MARIETTA, Ga. -- Team Georgia Baseball Academy (TGBA) was declared the champion at the 2012 17u/18u Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational when heavy rain cancelled the semifinal and championship games on the final day of play. The championship, runner-up and third-place teams were determined by tie-breaker criteria outlined in the tournament rules.
The 2013 17u/18u Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational got under way Wednesday morning at the East Cobb Baseball Complex and 22 other fields across the north Atlanta suburbs. Play in the 14u/15u PG-EC Invitational and 16u PG-EC Invitational also got going Wednesday morning.
The Team Georgia 17u players and head coach Chris McRaney were pleased to cart championship gold back to their home base here in Marietta last year, but this year they hope to repeat by winning games on the field, "tie-breaker criteria" be damned.
"We love this tournament," said McRaney, who is the TGBA founder and president in addition to his head coaching duties. "We've been doing this tournament now for seven or eight years and we've had a lot of success in the tournament. It's a good precursor for us to see where we're at and the things we need to improve on to prepare for the WWBAs coming up in late June and July.
"It kind of gives us a measuring stick to see where we're at, what we need to improve on and the adjustments we have to make."
All the right adjustments were made last summer, with both the TGBA 17u and TGBA 16u teams. TGBA 17u won this tournament along with a CABA national title, and TGBA 16u won the PG WWBA 16u National Championship right here on the fields of East Cobb.
McRaney did a little mixing and maxing with the 17u group he has here this week. Seven players that were with the 17u team last year are back again this year and are joined by 11 players that were on that WWBA 16u National Championship team of a year ago.
"We kind of combined them together this year to see what it might look like in the future," McRaney said. "Those (older) guys are kind of the leaders and they're committed to what we're doing as a program, so it's a combination of that 17-year-old team last year and 10 or 11 guys (from the 16u team), plus some extra guys that we picked up. I would hope by the time that we get to the tournaments in July that we'll be stronger than we've ever been."
Right-hander Bryce Conley (2013, Alpharetta, Ga., Mercer signee); outfielder Kyle Jackson (2013, Atlanta, Coastal Carolina); and outfielder Brock Maxwell (2013, Suwanee, Ga., South Carolina) are the top guys back from the 2012 17u/18u PG-EC Invitational championship team.
Maxwell performed at the 2012 Perfect Game National Showcase is ranked the 189th national prospect in the high school class of 2013. PG also ranks him as the No. 20 overall draft prospect with Georgia ties, and projects him to be drafted in the first 10 rounds of the 2013 MLB First-Year Player Draft, which begins Thursday.
Those three prospects re-joined on the TGBA 17u roster by outfielder Danny Edgeworth (2013, Suwanee, Ga.); left-hander Evans Hughes (2013, Hayesville, N.C.), right-hander Patrick Stone (2013, Decatur, Ga.) and second baseman Ben Wilson (2013, Brunswick, Ga.)
Stone was also on the PG WWBA 16u National Championship team and was named the tournament's Most Valuable Pitcher after throwing 13 2/3 scoreless innings while allowing five hits, walking none and striking out six. First baseman Jack Thompson (2014, Alpharetta, Ga.) was named the Most Valuable Player after hitting .364 (12-for-43) with five home runs, 22 RBI and 11 runs scored.
Thompson, Stone, shortstop/outfielder Allen Bowen Jr. (2014, McDonough, Ga.), shortstop Anthony Carco (2014, Duluth, Ga.), right-hander/outfielder Adam Perleberg (2014, Johns Creek, Ga.) and left-hander Mitch Stallings (2014, Atlanta) -- all here this week -- were named to the 2012 PG WWBA 16u National Championship all-tournament team.
"This is an extremely competitive hard-nosed group; this is a group that wants to go out and compete every day," McRaney said. "I can honestly say that as a coach, my biggest thing now is having guys every time they step on the field that you don't have to worry about effort. This group brings effort and competitiveness every time they step out on the field. It's good knowing that every time we show up we don't have to worry about 'Are we going to compete today?'"
This is TGBA's eighth year of operation and its top travel teams have improved every year. TGBA 17u opened play Wednesday with a 9-0, six-inning win over the BigStix Gamers behind an 11-hit attack and a combined seven inning shutout from righty Charles Hecht (2014, Johns Creek, Ga.) and Stone.
McRaney plans on keeping this group together throughout the summer, at least the 2014s. He pointed out the importance of having a bullpen of strong and talented arms at Perfect Game tournaments, especially at the PG WWBA tournaments where a championship team might play as many as 12 games in six days.
"You better have a lot of arms because if you don't you're not going to go a long ways," he said. "That's what I like about Perfect Game events in general; I think it rewards over time the better teams. Any individual team can win a game at any point in time, but the format requires you to have a lot of quality guys on the mound that can throw strikes and guys behind him that can defend."
The challenge for Team Georgia 17u this week is to repeat as champions at the 17u/18u PG-EC Invitational. It is a tall task, indeed, with 16 of the 64 teams in the tournament field paying under the East Cobb Baseball banner, including the formidable East Cobb Braves 17u and East Cobb Yankees 18u. But make no mistake, TGBA 17u has to be included in any championship discussion.
"We have high expectations but realistic expectations," McRaney said. "I can see us doing extremely well, but at the same time it's a game-by-game scenario; you just don't know what you're going to get, and that why I said earlier that we kind of get a gauge of where we're at. Sometimes your expectations are not exactly met early on and you have a team that may peak later.
"But we feel like we have an opportunity and we feel like we're one of the more competitive teams in the event, and if we play like we're capable of we have a chance to be there at the end."