Deerfield-Windsor sophomore Steven Williams hits during the recent USA Baseball 15U Team Trials. Williams was one of 20 players selected to represent the United States in the WBSC 15U World Cup in Mazatlan, Mexico next week. (Photo: USA Baseball)
CARY, N.C. — Steven Williams heard his name called.
Then his body went numb.
That’s how incredible and beyond belief Friday night was for the Deerfield-Windsor sophomore, who was one of 20 players selected to the USA Baseball 15U national team and will represent the United States in next week’s WBSC 15U World Cup in Mazatlan, Mexico.
The news is still sinking in for Williams, who competed with 39 other players in the recent 15U Team Trials and survived the final cut during a team meeting late Friday when head coach Chan Brown announced the official roster.
“My name was on the list, and I thought it was fake,” Williams said. “I didn’t know what had just happened. I stood up but couldn’t feel by body. It was unreal and very humbling.”
Williams and his fellow Americans will compete for a world championship July 31-Aug. 11 in Mazatlan and will prepare for the tournament with training days and an exhibition game at Chase Field in Phoenix, Ariz. World Cup pool play begins July 31 with the U.S. grouped with Panama, New Zealand, South Africa, Japan and Germany.
Williams, a Herald All-Area selection this spring, began the Team Trials as a catcher but because of a dazzling pitching performance during the third of five exhibition games in Cary, N.C., he made the roster as a catcher/pitcher and will be the team’s closer.
“I don’t think this is going to sink in for a while,” said Williams, the only kid from Georgia on the roster. “This is one of the things I have wanted to do my whole life, and now that it’s happening it’s unreal. … Anytime you get a chance to represent your country, you can’t let it slip away.”
It wasn’t much of a surprise to Hayes Cook, who coaches Williams on the Team Elite South traveling team and runs Synergy Sports Academy, where Williams trains when he’s not playing baseball or football or running track at Deerfield.
“More than anything this year, Steven has shown a lot of mental maturity,” Cook said. “He has had to step into the unknown and acclimate himself very quickly, and he has done very well with that. And that’s really what playing at that level is all about because you have to deal with a constantly changing roster and a constantly changing environment.”
First-year Knights coach Jonathan Davis was just recently introduced to Williams but instantly realized the talent and hustle oozing from the 15-year-old right-hander.
“He’s a tremendous athlete, but he’s also very humble and is a worker,” said Davis, who took over the DWS program after Rod Murray stepped down. “From what I have heard the other coaches say about him, he is going to go out and work no matter what sport he’s playing. And that’s paying off for him.”
The entire experience has been a whirlwind for Williams, who played in a USA Baseball tryout last week in Jupiter, Fla., where he earned an invitation to the Team Trials. He played in five games that were up to 13 innings long from July 20-25 at the USAB National Training Complex.
Williams made little noise the first two games. He was 0-for-2 with a walk in the opener and 0-for-1 with a walk and a run in the second game.
“I knew that if I didn’t pick it up that I wouldn’t make the team,” he said. “I knew I had to turn it around.”
The hinge came near the end of the third exhibition game when he pitched two perfect innings with a pair of strikeouts.
After the game, the U.S. coaches sat down with Williams for an interview.
“They asked if I thought I could handle it if they asked me to be the closer for the team, and I said I could,” Williams said.
Then Williams’ bat came alive in the final two games of the Team Trials. He had hits in both games and scored twice in Friday afternoon’s Game 5 to help his team win the final and deciding matchup of the week-long series, 10-7.
Later on Friday, he packed into a meeting room with his teammates and waited for Brown, the head baseball coach of Parkview High School in Lilburn, to call his name.
“This is a hard day for all of us,” Brown told USABaseball.com on Friday. “You have 40 of the best players in the nation and to cut it down to 20 is a hard process. We tried to find the right makeup to help us win a gold medal.
“It’s been a long process this summer scouting all these players. Now we get down to work for a couple of days with a core group that is all working towards one goal of being the group that wins a gold medal for the U.S. It’s awesome to be part of this group.”
Williams’ mom, Melissa, made the trip to North Carolina with her son and watched Steven walk into the room where the players would learn their fate.
“She never saw him come out,” said Steven’s dad, Steve. “About three or four minutes later he texted her and said he made it but that he didn’t want to call and talk about it because his roommate didn’t make it and he was still very upset.
“I am as proud about that as I am about anything else. That’s the kind of kid Steven is.”
When Steven finally did speak with his mom about making the team, it was emotional.
“It brought a few tears to her eyes,” Steven said. “I was happy. She was happy for me. I wouldn’t be here without them.”