FORT MYERS, Fla. - It's like batting gloves that fit tightly on each hand or a cap that nestles comfortably on the top of the head. It's a pair of spikes with just enough give or a fielding glove just supple enough to work like a third hand.
That's the way the Perfect Game 18u BCS Finals seems to fit the East Cobb Braves 17u ballclub from Marietta, Ga. The club slides into the tournament like it's a pair of designer jeans and the tournament just flat-out fits the club.
The sixth-seeded Braves 17u built a 7-1 lead through five innings and then held on to beat the top-seeded Marlins Scout Team/Storm, 7-4, in the championship game of the Perfect Game 18u BCS Finals Saturday afternoon at hot and steamy Hammond Stadium on the Lee County Sports Complex grounds.
It was the third straight 17u BCS Finals national championship for the Braves, including their co-championship with Bullets Baseball in 2011. They have now won four of the six 18u BCS Finals contested since 2007.
The 18u BCS Finals is unique in that the format calls for each team to play an initial round of three pool-play games, after which they are re-seeded and a new set of three pool games is played. It amounts to six games in four days for each of the 40 teams, then another four games in two days for the two teams that advance to the championship game.
"(PG tournament director) Ben Ford does a hell of a job running this tournament and we come down here every year just because of that fact," EC Braves 17u head coach Kevin Baldwin said after Friday's championship victory. "I like the format a lot; it fits what we have. We're deep in pitching every year which you need to be when you're playing so many games in a short amount of time."
The BCS Finals - at all age groups from 12u through 18u - are also the only Perfect Game national championships played with metal bats.
"We play with wood all year all long, and the kids get excited to get that metal back in their hands," Baldwin said. "They get rejuvenated and we play well down here every year."
At the conclusion of the championship game, the Braves' Keenan Innis (2013, Cumming HS, Ga.), a Georgia Tech commit, was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player. Marlins Scout Team/Storm right-hander Seth Martinez (2013, Sunrise Mountain HS, Ariz.), uncommitted, was named the Most Valuable Pitcher.
Innis hit .417 (10-for-24) with a couple of doubles, three RBI and 10 runs scored.
"We've worked hard all summer and we've played so many games," he said. "We've all stuck together as a team and this is a big accomplishment for us. It's always our goal to be playing (in the final game) and we got here this week. It's awesome."
Martinez worked 13 brilliant innings for the Marlins, allowing just two hits and no earned runs or walks while striking out 16.
The championship game wasn't necessarily a thing of beauty as the seven inning game stretched to almost 2 1/2 hours. The teams combined for 18 hits and Marlins' pitchers walked six, but at the end of the day the Braves got done what needed to be done.
"We had some guys step up who have really been role players throughout the year. They came through in a big way for us and just relished the opportunity," Baldwin said. "We've played great all summer and we only have a couple of losses on the season. The kids play hard for me every day and that's all I can really ask."
The East Cobb Braves 17u (9-1) gained entry into the championship game by getting past Naturals Florida by forfeit in the semifinals.
The Braves 17u, playing as the No. 6 seed in the playoffs, snuck past No. 11 Hardcore Baseball Black, 7-6, in the first round, and won a second one-run game, 4-3, over No. 14 SCORE International in the quarterfinals.
The Marlins Scout Team/Storm (9-1) moved into the title game by scooting past the No. 12 West Coast Nine Devils, 9-4, in a semifinal played Friday morning at the Lee County Sports Complex. The Nine Devils were late arriving at the complex as their bus was held up on I-75 by security details on hand to accommodate a visit by President Obama.
The Marlins Scout Team came into the 18u BCS Finals with a bone to pick, still smarting from their championship game loss to the East Cobb Yankees at the PG WWBA 18u National Championship a couple of weeks ago.
They breezed through pool-play with a 6-0 record and earned the No. 1 seed, and immediately went to work; a 5-1 win over the No. 16 Florida Pokers in the first round led directly to a 12-3 blitz of No. Mizuno Edge in the quarterfinals.
"We've just kind of been rolling," Charlie Barbieri, one of three coaches who helps guide the Marlins, said Thursday. "We've been getting great pitching and our defense has been tremendous. It's pretty cool; they've come together real quick and they've bonded real quick and they work real hard."
Ultimately, the settled for their second runner-up finish at a Perfect Game national championship this month.
Playing as the No. 12 seed, West Coast Nine Devils got consecutive shutouts in its first two playoff upsets, topping No. 5 Hardcore Baseball Red, 7-0, in the first round before blanking the No. 4 Texas Sun Devils, 5-0.
No. 10 seeded Naturals Florida beat the No. 7 L.A. Diamond Dawgs, 12-7, in the first round and No. 15 Cannons Baseball, 10-8, in the quarterfinals.