Prep Baseball Report

PBR Fall Championship: Nebraska Prospects tops Top Tier to capture underclass title

By Andy Sroka
Staff Writer

Illinois’ Top Tier 2020/21 program earned a spot in the underclass PBR Fall Championship title game, where they met Nebraska Prospects.

The visiting team Nebraska got the scoring started right away, after an error in left field opened the door for Nebraska to score the game’s first run on a sac fly to center off the bat, handing Top Tier an early deficit to work with.

Top Tier made sure to come out swinging in response to the defensive mishap, three straight singles off the bats of Ronnie Nowak (Munster, IN, 2020; uncommitted), Brendan Holloway (Vernon Hills, 2020; uncommitted), and Luke Napleton (St. Rita, 2020; uncommitted) opened the bottom half of the first. Unfortunately for Top Tier, the hits stopped there, though they did manage to squeak across the tying run on a wild pitch, getting back even with Nebraska.

They countered quickly, retaking the lead in the top of the second. After a lead-off walk, Jaxson Simmerman (Seward, 2020, NE; uncommitted) laced a line drive into the right-center gap that split the Top Tier outfielders right down the middle. The runner on base scored with ease and, while Simmerman slowed down headed into third base standing up, a misfire in the outfield allowed him to cruise home, giving his team a 3-1 lead. Walks plagued Top Tier in the inning, but reliever Vincent Esposito (Rock Island, 2020; uncommitted) came on and left the deficit at 3-1, recording the final two outs with two runners on.

The top of Top Tier’s order was relentless, though. With two outs and runners on second and third, Top Tier lead-off man Nowak worked a good at-bat that resulted in a soft single, up the middle once again, that scored his team’s second run. Holloway followed him up with another base hit, pulled hard into shallow left field to tie the game, 3-3.

When Esposito pitched over a lead-off single in the top of the third, Top Tier was demonstrably excited to have their turn at the plate with a chance to take their first lead of the day. However, Nebraska starter RHP Brady Bell (Lincoln East, NE, 2021; uncommitted) coaxed a quick 1-2-3 inning out of Top Tier’s 4-5-6 hitters to keep the game knotted up at three. Esposito kept Nebraska scoreless in the fourth, too, after tightroping over two two-out walks.

Esposito was finished after walking the lead-off man in the fifth inning, but he had done his job after being called upon early, keeping his team in the game, leaving with a tie on the scoreboard. LHP Joe Shapiro (Glenbrook, 2020; uncommitted) relieved Esposito, inheriting that runner at first. After Nebraska’s Mike Boeve (Hastings, NE, 2020; uncommitted), a top-10-ranked prospect in his state’s class, singled through the right side of the infield, Shapiro tightened up and prevented his opposition from scoring the game’s go-ahead run.

As Top Tier dipped past trouble, Bell settled in, even retiring Nowak and Holloway via punch out in the bottom of the fifth. The Illinois program couldn’t fend off Nebraska any longer and Simmerman, again, lined a clutch, run-scoring extra base hit into the other gap. He tagged up on a fly out to center to head back into the dugout with a 5-3 lead for his team.

Nebraska restarted the inning and loaded the bases, forcing Top Tier to bring in one of their best arms: RHP Joel Sarver (Champaign Centennial, 2020; uncommitted). Sarver was called upon to face Boeve to keep his team’s deficit to just two runs – and he succeeded, with the help of his second baseman Nowak, who made an athletic play to his forehand, spinning around, tossing to first to recharge the Top Tier dugout.

But they just couldn’t get past Bell, who returned to the mound in the sixth and seventh, setting down nine consecutive batters before walking the second one he faced in the seventh. Sarver's single through the left side of the infield in the next at-bat ended Bell's stellar outing and in some doubt all of a sudden.

Trey Frahm (Elkhorn, NE, 2020; uncommitted), the No. 3 prospect in his state's 2020 class, was handed the ball to get the final two outs with the tying run at the plate and worked a game-ending, title-winning double play to clinch his team the underclass PBR Fall Championship title with a 6-3 victory.