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Brains, brawn and Brown: Homza headed to Ivy League

Hands down the coolest thing to happen to teenage Anchorage baseball player Willy Homza was being invited to participate in an academic all-star game at the Arizona Fall Classic.

“That’s where all the good schools are watching and you only get in if you have good grades,” he told me.

This kid values good grades as much as base hits and it shows. Homza carries a 4.1 GPA into his senior year and he hit .400 in high school last year and was named all-conference at shortstop.

The switch-hitting, smooth-fielding 17-year-old played well in Arizona and immediately caught the interest of college coaches. He stands 6 feet and weighs 185 pounds.

“I expected D2 schools from the Northwest,” he said. “Then I started getting calls from the Ivy League. I don’t know how to describe it. It just felt so good to get offers from such awesome schools.”

Homza, of South High fame, picked Brown University over Dartmouth College and has already signed his National Letter of Intent to make him eligible to play NCAA D1 baseball in the fall of 2015.

“Willy is a great kid, a hard worker and his improvement over the last 18 months makes his future look bright,” Alaska Baseball Academy director Tony Wylie told me. “I believe he will be successful at Brown based on his work ethic and skill.”

Homza played for Wylie’s ABA that took a trip to the Arizona Fall Classic. It was there that Homza made his name, especially in the academic all-star game that was open only to high school players with a 3.5 GPA and 1,700 SAT score.

“I hope the message it sends is how work ethic in the classroom is equally important as work ethic on the field,” said Wylie, a member of the Major League Baseball Scouting Bureau.

Homza visited the Brown campus located in Providence, Rhode Island, where he met the coaches and the players, and toured the college facilities. He’s already familiar with the East Coast as he has family in Connecticut and spends a month there every summer.

He said the Brown coaches told him that he would get an opportunity to earn a starting infield job as a freshman. It was an open competition.

“I like the sound of that,” Homza said. “I think I work pretty hard. I wouldn’t say I work hard at it because it’s my goal to keep advancing. I do it because I love it. I don’t even call it work. I think it’s so much fun to go to the cage and hit and take groundballs. I’m super happy I can keep playing.”

This story was written by Van Williams, a freelance writer in Anchorage and the ALB Media Director.

Blue Mountain baseball taps into Mat-Su Valley player pipeline

Brad Baker came to Alaska for a coaching job, but he left with three baseball players from Colony High.

Baker was on the coaching staff for the Mat-Su Miners of the Alaska Baseball League when local kid Jacob Butcher walked into his office and pitched himself like an episode of ‘Shark Tank.’

After that the coach watched Butcher play in an American Legion game and liked what he saw. He also liked a couple of his Wasilla Post 35 teammates, Jonathon Boyer and Ben Ross.

Now all three Alaskans are playing for Baker at Blue Mountain Community College in Oregon.

“We recruit a wide variety of players, but one thing I always look for is passion in baseball,” Baker told me. “Playing baseball in college is a grind and not always fun. Players can experience more failure in college than in high school because is more talent. It is important to have passionate players who will persevere through the tough times.”

All three Alaskans played well during fall ball and Baker said they should continue to contribute in the spring when it counts most.

Butcher, a sophomore, can pitch and play outfield. He hit .317 during the fall and had one of his team’s best strikeout-to-walk ratios on the mound. 

“Butcher is one of the hardest working kids I've ever coached. He is a great competitor and works hard at it,” Baker said. “He throws strikes and competes out there. In the outfield he covers a lot of ground and has a plus arm.

“Jacob had the potential to move on when he is done playing here.  He continued to get better every day.”

Boyer, a sophomore, can play outfield and pitch. The tall, lean right-hander throws in the upper 80s with great command and is expected to compete for a starting job.

“He has a lot of talent and should help us a lot,” Baker said. “As a hitter he has great power and can hit to all fields. He is a good athlete with a plus arm in the outfield.”

Boyer hit .300 in the fall and posted one of the team’s top slugging and on-base percentages.

