Every summer for the last 22 years, Oklahoma has hosted the Junior Sunbelt Classic, a baseball tournament for high school juniors for 10 teams from eight different states and Canada.
This year, Taber Mongero will represent North Hall High on Team Georgia after being selected as one of the best in the state in his class.
During his junior season, Mongero played in 31 games for the Trojans and led the team in hits, batting average, on-base percentage, doubles and had the fewest strikeouts. During North Hall’s playoff run, which lasted five games, the Gardner-Webb commit hit .563.
Mongero also had a .935 fielding percentage with just eight errors all season.
“It’s a humbling honor to be able to play with these guys,” Mongero said of his selection to Team Georgia. “It’s something I’ve worked for to be able to play with high-level players and to play at a high level of competition.”
Mongero said he was surprised when he learned of his selection to Team Georgia and he’s excited to get to experience the event.
“My main goal is to go up there and enjoy myself and have fun,” he said. “The goal is to win, but I want to enjoy my time with my teammates with however many days we’re up there. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and I want to make the most of it.”
Mongero said he found out about being chosen for the squad just days after North Hall’s season ended in a Game 3 playoff loss to eventual state champion Locust Grove.
“Everybody was kind of disappointed with the season ending,” Mongero said. “It was good news to hear after the tough loss to Locust Grove.”
Mongero will be playing with players from all over Georgia. Others named to the team are Chaz Bertolani (Johns Creek), Brennan Crooms (Metter), Christian Avant (Tift County), Garrett Marchman (Greenbrier), Ethan Lindlow (Locust Grove), Joah Curry (Locust Grove), Austin Thompson (Southeast Effingham), Jay Saunders (Colquitt County), Lee Kay (Heard County), Zack Brockman (Savannah Christian), Steven Minter (Hillgrove), Jamie Boatright (Hillgrove), Jake Arnold (Starr’s Mill), Zack Daniels (Eagles Landing Christian Academy), Brant Hurter (Woodstock), Andrew Moore (Jackson) and Chas Patrick (Schley County).
Heading up Team Georgia, former Gainesville High athletic director Wayne Vickery will coach the team as they travel to the event.
This year will be Vickery’s 20th coaching Team Georgia.
During his 20 years heading out to the event, Vickery has seen some incredible talent on his own teams he’s been able to take, but also players from other states.
While he’s been able to coach the likes of Brian McCann, Buster Posey, Jeff Francoeur and Tyler Flowers, Vickery has coached against guys such as Dontrelle Willis, Brandon Moss, Mookie Betts and J.J. Hardy.
For players, Vickery said the tournament is a unique event to see how you stack up against others across the nation.
“In the state of Georgia, high school baseball is as good as anywhere across the nation beside Texas and Florida,” Vickery said. “Georgia puts out great talent. We’ve got 20 kids that’s from all over Georgia going.”
The players who travel to the town of McAlester to play in the tournament will stay with host families. According to Vickery, the people there really welcome the players and the event.
“They just kind of roll out the red carpet,” Vickery said. “The Junior Sunbelt is what they’re known for.”
The 20-year veteran of the event said there are “a bunch of college scouts” that will attend the tournament looking for talent, but that talent will be abundant.
“Some of the best baseball players playing in the Major Leagues right now played in this thing,” Vickery said.
After 20 years, Vickery is thinking of stepping away from the event.
“This could be my last, but I keep saying that every year and keep going back,” Vickery said. “Twenty is a good, round year. When you’ve had two hip replacements, it may be a good time to get out.”
Team Georgia will fly out June 7 and will play from June 10-15 with doubleheaders every day, except June 12.