Niles trio caps season on roadPublished 11:09pm Tuesday, July 24, 2012
- By BILL TEMPLETON
Niles Daily Star
- A successful two months of travel baseball will officially end later this week in Cincinnati, Ohio, for Niles natives Mitchell Dehn, Chris Mangus and Tate Brawley —members of the Kalamazoo Maroons 18U squad under the tutelage of Chris Gates and Mike Hinga.
For Dehn and Mangus, it’s their third trip to Cincinnati in six weeks, with stops in East Cobb, Ga., and Nashville, Tenn., in between.
The Maroons 18U squad enters this week’s Phoenix Wood Bat National Championship with a weekend tournament record of 32-8. That total includes a championship last month in the Ohio Valley Classic and a fifth-place finish among 192 teams at the WWBA 18U National Championship.
Dehn and Mangus, both 17-year-old seniors at Niles High School this fall, have been with the 18U team since the beginning of the summer season, while the 16-year-old Brawley was promoted to the top club earlier this month.
“Mangus and Dehn have been huge parts of our (18U) success this summer,” Gates said. “Both guys have helped us offensively, defensively and on the mound. Chris has been one of our better hitters, and has really carried us, at times, when he has been hot, and Mitchell has been one of our starting pitchers all year, as well as playing first base.”
Mangus is hitting around .300 for the summer with five home runs and nearly 20 extra-base hits. Dehn has swatted a home run and sports a batting average around .300, while winning six of his seven decisions this summer on the mound.
“Tate has been absolutely dominant for our 17U team,” Gates said of Brawley. “He gets the ball for them against the best teams they played every weekend and is one of the best young pitching prospects we’ve seen in a long time.”
On a Maroons team that features multiple players from Kalamazoo area schools like Portage Central and Mattawan, Dehn and Mangus admitted that the collection of all-stars gelled quickly into a squad that has proven it can compete with the elite teams in the nation.
“It was tough at the beginning of the year to start and gel together,” Dehn said. “It’s hard at first to know everybody and how they play, but we adapted pretty well and pretty
“We were all from different places — different high schools — but the best part was that we all play the game the same way and we all know how to play the game right,” Mangus said. “That helps.”
The team won the Ohio Valley Classic in just its second weekend together, and two weeks later posted an astounding record of 8-1-1 in the WWBA 18U National Championship, where the Maroons lost to the eventual champions in the quarterfinal round.
Dehn and Mangus said the lofty showing in Georgia was the highlight of the summer.
“That was quite an experience — getting some playing time against the best teams in the nation,” Dehn said.
“Just to be able to go down there and play against some of those guys was great,” Mangus said. “It’s crazy to have been on the same field with some of those teams, and we showed we could play with them, and even beat them.”
In addition to weekend tournaments, the Maroons also play league games on multiple days during the week, and Gates said the trio of Niles players has consistently traveled to Battle Creek or Kalamazoo to be part of those contests as well.
“All three of those guys show up every single day they can, because they know it makes them better baseball players,” Gates said. “I think they choose to play for us because of the coaching they receive and the competition level we provide, both internally for playing time, and externally with the schedule we play,
“It really isn’t difficult to get these guys, because once they come in they instantly recognize the benefits, they enjoy the program and their teammates. We believe it speaks
volumes that we have 12 guys who play with either our 17U or 18U teams that come from over a one-hour drive from Kalamazoo.”
Each of the three Niles players has logged nearly 2,000 miles this summer in order to compete for the Kalamazoo Maroons.
None of that would have been possible, however, without the support and commitment by each of their families.
“Both Chris and Mitchell have extremely supportive families and are really the only reason playing for us is possible,” Gates said. “Both guys’ parents and grandparents are routinely at games and even make quite a few of our weekend tournaments that are normally more than six hours away from home for them. Both are truly baseball families that love to be around the game and it shows in how much fun Chris and Mitchell have out on the field.
“Tate’s family is also extremely dedicated to his baseball future. Tate’s dad, Chris Brawley, is the assistant coach of our 17U team, and many times has driven through the night to make games and tournaments as Tate, and his younger brother, also have other commitments during the summer.”
“It’s definitely a learning experience and getting innings in,” said Tate Brawley, who has posted an 8-1 mound record this summer, splitting time between the two teams. “Pitching is really our strength, and the older pitchers have taught me a lot, like when to throw certain pitches and how to pitch to different batters.
“I’ve been pitching really good this summer, and to get a chance to come up and play with the older guys has been really fun.”