U.S. Elite Overcomes Adversity to Win Gold at the 2016 East Championships
No. 13 seed U.S. Elite won the 15U East gold medal after going 1-2 in pool play
DURHAM, N.C. - In 1996, USA Baseball established the National Team Championships in order for the nation's most premier amateur programs to showcase their talent with the goal of having players selected to a national team. As an invite only tournament, the annual Championships recruit the best of the best. As a result, teams must battle through top-notch competition in order to win a coveted gold medal.
For the third consecutive summer, U.S. Elite made the 1,140 mile journey from Duncansville, Pa., to participate in the 2016 15U East Championships. In the two previous trips to the Roger Dean Stadium Complex in Jupiter, Fla., U.S. Elite had returned home empty handed, and the program was motivated to change that in 2016.
The team got off to a slow start in pool play, losing two of three games in the first round of competition. Despite late rallies in both games, U.S. Elite fell to Team No Fear and Elite Squad 15U Prime in pool play and barely qualified for the 16-team playoff, earning the No. 13 seed.
"We are used to being the favorite at most regional events that we go to," said Jason Ferber, Head Coach of U.S. Elite. "It was really tough to get the guys fired up to win a game at that level against teams with the best players in the country."
After fighting tooth and nail just to earn a spot in the playoffs, U.S. Elite came together as a team and battled through four tough teams to advance to the 15U East gold medal game at Roger Dean Stadium. In the championship game, U.S. Elite avenged a first round loss to Elite Squad 15U Prime by winning, 6-1, to capture the program's first gold medal at the East Championships.
Consistent play at both the plate and the bump during the playoffs helped lead U.S. Elite to the title. After struggling to put runs on the board in pool play, U.S. Elite outscored its opponents, 34-7, during the five games of the playoffs. At the mound, Ryan Kutz (Hummelstown, Pa.) and Nate Nabholz (Cressona, Pa.) pitched complete game shutouts in the Sweet Sixteen and quarterfinal rounds.
"We were able to overcome the adversity. A lot of teams that barely get out of pool play will wave the white flag and give up, saying this just wasn't their event. I'm really proud of the way that my guys responded to that adversity and came together as a team," said Ferber.
Ferber continued, "We had an underdog mentality. Once we got out of pool play, we didn't lose a game because our mindset changed."
According to Ferber, it is a team effort by the players, parents, organization and coaching staff to put the program in a position to succeed at such as high-level tournament as the East Championships.
"I believe that you don't get lucky and win a national championship. There are a lot of people that made that happen. All of the parents took time off from work and spent time and money to get the kids equipment and fly them to the event. Individual coaches, hitting instructors, pitching coaches, strength trainers and speed guys are all involved in preparing players," said Ferber.
Ferber continued, "It was a great validation of all the hard work by everyone involved. A lot of our guys had to sacrifice a lot and do all of the little things to win the title. It was a culmination of a ton of people's hard work."
Each summer, the East Championships features the best programs from states across the United States, especially teams based in the U.S. South. Teams from Florida, Georgia and Texas regularly feature the nation's best prospects, giving teams like the Northeast-based U.S. Elite valuable experience against high level talent.
"It was good to get out of our region and come down to the South, where some of the best baseball is played, in my opinion. The only way to get better is to play the best around. If you are around the best, then it will drive you to get better," said Ferber.
According to Ferber, winning the gold medal at such a competitive tournament proves that players from the Northeast can compete and win against the best that the South has to offer.
From an organizational perspective, winning gold at the 15U East Championships demonstrates that U.S. Elite is on the right track in terms of developing young players into future collegiate and professional prospects.
"People in the baseball community often equate success with winning, but that's not always the case. However, when you win a national championship, it brings attention to what you are doing. That doesn't happen by chance," said Ferber.
Ferber continued, "From an organizational standpoint, it can't get much bigger than that. It is a phenomenal thing for us."