The WWBA playoffs: As good as it gets

Tournaments : : Story
Jim Ecker        
Published: Sunday, July 12, 2009

MARIETTA, Ga. -- This was special. This was extraordinary. This was a privilege to watch.

The ABD Bulldogs Red battled the Canes Orange in the opening round of the WWBA 17U playoffs Saturday night and it was a rare treat for everyone who watched on Field 2 at the East Cobb Complex. A treat for fans, scouts and players alike.

Peter Tago and DeAndre Smelter, a pair of Aflac All-Americans, opposed each other on the mound, matching 94 and 95 mph fastballs for seven innings, Tago for the Bulldogs and Smelter for the Canes, but that wasn't all. Chad Pinter made a series of amazing plays at shortstop for the Canes, diving for a hot liner that appeared destined for left field or ranging behind second base for a hard grounder, doing a 360-degree spin and gunning his man at first, but Tony Wolters (another Aflac selection) did a spectacular job at shortstop for the Bulldogs as well.

"Don't hit the ball to shortstop," cracked a player from another team who was watching in the stands.

Perfect Game President Jerry Ford, who has seen too many games to count during his career in baseball, enjoyed what he was seeing. "It doesn't get any better than this," he said. "This is as good a high school game as there's ever been."

Remember, most of these players were just juniors in high school this past year, with a few sophomores and a freshman sprinkled in, yet they performed like future major leaguers. Ford predicted there might have been at least a half-dozen big leaguers on the field, and they weren't just the pitchers and shortstops.

The ABD Bulldogs Red, from California, had other outstanding players. So did the Canes Orange, comprised of players from Virginia, North Carolina and one from Georgia (Smelter). Both clubs managed to scratch out a run, the Bulldogs against Smelter and the Canes against Tago, and the score was tied, 1-1, after the regulation seven innings.

They went to a tiebreaker system in the eighth, loaded the bases with one out, and the Bulldogs broke through with five runs in the top of the eighth to take control and win this classic, 6-1. Smelter took the loss and Tago got the win, but they both looked like champs.

"That was a great pitcher they have over there," said Tago, saluting Smelter. "It was pretty much a pitchers' duel until that last inning."

Tago enjoyed the competition.

"I just had to throw strikes, just go after the hitters and put the ball in play and let the defense do the work," he said. "It was just like another game. I mean, he had to do his thing and I had to do my thing. I couldn't do anything but worry about what I had to do."

There are lots of outstanding teams and terrific young players in this tournament. The East Cobb Braves, a 17U team with a half-dozen Aflac All-Americans on its roster, won the 18U title here a week ago against older kids, but they ran out of steam in the 17U tournament and didn't make the playoffs. Ford mused about what a 17U playoff game featuring the Braves against the ABD Bulldogs Reds or Canes Orange might have been like, but that was left to fantasy.

The Bulldogs and Canes met in the Round of 32 Saturday night, and there were still 16 teams alive in the tournament when the sun rose on Sunday morning in Georgia. "This is as good as it gets," Ford said Saturday night, "until maybe tomorrow."
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