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Strong pitching highlights Tournament 12's first day

Ontario-Maroon's Byckowski one of few to excel offensively at Rogers Centre

Special to

TORONTO -- The first day of Tournament 12 games was highlighted by the offensive display of Ontario-Maroon third baseman Robert Byckowski and a number of fantastic pitching performances Saturday at Rogers Centre.

Byckowski was the only player to hit a home run, crushing a solo shot over the 400-foot sign in center field in Ontario-Maroon's 3-1 loss to Quebec-White. The third baseman, who plays for the Ontario Blue Jays -- an elite travel team -- and is eligible for the 2014 First-Year Player Draft, also went 2-for-2 in his first game of the day with two doubles off top pitcher Michael Soroka (Alberta-Red) and added a pair of stolen bases.

It was an impressive showing for Byckowski.

"It felt good off the bat. The ball goes in here." Byckowski said of the home run, which came on a fastball. "It has been awesome coming out here against the best in Canada and competing. [It's] a coming out party I have been working hard lately and it is paying off now."

Adam Stern, a former Major League player and one of the Ontario-Maroon coaches, said the 17-year-old Byckowski has a good presence in the box and an advanced feel for the game.

"Any time you can drive a ball to center field is impressive," Stern said. "I just like that he has a plan up there and he attacks the baseball -- that's what you look for. He's looking for pitches in certain counts and you go for guys that have that approach."

Soroka, considered to be one of the most projectable pitchers in the tournament, threw three innings of one-run ball, while walking three and striking out five in Alberta's 4-2 loss to Byckowski's Ontario-Maroon squad.

To open the festivities Maritimes-Grey pulled off what some believe was an upset by taking down Ontario-Black -- a team that features two of the top players in the tournament in Josh Naylor and Demi Orimoloye -- 2-0 behind a strong outing from starter J.P. Stevenson, heralded as one of the top arms at the event.

Stevenson hurled five scoreless innings of one-hit ball while walking one and striking out nine. One coach who has seen Stevenson pitch a number of times said he projects to be a strong collegiate arm. Andrew Case followed Stevenson and struck out six of the seven batters he faced, flashing a fastball that touched 90 mph.

Perhaps the most anticipated game of the day came in a matchup that featured two of the top three arms in the tournament in British Columbia-Orange's Kurtis Horne and Ontario-Green's Zach Pop. Both threw well, but Pop got the better of Horne and led Ontario to a 4-2 win.

Pop's fastball sat in the high 80s and maxed out at 92, the top speed of the day. He had what one coach described as good diving action on the pitch and went on to allow two hits over three innings with five strikeouts.

Pop did, however, allow the loudest hit of the day to players not named Byckowski, surrendering a double to third baseman Mitch Robinson that was laced beside the 328-foot sign in left field. Robinson's double was hit with authority and one coach said the former catcher, who has juggled positions, is certainly a prospect on the radar.

Horne, meanwhile, was more in the 84-86-mph range and flashed good secondary stuff, but took the loss. Right fielder Tosh Semlacher, who one scout said had the best outfield arm during the Friday workouts, recorded an outfield assist and went 1-for-3.

The Prairies-Brown and Futures-Navy matchup saw 25 strikeouts recorded between the two teams over the course of the seven-inning game. Navy's Liam Munshi struck out six in three innings before handing the ball over to a pair of relievers, including 15-year-old Hunter Spoljaric -- the son of former big leaguer Paul Spoljaric -- who picked up the win and fanned three over two frames in Navy's 1-0 victory.

Prairies third baseman Reid Fritzke, whom a scout named as a sleeper heading into the tournament, showed a nice, compact swing as he ripped a double down the left-field line off Munshi.

Ben Onyshko was dominant for the Prairies in a losing effort, pitching four no-hit innings while fanning nine. The lefty thew 80 percent of his pitches for strikes.

The most lopsided contest came in a 13-2 Quebec-Blue victory over Ontario-Green. A six-run fifth from Quebec spoiled a strong outing from Ontario righty Joel Pierce, who threw four scoreless innings of one-hit ball to accompany six strikeouts. Pierce, at 20, is one of the oldest players in the tournament and a former Brewers farmhand. After getting released by the Brewers, Pierce has been attempting to get a second chance. He sustained high-80s velocity throughout the day and maxed out at 91, trailing only Pop for the top mark.

"This tournament is basically me going back and trying to showcase myself again and hopefully get some interest from pro teams," Pierce said. "My mechanics are getting back to where they should be and my arm strength has gone up a lot more."

J.D. Williams swiped three bases for Ontario and four on the day, while top prospect Gareth Morgan went 1-for-6 with two RBIs over two contests.

Simon Auger highlighted Quebec's balanced attack, going 2-for-4 with two RBIs and a stolen base and making the most impressive throw of the day. With Ontario up, 1-0, Auger threw a perfect strike from center field to catcher Jonathan Duforest to nail Ian Wilson for the second out of the fourth.

Sunday's slate of games will start at 8 a.m. ET with a matchup featuring two 1-0 teams in the Martimes-Grey and Quebec-Blue.

Chris Toman is a contributor to

Toronto Blue Jays