MIAMI, Fla. -- The second annual States Play Tournament concluded on Sunday afternoon at Marlins Park with Florida completing a sweep of Georgia with a 5-2 win. Caleb Pendleton, a Florida Atlantic University commit, bounced a two-out, two-strike, two-run single in the fifth inning to put the game out of reach. AJ Shaver (Florida State commit) scored twice and doubled home a run.
Yohandy Morales (Miami commit) and Carlos Rey (Nova Southeastern commit) each provided a sacrifice fly for Florida, which took the first two games of the series, 1-0 and 7-2. Rey also used his arm to key the victory, throwing out a runner at the plate who was attempting to score from second on a single. He then came on to pitch the final inning, retiring Georgia in order.
Rob Gordon, a Vanderbilt commit, scored a run and drove in another with a single for Georgia, which also got a run-scoring single from Hudson Sapp.
Florida left-handed pitcher Nelson Berkwich, a Vanderbilt commit, was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. Berkwich started the first game of the tournament on Friday, working three innings and striking out nine while giving up just one hit. He did not walk a batter in Florida’s 1-0 win.
“I just went out there trying to throw first-pitch strikes, get ahead, because I knew they were keeping us on a pitch count,” said Berkwich. “So I had to attack and not try to be too crafty. I give credit to Carlos Perez, who was catching. He was giving me really good signs and noticing the tendencies of the batters. He did a really good job.”
In addition to bringing home some hardware, Berkwich said the opportunity to play in this prestigious tournament only enriched his experience in the game and in his own personal development.
“It was pretty cool to play with kids that I’ve grown up with, some of them since I was 8 or 9 years old,” Berkwich said from the visitor’s clubhouse at Marlins Park. “It was kind of cool to bring it all together and play with them at Marlins Park.
“It was an awesome experience, all the coaches; I just tried to be a sponge of information. It’s a short time but I wanted to learn as much information as I could.”
Berkwich and his fellow States Play competitors were chosen by MLB and USA Baseball, with several selected following participation in other joint MLB/USA Baseball development-focused events, such as the Breakthrough Series, Hank Aaron Invitational, the DREAM Series and the Prospect Development Pipeline (PDP) League.
Another was Georgia outfielder Josh Shuler, who said he enjoyed the entire weekend event.
“It’s been fun, coming up here and playing with these guys, it’s awesome to represent USA and MLB at an event like this,” Shuler said. “It’s pretty special. I really think that joining two states together like this and just watching the best players compete against each other is really good not only for MLB but also USA and scouts, too.”
Florida center fielder Enrique Bradfield Jr. made the play of the weekend racing deep into center field to haul in a long fly ball, extending with his glove hand before tumbling to the ground. His spectacular catch helped Florida earn a 7-2 win on Saturday.
“Off the bat, I knew it was going to be a tough play to make,” said Bradfield Jr., a Vanderbilt commit. “I took my normal preparation, my one-two step and I was down. I knew the wind was blowing towards left field, so originally I didn’t think the ball was going to be that deep.”
It was a highlight reel play that even he wasn’t sure he was going to make.
“I was surprised I caught the ball,” said Bradfield Jr. “I checked my glove. I threw it back in and then I immediately turned to watch the scoreboard. I wanted to see the play for myself, too. I thought it was a good play. I think it’s ESPN Top 10.”
The play was made even more challenging by the expansive Major League outfield, which extends to 407 feet in center field.
“Playing in a big league ballpark, the outfield is a lot bigger than most of the other fields I’ve played on,” said Bradfield Jr. “So it’s just a matter of just knowing my surroundings and knowing the area and I’ll be just fine. I think my game can play at this field and any other field in the big leagues.”
In addition to the catch of the series, Bradfield Jr. said he would take away the knowledge he was able to glean from former Major League players, who served as coaches for the two teams.
“From the coaches here, it’s like a talent pool of knowledge,” he said. “Just being able to take everything that they’re giving to us and picking things that we need for our own games and putting it into our other strategies and approaches, that’s a big thing for me. Listening to what they have to say and being able to pick their brains is a big thing for me.”
Florida coaches included team manager Luis Alicea, a former 13-year MLB infielder, as well as Fred McGriff, a five-time MLB All-Star, 19-year MLB first baseman and 1995 World Series champion; Jarrod Saltalamacchia, former 12-year MLB catcher/infielder, 2013 World Series champion and four-time member of USA Baseball National Team; and Alex Fernandez, former 10-year MLB pitcher, 1997 World Series champion and three-time member of the USA Baseball National Team.
The Georgia coaching staff consisted of manager Marquis Grissom, a two-time MLB All-Star, 17-year MLB center fielder and 1995 World Series champion. Also included on the staff are Micah Owings, former six-year MLB pitcher and former member of the USA Baseball National Team; Garey Ingram, former three-year MLB infielder; and Tommy Thompson, former Minor League catcher and infielder.
“This has been one of the best events that I’ve attended for sure,” said Bradfield Jr. “MLB and USA Baseball put on a great event. They put us in a great hotel, great food and great atmosphere. I’ve spent a lot of time with the guys from Florida and Georgia and we’ve just been hanging out, learning and playing baseball.”
Georgia catcher Alek Boychuk, a South Carolina commit, said that being here was a blessing and the chance to once again catch Georgia pitcher Marquis Grissom Jr. who is committed to Georgia Tech, was a highlight.
“I always enjoy catching him,” Boychuk said. “He’s got that nasty curveball. It’s always fun catching him.”
Boychuck said the weekend provided a real learning experience for him.
“From the locker rooms and all the teachings, they did a really good job of putting this together,” he said. “It’s something I’ll always remember.”
The inaugural States Play Tournament was held last year at Arlington with Texas taking two of three games from California. The event is picking up steam and Del Matthews, senior director of MLB baseball development, is already looking ahead to next year.
“I think we’re picking up momentum,” said Matthews. “People are starting to find out a little bit more about it. We’re excited about it. We’ve got some thoughts about next year as well. I think the opportunity to bounce around the country and give these kids a chance to play in a Major League stadium; you can’t beat it this time of year.”
Matthews said he was extremely pleased with how the tournament went this year, thanks to the cooperation of the Marlins organization.
“It was a really good turnout for us and we couldn’t be happier with the Marlins hosting us here,” he said. “They’re a first-class organization, all of their staff. It starts obviously with [Marlins CEO] Derek Jeter and [president of baseball operations] Mike Hill and their whole operation. They’ve been very hospitable and we’re extremely thankful.”