks Park why they had earned their positions in the postseason bracket.

While it took several innings for both top-seeded Tennessee Elite and No. 2-seeded ZT National to fully get going in their respective semifinal matchups against the Texas Sun Devils and Scottsdale Dirtbags, both teams demonstrated how they have an extra gear that they can hit, as Tennessee Elite advanced with a 7-1 win while ZT National punched its ticket in a 7-2 victory.

Head Coach Albert Arteaga was effusive in praising his team after ZT’s win over the Dirtbags on Saturday morning.

“I thought the boys started well, they rose to the occasion today. So far, we've been seeing everybody's best pitcher. I thought the Dirtbags had a really good pitcher today. It's all about digging deep and finding that right moment to pull away. The boys did a great job on that and I saluted them for it. I told them that the job wasn’t done though, we want to go for the gold.”

For Arteaga and ZT National, playing for the championship at the 10U Futures Invitational here in Cary is nothing new. Arteaga’s squad hoisted the trophy in both 2021 and 2022, and was the runner-up in 2023. This year’s team has been every bit as good as past iterations, having scored 35 runs while allowing a tournament-low nine in response.

“We've been building and have continued to develop these boys. It's a beautiful thing,” Arteaga said postgame. “We're setting them up for these big tournaments that are coming up. I feel like we made our presence here, and we're going to continue to bring these teams out every year and hopefully compete for these medals.”

They’ll get their chance on Sunday, and Arteaga has full confidence in his side to finish what they arrived in Cary to do this summer. He noted that what makes his squad special is how the players approach each team they face, and their work ethic.

“I'm really proud of this team. These boys are relentless when it comes down to facing the competition, they don't back away from anyone. That's the beautiful part about it,” Arteaga explained. “Every single kid on the team plays strong and plays hard. The best thing that I told them is that we need to leave it all on the field tomorrow, regardless of what happens, knowing we left playing our best.”

Arteaga’s statement about every kid on the team playing strong and playing hard has been the theme for ZT Nationals during its four games so far this week. Its offense has been one of the most balanced of any team in the field, with just three players having racked up more than a hit in a game so far. This is a lineup that goes nine-batters deep, and is as cohesive as they come.

Standing in the way of ZT National’s third 10U Futures title in four years, however, is Tennessee Elite. Competing at 10U Futures for the first time in 2024, the team has announced itself as a juggernaut by scoring a tournament-high 38 runs and nearly matching ZT National with just 10 runs allowed.

Head Coach Danny Gipson’s team has been outstanding, reaching double-figures in three of four games. Gipson broke down his lineup and how it's been so successful following its win over the Sun Devils on Saturday.

“We've been taking advantage of first-pitch strikes and first-pitch fastballs. We've been aggressive in the box, so we haven't been working deep counts to where they can throw off-speed. We've been jumping on fastballs, really.”

That method has been particularly effective for Tennessee Elite’s hitters, especially for Jaxon Spray, Duncan Mount, and Ethan Wagner, who all have multiple games with at least two hits this week. But Gipson’s squad has benefitted from those three, the entire lineup has stepped up here at Thomas Brooks Park. It was no different in the semifinal win over the Sun Devils.

“It was a great team effort. Mount did a great job on the bump throwing strikes. I think we only had one walk the entire game in six innings,” Gipson said postgame. “We took advantage of some long balls that got over their heads and scored four runs in the third, and we just never relinquished. It was a great team effort all the way around.”

There has been zero fear from Tennessee Elite in the team’s Futures debut, despite the stage being a national one. Gipson attributed that to the mindset of his players both having confidence in themselves and not letting the moment be too big for them.

“We came here expecting to win. I think there's a difference between teams that just come ready to compete versus coming ready to compete and expecting to win. When we show up, we expect to win. That's the mindset of every single kid on our team, is that others show up ready to compete, but we expect to win. We expect a dogfight, but we expect to come out on top.”

Arteaga spoke of a similar mindset for ZT National, describing what he believes will be the mentality of the finals matchup on Sunday.

“We're going to go out and leave it out on the field. The boys have been playing hard. They're not the ones that are going to back down. Two good teams are going to face each other, and it's going to be decided by who stays hungry and who makes the minimum mistakes.”

Those mindsets are certainly going to be put to the test as the two undefeated sides meet for the first time. For ZT Nationals, a third Futures crown in four years furthers the team’s reputation as the squad to beat at Thomas Brooks Park. For Tennessee Elite, a win in the team’s debut potentially means the start of something special.