Youth is served at WWBA tournament

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

MARIETTA, Ga. -- Tucker Simpson and Matthew Crownover respect their elders. That's good, because all of their teammates on the East Cobb Astros are older than these two talented young pitchers.

Simpson and Crownover were freshmen in high school this past year, but that hasn't stopped them from excelling at the WWBA 17U National Championships. Most of the players in this tournament will be entering their senior year in high school this fall. A bunch of others, including 17 of their teammates on the Astros, will be juniors this year. And then there are Simpson and Crownover, the only sophs-to-be on the ballclub.

Youth is being served.

Simpson, a 6-foot-6, 230-pound righthander from Oxford, Ala., tossed a complete game as the Astros topped the Indiana Bulls, 9-1, in the opening round of the 32-team playoffs Saturday night at the East Cobb Complex. Crownover, a 5-10, 180-pound lefthander from Ringgold, Ga., also pitched a complete game as the Astros blanked the Marruci Elite, 8-0, in the Round of 16 to reach the quarterfinals.

Both games were stopped after five innings due to the eight-run mercy rule, but Simpson and Crownover showed no mercy toward their opponents. Simpson pitched a two-hitter and was nicked for an unearned run against Indiana, then Crownover matched him with another two-hitter while tossing the shutout against Marruci.

Both players crave the competition and the opportunity to play against older guys. "It's a great experience," said Crownover. "You want to be pushed when you're playing baseball, and that's obviously what we get here."

Simpson and Crownover both turned 16 in recent months, but Simpson was young enough last year to play against 14-and-under teams. That's scary, considering he's now 6-foot-6 and throws the ball 90 mph, but he's had to adjust this summer against older, more experienced hitters.

"I've had to learn how to actually pitch, not being able to throw it by everybody," said Simpson. "It's been good for me, not being as predictable as I was last year, playing against 14-year-olds."

Crownover was too old to face 14-and-under teams last year. He's been facing older kids for several years, but continues to make adjustments in his game. He's hit 91 on the radar gun, but threw 88 when he pitched earlier in the tournament and sat at 85 and 86 mph on Sunday against Marruci. He was plenty fast enough and did a good job of mixing his pitches.

"It's been a learning curve, knowing you can't just throw the ball down the middle," said Crownover. "You have to hit your spots and trust what he's calling."

Crownover threw just as hard in the fifth inning on Sunday as he did in the first, which apparently is not unusual. "I throw better at the end of the game than I do at the start of the game," he said.

Simpson and Crownover both pitched for their high school varsity teams this past year as freshmen. Simpson had a 6-2 record and helped Oxford High School place second in the Alabama Class 6A state tournament. Crownover also pitched well as a freshman, but his team at Ringgold High School was in a tough regional and did not make the state tournament.

John Magliozzi, a junior-to-be, tossed a one-hitter for the Astros as they defeated the Dirtbags, 12-0, in the quarterfinals on Sunday. The tournament ends today with the semifinals and finals.
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