Blue Wave boys bound for Cooperstown

Where the bronze busts of legendary baseball players reside in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, a team of baseball players from the Newport Beach area are competing in a national tournament.

The Blue Wave won four straight games, giving them strong momentum going into the two-week long tournament in Cooperstown, N.Y.

They are among 96 teams from across the country that were selected to play Aug. 20-26, in the American Youth Baseball Hall of Fame Invitational Tournament.

"I'm extremely proud of these boys," said head coach Darric Merrell, a former standout pitcher with Cal State Fullerton 2001-03, who played for five minor league seasons from 2003-2007 in the Colorado Rockies' organization. "They've become little men. They've grown up. There's a distinct brotherhood among them. They're great all-around kids."

On July 31 in San Clemente, the 12-and-under Blue Wave team won its second consecutive local tournament, in the 12U division of the Triple Crown second annual Full Gorilla Classic.

The Blue Wave beat No. 1 seed So Cal Dynasty, 5-2, in the championship game.

On Aug. 20, most teams will play two games per day, with seeding taking place after Tuesday night's games.

Teams that are seeded low will likely play four or five games on Aug. 24, while teams that are seeded high will only have to play one or two per day.

Teams must win four games in a row on Aug. 25 to get to the championship final.

The turning point for these Blue Wave players came last July, when they lost a scrimmage to a group of 10-year-old All-Stars. The Blue Wave players were mainly 11 years old back then.

"That was an ego kick for all of us," Merrell said. "The kids never looked back from there. They showed up with the mindset of working hard. They did not take anything for granted. They had a great work ethic. I'm thankful for what they did."

Evan Larsen and Fritz Miller have hit for the most power, and Alex Shadid and Larson have both been go-to pitchers, Merrell said, although "everyone's stepped it up" no matter who the pitcher's been. Everyone can pitch, except for three players.

Larsen has normally played third base or caught when he's not pitching. Miller usually plays at first base, with Neil Ontiveros also playing there, and Shadid plays shortstop.

Sam MacDonald is the primary catcher, Cole Samuels plays second base with Brett Super as another option, Garrett Schwab is the starting shortstop and Hudson Davis plays third and sometimes catches. Andrew Cook plays left field, Shadid normally starts in center field and Josh Bolan, Gaston Bouchereau and Samuels playing in the corner outfield spots.

Steve Kruse, president and general manager for the Blue Wave, said in an e-mail to the Daily Pilot that the team is "…one of the coolest group of kids I have been around in 40 years of coaching and managing youth sports at all levels. Most of them are very outspoken and advanced for their age."

The Blue Wave opened their first game of the Full Gorilla Classic with a 25-2 win over the San Marcos Comets, followed by an 8-4 win over the Perris Punishers to earn the No. 2 seed for the playoff round.

They also defeated the San Diego Flyers, 6-3.

In addition to competing against teams from around the country, Blue Wave's players will be enshrined in the prestigious American Youth Baseball Hall of Fame.

The majority of the Blue Wave 12U club team's players come from Newport Beach, Newport Coast, Costa Mesa and Corona del Mar.

They have been practicing and playing together for the past year with the single goal of competing in Cooperstown.

On July 17 in Fountain Valley, the Blue Wave won the Xtreme Diamond Sports World Series Warm-Up tournament.

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