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Sparks complete a Kernels 4-Peat

September 22, 2020 | Jeff Dahn

2020 Kernels Championship Article

And the beat goes on …

The Cangelosi Sparks 2021 Black ran the table over four days of play at the 18th annual PG WWBA Kernels Foundation Championship and after beating the Canes Midwest Scout Team 21’s & 22’s by a 7-1 count in Monday afternoon’s championship game they found themselves in some very rare air – unprecedented air, in fact.

The championship was the fourth straight for the Lockport, Ill.-based Cangelosi Sparks organization at this PG WWBA World Championship qualifying tournament and cements its reputation as one of the premier programs not only in the Midwest but the entire country.

“We are just putting together great groups of kids and really getting them to buy into the fact that you earn what you get and you can beat anybody at any time,” Sparks 2021 Black head coach Tyler Thompson told PG at the conclusion of the championship game.

The Sparks 2021 Black players did an excellent job of earning what they received at the WWBA Kernels this weekend. They were the playoffs’ No. 1 seed after outscoring their two pool-play opponents by a combined 27-0 and rolled to a record of 6-0-0 by outscoring their six opponents by a combined 53-6.

“First of all, our pitchers did great this weekend; every single pitcher we had pitched great,” Sparks standout 2022 outfielder Jack Lausch told PG while soaking up the championship. “It was a great ‘team’ weekend. Everyone stepped-up, everyone played their role and it was just a great weekend.”

Those gaudy run totals include the Sparks’ 7-1 victory over the Canes MWST 21’s & 22’s in Monday’s championship game, played on a warm, sunny and breezy final day of summer at the Prospect Meadows Sports Complex.

This was a game that the Sparks 2021 Black broke open with a decisive five-run bottom half of the third that effectively removed any drama that might have been brewing from the playing field.

It unfolded quickly, too, with Bobby Atkinson and Ryan Kraft delivering back-to-back one-out line drive safeties to right field; Atkinson’s dropped in for a single, Kraft’s for a double. One out later, with those two standing on second and third, Michael Maloney stepped-in and drove a pitch down the left field line for a double that chased both Atkinson and Kraft home.

Maloney’s clutch two-bagger was just the beginning. Mark Brannigan was issued a two-out walk to put runners on first and second and Jack Lausch followed that up with a three-run home run, his second bomb of the day.

The Sparks 2021 Black added single runs in each of the third and fifth innings with Atkinson coming up with sacrifice flies to account for both runs. Ty Batusich was hit by a pitch and walked, and Nate Voss singled twice right in front of Atkinson in both frames.

The No. 14-seeded Canes Midwest Scout Team 21’s & 22’s, who had to play a first-round playoff game Sunday and finished 6-1-0, scored their only run in the top of the sixth when Andrew Payton delivered a leadoff single and eventually scored on a sac fly off the bat of Reese Harmon.

Lausch finished 2-for-3 with the home run and a single, three RBI and a run scored and Michael Maloney doubled and singled, drove in a pair of runs and scored another.

2022 righty Julius Sanchez, an Illinois commit, started the game for the Sparks 2021 Black and pitched two hitless, scoreless innings striking out two and walking four before giving way to Matt Maloney. A 2021 righty, Maloney held the Canes MWST 21’s & 22’s pretty much in check, giving up just the one run on four hits in his four innings of work.

The Canes finished with eight hits on the day with three of them singles off the bat of Tucker Biven.

“Just playing team baseball, we really struggled the last couple of weekends and honestly I was kind of nervous about this weekend,” Thompson said when asked about his team’s performance.  “(But) they really pulled it together and they’re kind of jelling as a team and picking each other up and talking and communicating and all things that are required to play at the next level.

“That’s what we preach in the off-season and sometimes it takes a little bit of time to put a new group together and get them to mesh and we finally did it.”

Lausch, a 6-foot-2, 180 pound 2022 outfielder from Chicago, was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. An uncommitted prospect ranked No. 178 nationally in the 2022 class, Lausch collected seven hits over the weekend, including a pair of home runs, drove in nine runs and scored eight.

Holden Groher

The Canes’ Holden Groher, a 6-foot, 180 pound 2021 righthander and a top-500 Butler commit out of Sellersburg, Ind., gave up one run on four hits, struck-out six and walked one in a first-round playoff win over the Hitters 2021’s on Sunday; he was named the MV Pitcher.

Winning four straight Kernels championships really is a big deal for the Cangelosi Sparks program and not just for the players that populated the fields at Prospect Meadows over the last four days.

“We’re really close with all of our alumni and we talk with all of them who are playing at colleges right now,” Thompson said. “They’re texting us all the time and they’re like, ‘Hey, come on, we need a four-peat, come on, keep protecting it.

“It’s just a nice carrot for these guys to be able to say they upheld what the guys prior to them have built for them; I think that’s really important.”

The Cangelosi Sparks 2021 Black had already accepted an invitation to the PG WWBA World Championship (Jupiter) before coming here this weekend and after winning the championship that invitation will now be paid for.

Because of corona virus pandemic restrictions currently in place in certain Florida counties, this year’s WWBA World was moved from its traditional home in Jupiter on the Atlantic Coast west to Fort Myers on the Gulf Coast. The move does nothing to diminish the grandeur of PG’s most prestigious tournament event on the calendar.

“We’re excited for that one,” Lausch said as a big smile crossed his face. “I know the Sparks have done well there in the past and I think this is a team that can really go far in (that) tournament especially with the pitching we have and the bats that we have.

“This is a great start, great momentum that we got here today,” he added. “I think we can just keep this thing rolling and in three weeks we’ll be good to go.”

The Sparks 2021 Black and the Canes MWST 21’s & 22’s reached the championship game by winning their respective semifinal games Monday morning.

2021 lefthander Ryan Kraft and ’22 righty Julius Sanchez combined on a two-hitter in Cangelosi’s 3-2 win over No. 4 STiKS Academy. Kraft worked five innings, allowing the two runs on two hits while striking out six and Sanchez threw two scoreless inning, allowing one hit and striking out three; the Sparks’ Lausch hit a solo home run to lead off the top of the fourth.

“We know that we’re a really good team and we have something to prove,” Lausch said. “The Canes are really good and (the STiKS) are really good and we just knew it was about time we closed-out a tournament. It was great that we got a great team win here today.”

The Canes broke open a tight game with a six-run sixth and cruised to a 7-1 win over the No. 2 Illinois Dynasty Black 2021. Thomas Nettles delivered a bases-loaded triple as part of the big inning and also singled twice.

The Dynasty Black 2022 saw their consecutive scoreless inning streak come to an end at 25 in the game’s fourth inning when the Canes 21’s & 22’s scored on the strength of a one-out double from Tucker Biven and an RBI triple from Dominic Decker.

As the last two teams left Prospect Meadows Monday afternoon, the Sparks’ Thompson was feeling a lot better about this group than he did coming in.

“We played our best baseball this weekend and like I said, we struggled early-on this fall,” Thompson said. “I just keep telling the guys that we’re not a finished product. I don’t want to start off hot and cool off as we get closer to Jupiter, I want to start heating up. We really put it together this weekend and it’s a good building block for the next two weekends in  preparation for Fort Myers.”

Jeff Dahn