Ross, a freshman, is a versatile player who can pitch, play first base and the outfield. He is part slugger, part speedster.

“Ben has great power from the plate,” Baker said. “He has the fasted exit speed of anyone in the program.”

He showed off that plus power in the fall with a tape-measure bomb.

“The longest home run I've seen at BMCC's field,” Baker said. “Ben has tremendous potential.  He could develop into an all-conference type of player.”

This story was written by Van Williams, a freelance writer in Anchorage and the ALB Media Director.

Karnos signs with defending WAC champ Sacramento State

With his college choice behind him, Max Karnos of Anchorage can relax and just throw the baseball.

The 6-foot-4 right-hander earned that luxury after signing with Sacramento State during the NCAA early signing period.

He will still pitch his sophomore season at Western Nevada College, where he enjoyed a fabulous freshman campaign and was one of the JC team’s top pitchers.

“All the pressure is off,” Karnos told me. “I can just pitch like I always have and not really worry about which school I will sign with in the spring.”

The Alaska pitcher picked Sacramento State over Nevada, Central Florida, Oral Roberts and San Francisco.

Sacramento State won its first Western Athletic Conference championship last season, He will major in anthropology.

“I always hoped to make it to D1. Hopefully I’ll play one year and get drafted,” he said. “They have a good winning tradition. I want to go there and help them win another conference title and get them to the College World Series.”

Karnos, of South High fame, posted a 5-2 record and 3.91 ERA as a freshman at Western Nevada. He led the team with three complete games and 78.1 innings while ranking third with 61 strikeouts.

He credited WNC coach DJ Whittemore and staff for molding him into a more polished pitcher.

He was pretty good when he got to college. 

But he’s way better now.

“They changed my mindset. I’m thinking of the game way different and I think it helped my game a lot,” Karnos said. “I’m throwing harder and I think my breaking stuff is better. I’m excited for this season.”

This story was written by Van Williams, a freelance writer in Anchorage and the ALB Media Director.

Astros pitching coach Brent Strom headlines upcoming clinic

Brent Strom has been a winner at every level, winning a College World Series title as a player with Southern Cal in 1970 and a World Series title as a coach with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011.

He also pitched five years in the bigs, throwing a complete game at old Yankee Stadium. This guy tossed 16 CGs in 75 career starts.

If he did that today they’d call him Adam Wainwright.

Strom is now the pitching coach for the Houston Astros, one of the youngest and most promising teams in the game.

And now Strom will be in Anchorage along with Houston Astros hitting instructor Jeff Albert for the fifth annual Professional Baseball Clinic, Nov. 7-8-9 at The Dome. The camp costs just $25 per kid.

The clinic is sponsored by the Alliance for Support of American Legion in Alaska and Alaska Airlines.

This is Alaska’s only opportunity to get one-on-one training from MLB coaches – Strom brings 40 years of experience while Albert was also with the St. Louis Cardinals organization when they won the World Series.

“Jeff is among the best hitting coaches in professional baseball,” Strom told me. “Both of us are solid mechanically in our concept and solid communications. Both of us are learners, continually looking for ways to help pitchers and hitters stay healthy and perform.” 

The Professional Baseball Clinic is sponsored by Alaska Airlines and the Alliance for Support of American Legion Baseball in Alaska.

Don’t strike out on this opportunity.

HITTING with Jeff Albert

Albert brings eight years of professional coaching experience. He believes the basic hitting principles are to learn the strike zone and develop an efficient swing.

“I’ll cover all aspects of hitting – plate discipline, swing mechanics, pitch recognition, practice drills,” he said. “My professional background helps because I see players of different ages and levels. Players learn and develop at different rates so working with a wide range of players requires flexibility and creativity in order to communicate effectively.”

No matter the level, confidence is vital.

“It’s good if young kids think they can hit,” he said. “Confidence is important, but so is the ability to listen and learn. We are in the business of player development and the best players are constantly growing and improving their skills.

PITCHING with Brent Strom

If you were going to teach your kid how to pitch, what is more important: velocity or control?

