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Published: Thursday, October 26, 2006

Jupiter, Fla. , October 26-30, 2006




It wasn?€™t perfect by the standard that was set Thursday on the opening day of the 2006 World Wood Bat fall championship, but East Cobb?€™s pitching staff was still plenty good.

Lefthanders Josh Smoker (Sugar Valley, Ga. ), Nathan Vineyard (Emerson, Ga. ) and Jack McGeary (Newton, Mass.) combined on a one-hitter in the feature game of the day at Jupiter?€™s Roger Dean Stadium as the Astros, the 2003 champions and 2005 co-champions, defeated the Florida Pokers 3-0.

Smoker, a potential first-round pick in 2007, worked the first four innings, allowing the one hit his team surrendered, while striking out eight. His fastball was a steady 89-91 mph, and touched 94. Vineyard worked two perfect innings, striking out four with an impressive curveball and a fastball that sat at 91, while McGeary struck out two in a 1-2-3 seventh inning. McGeary, who started at first base and drove in one of his team?€™s two first-inning runs with a single, is also a possible first-round pick for 2007.

All three East Cobb pitchers were upstaged, however, by Akadema (Ind.) Yankees lefthander Blake Monar (Rockport, Ind.), who fired a perfect game in a 7-0 win over the Puerto Rico Raiders in one of four opening-round games. Monar, a 2008 product whose fastball was clocked between 83-87 mph, struck out nine.

East Cobb?€™s opening-round shutout was symptomatic of its run to the 2005 co-championship, when the Astros allowed only one run in seven straight wins. Smoker, who has verbally committed to Clemson, was the ace of that staff as well. He threw eight scoreless innings over the course of two starts, including a 1-0 win in the semi-final that propelled East Cobb into the final against Chet Lemon?€™s Juice squad, but the championship game was subsequently washed out.

Outstanding pitching has become synonymous with the East Cobb program. At the WWBA Underclassman fall championship earlier this month in Fort Myers, Fla. , the Braves won the title for the second straight year by allowing only two runs in eight games. The two top pitchers off that team, righthander Zeke Spruill (Woodstock, Ga. ) and lefthander Brett DeVall (Parker, Fla. ), both 2008 products, have been added to the Astros roster for this tournament.


--Almost 600 scouts and college recruiters registered on the first day of the tournament, and virtually all took in the feature game of the day at the main stadium. At least 100 radar guns were pointed at Smoker and the two East Cobb pitchers that followed him.

Every big league team is represented at the tournament, with teams averaging about 10 scouts apiece. The Braves, who traditionally draft more high school players than any organization, have 14 scouts in attendance. With as many as 13 games going on at a time at the twin spring training facility of the St. Louis Cardinals and Florida Marlins, it enables them to scout every game.

Because last year?€™s tournament was pushed back three weeks into November by hurricanes that ravaged south Florida , NCAA Division I college recruiters were forbidden from attending the event because the revised dates fell in the dead period for recruiting.

The previous year, the tournament had to be moved to Fort Myers for the same reason. But there have been dramatically fewer hurricanes this fall that impacted Florida . Nonetheless, rain fell in the opening round of games on Friday and more rain was expected Saturday.

--Should the Cardinals, who hold a 3-1 lead over the Detroit Tigers, go on and wrap up the World Series, it would mark the third time in four years that the WWBA fall championship was played at the spring training site of the World Series champion.

The Jupiter facility is shared by the Cardinals and Marlins, the 2003 World Series champion, while the 2004 tournament in Fort Myers was played at the home of the Boston Red Sox.

--There are several potential first-round picks for the 2007 and 2008 drafts that are playing in the tournament, with most of the top arms concentrated on East Cobb and the top position prospects on the Reds Scout Team, who understandably rate as the tournament?€™s co-favorites.

Among the top prospects on the Reds Scout Team are shortstop Justin Jackson (Asheville, N.C.) and outfielder Michael Burgess (Tampa), who are both projected to go in the top half of the first round next June. The Reds Scout Team is effectively the off-season development team for the Cincinnati-based Midland Redskins, one of the nation?€™s premier summer league programs. The Reds Scout Team was scheduled to play its first game on Friday night.

EDITOR?€™S NOTE: Perfect Game Crosschecker?€™s Allan Simpson and David Rawnsley are in Jupiter covering the tournament and will file daily notebooks. Beginning Friday, their coverage will also include a daily list of the top 10 tournament highlights of the day.

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