FORT MYERS, Fla. – It didn’t take long for the East Cobb Astros to learn how to handle the BBCOR bats they are required to use at this year’s’ Perfect Game 15u BCS Finals.
The Astros played in one of the Finals’ first games at Terry Park on Saturday morning, and promptly produced 18 runs on 12 hits in an 18-0, three-inning pounding of the Best 9 Rays.
It was a great way for the Astros – No. 2 in Perfect Game’s 15u travel team national rankings and the champion of the PG WWBA 2014 Grads or 15u National Championship completed just over a week ago – to kick off the 60-team 15u BCS Finals, which will cap its six-day run with semifinals and a championship game on Thursday (July 14) at City of Palms Park.
“They came out and swung the bat really well,” Astros head coach Dennis Jordan said. “They’ve had three or four days off … and I think they really needed it; we’ve played a lot. It was a pretty nice morning, we pitched OK and we came out and swung the bats really well.”
The top six hitters in the Astros’ lineup each got three plate appearances, and those six – Cornell Nixon, Wade Bailey, Eric Knox, Kel Johnson, Mitchell Webb and Kyler Neal – combined to go 9-for-12 with 14 RBIs and 14 runs scored. Nixon, Bailey, Knox and Johnson each scored three times. Webb was 3-for-3 with six RBI and Johnson was 2-3 and drove in three runs.
Not to be outdone, No. 7 hitter Randolph Gassaway was 2-for-2 with two RBI and a run scored.
Knox is ranked the No. 78 top national prospect in the class of 2013 and has already verbally committed to Georgia Tech.
If the BBCOR bat has a sweet spot, the Astros found it.
“We really swing wood well, and I didn’t think it would be too much of an adjustment for us,” Jordan said of the bat. “They really handled it well today, and as you can see, I think they’ve adjusted pretty well.”
Webb (pictured) also threw three innings for the Astros, giving up two hits and two walks while striking out two.
As the nation’s No. 2-ranked 15u team, the Astros obviously come into the BCS Finals as one of the favorites. But the field also includes No. 1-ranked Dulins Dodgers, No. 6 So Cal National Travel Team and No. 8 Marucci Elite 15u, as well as numerous other top-25 squads.
The Astros might be the favorites based simply on their solid history of winning. The East Cobb Astros have won four straight 15u CABA World Series championships. They have never won a BCS Finals championship, however.
“We come into this tournament to play the same way we come in to play every day. We try to handle ourselves and try not to worry too much about anything else,” Jordan said. “I feel like if our team comes out and plays the way we’re capable of playing every day, then we’ve got a chance. We look to try to be there at the end – I guess that’s everybody’s goal – and we come out to play every day with a lot of energy and try to work our way to where we need to be.”
This year’s Astros 15u team has only been playing together for a short time – there are just six players on the roster who were on the Astros’ 14u team last year – but have come together quickly.
“It’s a real new group,” Jordan said. “We brought in a lot of kids who hadn’t been in the Astros program before, and they jumped in and blended right in, and they’re very good players.”
Jordan tries to enter the 15u Astros in as many 16u events as possible in an effort to put his young players up against older players with more experience. But he also realizes it isn’t necessary to play “up” at the BCS Finals.
“These tournaments raise the level of competition a little bit. You’re going to see some real good pitching at this tournament,” Jordan said. “We’ve played in 16-year-old tournaments most of the year, but these guys understand that our expectations for them at East Cobb is to play at the highest level they can possibly play and to represent the program the best they can.
“The BCS tournament is always very competitive and they understand that it’s a big thing for us.”
The Astros continue the first round of pool-play Sunday with games against the South Texas D-Backs and the Florida Pokers. A second three-game round of pool play begins Monday.
The Astros, all 15-years-old, will learn from the experience.
“The kids that we have, the expectations for themselves are already at a very high level,” Jordan said. “They understand they are still at the learning stage, and we’re very teaching oriented. We teach the game every day to try to get them to understand what to do and how to play the game. They are very hard workers, they have high expectations of themselves and they want to play the game a long time.”