Most people say control.

That’s the wrong way to go,” Strom said.

He would know. He has made a living in professional baseball since 1972.

Strom is in town this weekend to talk about the grip-it-and-rip-it theory, among other things.

He also urges coaches to promote versatility over specialization.

“At a young age it is important to have a well-rounded teaching and playing model,” he said. “We don't know how a player’s ability will move forward, at what pace and in what direction. Much like we advocated playing other sports, young players should not specialize ... being able to compete at whatever you play or do will help one in ways not only on but off the field.”

This story was written by Van Williams, a freelance writer in Anchorage and the ALB Media Director.

Western Nevada coach likes what he sees in Alaska pitchers

D.J. Whittemore isn’t involved with the oil business, but the Western Nevada College baseball coach has tapped into the Alaska pipeline to strike it rich.

First it was Juneau’s Dylan Baker, who has graduated to pro ball in 2012.

Then it was Anchorage’s Max Karnos, who anchored the pitching staff last season as a freshman.

Now newcomer Johny Meszaros of Anchorage has joined the team.

Karnos, of South High fame, is a valuable and versatile piece of the puzzle that developed into the team’s workhorse. He led Western Nevada with 75.1 innings pitched and three complete games to go along with a 5-2 record and 3.58 ERA.

“Max came to us a confident and polished pitcher that experienced a great deal of success at all levels of youth baseball,” Whittemore told me. “He was a strike thrower when he arrived on campus and we set off to work to improve the quality of his stuff. He worked hard and improved his velocity 3 to 5 mph, and also developed a breaking ball that was college average from almost non-existent at the start of the year.”

Karnos started 12 of his first 13 games before he was moved to the bullpen for the playoffs. When Western Nevada beat Salt Lake 5-0 to reach the Scenic West Athletic Conference finals, it was Karnos that closed it out with two shutout innings.

“Max is capable of pitching in any role – as is almost every pitcher,” Whittemore said. “Throwing quality pitches is the art of starting or relieving. The role of 'closer' doesn’t really exist in our program. We have relievers that generally pitch when the game is the most tense and at the most crucial moments.”

The 6-foot-4, 205-pound right-hander has a strong sinking fastball that helped him average nearly seven strikeouts per game.

“The chief difference between a starter versus a reliever is the ability of a reliever to erase inherited runners via the strikeout,” Whittemore said. “Starters need to be strike throwers that can keep their pitch count down and get outs without velocity.”

Meszaros, 19, did not play college baseball in 2014, although it was only a year ago that he was picked in the 39th round of the MLB Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays.

The 6-foot-2, 215-pounder righty is ripe with potential.

“Johny is a hard worker that has a clear goal in mind. He is educated in the art of pitching and has confidence as well,” Whittmore said. “His maturity as a student, person, and pitcher is growing each day and it will be fun to continue to watch his development.”

Meszaros, of Service High fame, has been limited since his arrival to Western Nevada because of some inflammation in his elbow.

“He needs to throw strikes to be successful. His fastball is good to great and comes out of his hand very easily and with some life. The key for him to be successful is command of the baseball,” Whittmore said. “He certainly has the breaking ball and the body of a professional pitcher.”

This story was written by Van Williams, a freelance writer in Anchorage and the ALB Media Director.

Alaska Baseball Academy goes 3-2 at Arizona Fall Classic

The Alaska Baseball Academy closed out the annual Arizona Fall Classic in style, winning a pair of games to finish the showcase tournament with a 3-2 record.

The Alaska all-stars beat Mountain West Baseball Academy out of Utah 5-4 and then let the bats rip in a 7-3 win over a highly touted Colorado Rockies scout team.

In the win over Utah, pitchers Nathan Klein of Juneau and Nolan Monaghan of Wasilla each threw four innings while Bartlett’s Logan Williams pitched the final inning for the save.

Ketchikan's Nathan Bonck delivered at the plate with three of his team’s 11 hits, including a double. South’s Willy Homza and Eagle River’s Mike Rosenberg each had two hits.

