Taylor North's run was built on pitching, with a big assist from a former first-round pick
Taylor North's run to the state's second Little League World Series championship wasn't built on orange slices and ice cream. It was built on pitching — more accurately, pitching depth.
While many Little League teams rely on one ace, Taylor North had multiple No. 1s, a key workaround to Little League's pitch counts that too often make key pitchers ineligible to pitch in the biggest games. For instance, South Dakota and Hawaii last week in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
Taylor North, in contrast, listed all 11 of its players as pitchers on the official roster at the LLWS, six of them saw action, and four of them dominated.
"We weren't trying to go at this with one kid," said coach Guido Ulin, "because you just can't do it."
Ulin and Taylor North manager Rick Thorning have been working on building a team of this caliber for several years, starting with a merger of three of the city's Little Leagues to help create a super team. But they also knew they'd only go as far as their pitching, which has been a serious focus since November.
That's when six of Taylor North's players — and eight of the players from the Taylor Made travel team; Taylor has taken the unusual but forward-thinking step of offering kids the chance to play Little League and travel baseball — began working with Delivery Value System, a company founded in 2014 by Justin Orenduff, a former first-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Orenduff's career was cut short by arm injuries, so he founded DVS to figure out why pitchers get hurt, using analytics, video technology, science and medical experts.
The six Taylor North pitchers who worked with DVS were Ethan VanBelle, Cameron Thorning, Gavin Ulin, Max LaForest, Jackson Surma and Lucas Farner. The sessions were 45 minutes, once a week.
"My boys loved it," said Rick Thorning, who had another son with DVS, along with Cameron. "Any time you can put something on video and you can talk to the kids about what they're actually doing and they can visualize it, that's key."
A lot of throwing programs focus on velocity. DVS's doesn't. It's more about technique, repeatability, pitch execution and mound presence.
The theory is, if the motion is done correctly, the velocity will arrive eventually, anyway.
Each session started with arm-band work, then shifted to delivery work, then finally 10 to 15 minutes of throwing. Orenduff and assistant Josh Mason worked with the boys from November through April — then got to sit back earlier this week and last, watching Taylor North win Michigan's first Little League World Series since Hamtramck in 1959.
Orenduff said when he first starts working with a kid, the progression rate usually picks up steam at the four- to six-week mark. For Taylor North, it was much quicker. The talent, understanding and, easily most important, the work ethic was evident from Day 1, Orenduff said.
"For the Taylor group, it was like, 'Oh, wow, we may have to accelerate this course here,' which we did," said Orenduff, the 33rd overall pick by the Dodgers in 2004. "We go as fast as you go. We're half the equation here. For that group, they definitely came in and accelerated the timeline.
"It's a special group of kids."
The weekly sessions took place at 2SP Sports Performance in Madison Heights. Then, the kids continued the program at home the rest of the week.
Orenduff has used the DVS system to help revitalize several professional baseball careers in his role as director of baseball operations for the United Shore Professional Baseball League in Utica. The league, founded in 2016, has sent 45 players on to sign contracts with major-league organizations, the vast majority pitchers — including four last month signing on the same day with the Minnesota Twins. One of the league's alums, Randy Dobnak, went from driving an Uber to signing a five-year, $9.25-million contract with the Twins.
That's the biggest success story for the USPBL and DVS, though Taylor North is a close second, which is why Orenduff is working on setting up a satellite DVS location in Taylor in anticipation of the Little League boom that's likely on the horizon after seeing the boys from Taylor North carry that championship banner around Lamade Stadium in South Williamsport, following the 5-2 clinching victory over Ohio.
Six players pitched in the LLWS for Taylor North, led by VanBelle, who had a 1.20 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 10 innings in South Williamsport, after winning all three games in regionals (he could do that because the leads were so big so early, he was taken out early with a low pitch count); Thorning, who had a 0.00 ERA and probably throws the hardest of the Taylor North bunch; Ulin, who had a 0.947 ERA and was on the mound for the last out (though it wasn't easy; the final Ohio batter hit a deep fly ball which he actually thought was going out to tie the game); Jakob Furkas, who had a 1.385 ERA; as well as Surma and LaForest.
"Saying this as humbly as we can," said Guido Ulin, whose Taylor North team also was coached by Jason Surma, and has received significant contributions from Woodhaven baseball coach Corey Farner, "we've invested a lot and they (the kids) bought into what we're trying to teach them.
"And what I like about them (DVS) … (Orenduff) put a ton of effort into understanding how to protect young arms as you progress in age, and they put more emphasis on throwing technique as opposed to building velocity. They really try to protect elbows and shoulders.
"We've worked with them (the boys) a long time, and that (DVS) enhanced what we had."
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