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Underwood looks ahead to Classic

Tournaments : : Story
Jeff Dahn        
Published: Sunday, July 17, 2011

FORT MYERS, Fla. – For the rest of this week – assuming the rain eventually lets up – top prospect Duane Underwood will don the uniform of the highly touted East Cobb Astros 16u squad and battle for a championship at the Perfect Game 17u BCS Finals.

About a month from now, on Aug. 14, he will be in Southern California in the city of San Diego at the Padres’ beautiful PETCO Park, suited up for the East Team at the 2011 Perfect Game All-American Classic.

Underwood is one of 42 elite prospects in the high school class of 2012 selected for the prestigious event, formerly known as the Aflac All-American Classic. The Classic benefits the Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego.

“I’m looking forward to everything (the event) has to offer,” Underwood said.

Underwood, a slick fielding outfielder and dominant right-handed pitcher from Pope, Ga., was a late addition to the East Team roster.

“It’s quite an honor, and I appreciated it very much that (Perfect Game) selected me,” Underwood said Sunday afternoon before taking to the mound to pitch the Astros to an 11-2, five inning win over the Texas Stixx. “Me and my family are very happy about it.”

The 17u BCS Finals is the 12th Perfect Game tournament or showcase that Underwood, who turned 17 on July 20, has participated in. The first was the 2009 PG WWBA 2011 Grads or 16u National Championship in Marietta – an event where Underwood celebrated his 15th birthday – and other  stops included the 2010 PG Junior National Showcase in St. Petersburg, Fla., and this year’s PG National Showcase at City of Palms Park here in Fort Myers.

At the 2010 Junior National, a PG scout filed this report:

“Underwood is a high level 2-way prospect. The ball comes off his barrel well and he showed good bat speed. He has excellent hitting tools to work with and projects very well. On the mound, he has a fast whippy arm and we have seen him in the low 90s. He is a bit raw on the mound but showed good potential. The bat and the arm need to be followed very closely.”

He becomes the latest in a long list of East Cobb Baseball alumni and current prospects to be selected to play in the All-American Classic, with the Atlanta Braves’ Jason Heyward one of the most notable.

The nationally second-ranked East Cobb Braves 17u, playing in this week’s 18u BCS Finals, has three players on the Classic’s East roster for next month’s  game – left-hander Matthew Crownover, first baseman/right-hander Tucker Simpson and outfielder Skye Bolt.

“East Cobb has treated me really good and they’ve helped me out with a lot of stuff,” Underwood said.

 “Duane is a wonderful young man with a great family,” Astros head coach and ECB founder Guerry Baldwin said Sunday. “He’s a very talented kid and I’m sure he’s happy about (his selection).”

Underwood, who Perfect Game ranks as the No. 22 national prospect in 2012, showed his vast array of skills in the Astros’ win Sunday, before another thunderstorm rolled in mid-afternoon and wiped-out all of the remaining games at Terry Park, the Red Sox Player Development 5-Plex and the Lee County Sports Complex, all in Fort Myers.

He worked five innings from the mound, allowing three hits and two earned runs while striking out eight. At the plate, he was 2-for-2 with a pair of doubles, an RBI and a run scored.

“I started playing baseball when I was about 10, and then really picked it up with travel ball (two years ago) and I fell in love with it after that,” Underwood said. “I played a little football when I was younger, but now baseball is my sport.”

The East Cobb Astros 16u team entered the 17u BCS Finals ranked No. 3 in the Perfect Game 17u Travel Team National Rankings. It is definitely a favorite to win the championship here this week.

“This team is filled with great athletes and great kids,” Underwood said. “We have a lot of young kids on this team who have been playing together awhile, but the older kids on this team have been playing against each other. We just put them all together and it’s been a fun experience.

“We came down here expecting to win (this tournament).”

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