MARIETTA, Ga. – In what was possibly the game to watch of the 15u WWBA National Championship so far, two 6-0 teams, the East Cobb Astros 15u and the Arena STARZ, met for their final pool play game, a winner-take-all scenario.
Two of the most fundamentally sound 15u teams in the country faced off to play a fast-paced, professional-quality baseball game. Watching both teams pitch, hit, and field the way they do would leave anyone in awe of the fact that these kids are just 15-years-old.
“It was a tough pool all the way through,” said the Maryland-based STARZ head coach Scott Elliott. “There were a lot of good southern teams. They grinded one out today. This team is pretty savvy. They’ve been through this before, so they hang in there. Going 7-0 is a big accomplishment down here.”
East Cobb struck first with an RBI single off the bat of Colin Hall in the bottom of the second inning while Astros right-hander Brady Scott went to work on the mound. He showed a plus-fastball ranging between 84-87 mph (miles per hour) and touching 89.
The lead didn’t last long when the STARZ capitalized on a couple of fielding miscues to score one run in the fourth and two more in the top of the sixth to take a 3-1 lead that they would hold onto behind the stellar pitching performance of Hayden Seig.
Seig threw a complete game for the STARZ, giving up just one earned run off of six hits and a walk while collecting a pair of punchouts. The Mechanicsburg, Penn. native threw just 96 pitching in the winning effort, silencing the Astros typically lethal offense.
“Hayden Seig pitched a great game for us,” Elliott said. “He did a tremendous job on the mound. It’s his first time really playing at this level. We were happy to give him the ball because he’s earned it in our workouts and he did a great job on the mound in his first Perfect Game performance.”
Seig sat in the low 80’s with his fastball all seven innings, occasionally catching hitters off-balance with a curveball or changeup. The 6-foot-4 righty showed a lot of promise on the mound, holding the East Cobb Astros in check for seven innings.
“Hayden’s a boy that grew very early and he’s now growing into his body,” said Elliott. “He’s a power pitcher. The most impressive thing I can say about Hayden is we do a lot of offseason training, he never missed one of them; he works his tail off. Anyone who’s looking to pick up a college pitcher, you’ve gotta love a pitcher with the size, the frame, the stuff, plus the work ethic. He’s got it all going. We’re very proud of him.”
Seig had the help of some tremendous defense behind him, particularly the sure hands of shortstop Jeremy Arocho. He made a few incredible, professional-level plays that had the scouts in attendance talking. The Glen Burnie, Md. Native showed range, going deep in the 5-6 hole for a backhand and showing a plus-arm with a seed across the diamond to record the out.
“Everybody always comments on Jeremy Arocho,” Elliott said. “He’s our Spartacus – he takes us there. He’s a very good fielder, he’s a very good hitter, he’s got great speed, and so he’s got the complete package. He’s a playmaker and we cut him loose and let him do that.”
Elliott praised Arocho’s work ethic and discipline, saying that through such hard Arocho’s game has been on a steady incline since he’s been around the program.
“He’s another kid with just a great work ethic,” said Elliott. “He likes to get in the weight room. He made himself into a switch hitter and I give him a lot of credit for that. He’s a natural righty, but he’s determined to be a good left-handed hitter an I think he is now. He’s hitting balls with authority from the left side of the plate and he couldn’t do that a year ago.”
Arocho was 1-for-2 with a walk and a run in the win over East Cobb, improving to a .444 batting average (8-for-18) with a double, a triple, five RBI, and eight runs through seven games, giving him the second best batting average on the team for the tournament, behind Ian Elliott.
Elliott is 8-for-16 (.500 average) through seven games, leading the team in batting average heading into the playoffs. He was also on the unfortunate end of an East Cobb Astros triple play. It was a textbook 5-4-3 triple play, started off of a well-struck groundball.
“We turned him loose on a 3-0 pitch and he hit it hard,” said Elliott. “The problem is he hit it a little too hard and the guy turned a triple play. Those things happen. The team shook it off and came right back out and Hayden did his job on the mound.”
“That could’ve been a big momentum swing,” Elliott said. “There were a lot of momentum swings in that game, we just ended up on the right side of them.”
The Arena STARZ took their pool with a perfect 7-0 record, outscoring opponents 50-15 in the process. The numbers they’ve up as a team are nothing short of incredible. With a combined .366 batting average (67-for-183), team earned run average of 1.56, and a fielding percentage of .949.
“I’ve never been around a team that just absolutely refuses to lose,” said Elliott. “Any way they can win a game, whether they put pressure on the other team to make errors, or whether they hit the ball. They’ll do whatever it takes to win a baseball game. You can’t win every baseball game, but they will compete on every pitch.”
Just a few years established, the Arena STARZ are already making a huge impression on the travel ball world, showing everyone that Maryland can hang with the southern states.
“Right now, we’ve got our first crop of players at Towson, some players at Maryland, which is good,” said Elliott. “There’s a lot of kids on this team that’ll play college baseball too. Our objective is to continue to come down here and play because we feel it’s the best brand of baseball. It’s a long trip for us, but we get a lot out of it.”
“We have a system and the players buy into the system,” Elliott continued. “Our players are willing to play five games in a day and do whatever it takes and with that kind of mentality they refuse to lose. They’re a very unique bunch. I could coach for another 20 years and I’ll never again have a bunch like this.”
The Arena STARZ use Cal and Billy Ripken’s complex in Aberdeen, Md. for training, but hit the road during the summer to play in competitive tournaments that can’t be found in the mid-Atlantic.
“When you play in Maryland, the game is slower. When you come south, the game is faster,” said Elliott. “That’s why we come down here; to learn how to play fast. I think the southeast has the best baseball in the country and I think you have to come down here if you wanna play at a high level.”
So far this week, the team from the mid-Atlantic is showing the southeast how it’s done, turning some heads and getting some scouts to recognize the potential untapped talent Maryland has.