In the nightcap, the Alaskans clubbed 16 hits to beat Colorado. Williams, Rosenberg and both Homza boys [Willy and Jonny] all collected a pair of hits.

Eagle River’s RJ Derscherl picked up the win on the mound with an assist from his relievers Palmer’s Elias Stratton and Williams.

The Alaska Baseball Academy split a two-game series the day before, beating Baseball Northwest of Oregon 2-1 before losing a 5-4 decision to Team California in 10 innings.

The ABA team is made of some of the best high school baseball players in the 907.

The team won three of five games and posted a team ERA of 2.40. Here is a breakdown:

Tommy Koloski 5IP 5Ks 1ER South

Nolan Monaghan 5IP 3Ks 2ER Wasilla

Joe Fitka 5IP 4Ks 3ER Dimond

Nathan Klein 5IP 4Ks 2ER Juneau-Douglas

Elias Stratton 3IP 1K 1ER Palmer

Josh Fetko 2IP 1K 3ER Service

RJ Dirscherl 4IP 3Ks 2ER Eagle River

Julito Fazzini 2IP 2Ks 2 ER South

Logan Williams 2IP 4Ks 0R Bartlett

This story was written by Van Williams, a freelance writer in Anchorage and the ALB Media Director.

All-stars Bonck, Homza turning heads at Arizona Fall Classic

A smooth-hitting first baseman from Ketchikan and a slick-fielding shortstop from Anchorage are gaining the most attention among a group of Alaska Baseball Academy players participating in this week’s Arizona Fall Classic.

Ketchikan’s Nathan Bonck has hit and pitched well while Anchorage’s Willy Homza has fielded beautifully and held his own at the plate, each drawing interest from professional and college scouts.

Bonck shined against the Diamondbacks of British Columbia, pitching two innings of scoreless relief in last night’s 1-0 loss. 

“He wasn’t throwing super hard, mid-80s, but he’s a big 6-5 lefty up there throwing free and easy,” ABA director Tony Wylie told me.

Bonck has the same relaxed look at the plate. He crushed a triple to provide Alaska with its best scoring opportunity. 

“He’s got a really pretty left-handed swing with bat speed,” Wylie said.

Pro scouts are keen on Bonck while the college guys like Homza.

“He’s getting a lot of looks, especially from Ivy League schools,” Wylie said. “He’s a switch hitter, a smooth fielding shortstop.”

Homza and Eagle River’s Mike Rosenberg were selected to play in the prestigious Arizona Fall Classic Academic game, which is open only to players with a 3.5 GPA and SAT score of 1,700 or better.

“I gave the kids a speech about the importance of grades and how that helps create leverage because if schools are competing for you, it’s going to provide a better opportunity and there’s a higher probability of getting your college paid for,” Wylie said.

“We stress the importance of the classroom. That’s why we’re here, to help kids get into school. But they can help themselves. Our job is between the lines. Their job is in the classroom.”

Both Bonck and Homza banged out base hits in today’s 2-1 win in seven innings over Baseball Northwest of Oregon. South’s Jonny Homza, Juneau’s Nathan Klein and Wasilla’s Nolan Monaghan also collected hits for Alaska.

ABA manufactured runs after Bartlett’s Logan Williams was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded and South’s Julito Frazzini plated the winning run thanks to an RBI groundout.

On the mound, South’s Tommy Koloski started and pitched five innings before giving way to relievers Josh Fetko of Service and Monaghan.

This story was written by Van Williams, a freelance writer in Anchorage and the ALB Media Director.

Frost pitches, misses cut at Women’s National Team Trials

They say diamonds are a girl’s best friend, but the only jewelry Lauren Frost of Eagle River is interested is championship rings.

Frost is Alaska’s greatest women’s baseball player and among the best in the country.

The 17-year-old this week participated at the USA Baseball Women’s National Team Trials in Malibu, Calif., where she among the top 40 players to play in a three-game series that determined final roster spots.

Frost started Game 1 and pitched well, but unfortunately she didn’t make the final cut. That shouldn’t take the shine away from her accomplishment of being invited to the national team trials for the second straight year, though.

She is our Mo’ne Davis.

Frost, of Eagle River High fame, is an all-star infielder and No. 2 hitter who was voted to the all-state team during the American Legion season and was selected to the USA Today’s All-Alaska baseball team for the high school season.

The 5-foot-8 right-hander has a pony tail and can play both middle infield positions. She can bunt and is as fundamentally sound as most Alaska boys baseball players.

Frost has already committed to play NCAA D1 softball at powerhouse Stanford University in 2015. But until then, her focus is baseball.

At the National Team Trials, she played for the Blue team and started Game 1. She didn’t allow a run until the fourth inning and then wiggled out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam. Her team eventually won 2-1, but she earned a no decision.

Frost is entering her senior season of high school.

This story was written by Van Williams, a freelance writer in Anchorage and the ALB Media Director.

Baker becomes 8th Alaska pro pitcher to reach double digits

Juneau right-hander Dylan Baker has moved into elite company among Alaska’s best professional pitchers by picking his 10th career win.

It may not seem a lot but only eight Alaskans have reached double figures in minor league baseball. We’ve never had anybody win a game in the major leagues among the three pitchers that made it.

Baker improved to 3-2 on the season after the Carolina Mudcats beat Myrtle Beach 6-5 in Class A Advanced action. He didn’t have his best stuff but still got the win, scattering five hits and three walks across 5.1 innings.

Baker is now 10-9 with a 3.86 ERA in 42 career starts in the minors.

All-time wins by Alaska pitchers in minor pro leagues:

62 - Marshall Boze, Soldotna

30 - Chris Mabeus, Soldotna

30 - Matt Way, Sitka

27 - Ryan Shaver, Fairbanks

24 - Joey Newby, Soldotna

19 - Corey Madden, Anchorage

11 - Chad Bentz, Juneau

10 - Dylan Baker, Juneau

Pocatello caps amazing 57-1 season with NWCART title

The Cody Cubs never stood a chance. The Pocatello Razorbacks has had destiny riding shotgun all year long.

Pocatello capped an epic season with a runaway victory in the championship game of the Northwest Class A Regional Tournament, winning 20-1 at Mulcahy Stadium.

The Idaho state champs went 5-0 in the NWCART and finished the season with an incredible 57-1 record. They played American Legion Baseball for three months and lost one game. That’s just awesome.

There was no beating Pocatello Tuesday night.

The Razorbacks banged out 19 hits and scored four runs in the first inning, three in the second, two in the fifth and 11 in the sixth. 

Cleanup hitter Kam Farnsworth earned player-of-the game honors after going 4-for-5 with three doubles and five RBIs. Spencer Bray and Trevor Bowers also had four hits. Kaden Sweat went 2-for-5 to bump his tournament average to .450.

Bowers also pitched, carrying a no-hitter into the sixth inning. The right-hander finished with a two-hitter across seven innings of work.

Bowers was named the tournament’s top pitcher after racking up a 1.80 ERA in 15 innings with 21 strikeouts.

The tournament MVP was Mason Foltz.

This guy did it all, a dual threat who beat you on the mound and in the box.

Foltz pitched 13 innings over three appearances, earning two wins and a save. He had a tidy 1.38 ERA with 12 strikeouts.

At the plate, Foltz hit .450 with nine hits in 20-bats. He drew five walks, scored eight runs and hit a double and a triple.

In five NWCART games, Pocatello outscored their opponents 50-11 and batted .324 as a team.

In other tournament awards, Cody Cubs right fielder Shad Moir won the Gold Glove award and the Big Stick award went to Whitefish Glacier Twins first baseman Vincent Smith. The Montana slugger led the tournament in batting average [.500], slugging percentage [.875] and extra-base hits [5].

This story was written by Van Williams, a freelance writer in Anchorage and the ALB Media Director.

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