MARIETTA, Ga. -- There they were, filling the dugout on the other side of the field from the one upstart Fury Baseball occupied. They stood proud, and rightfully so, in their East Cobb Astros uniforms.
And this wasn't just any East Cobb Astros team. This was the East Cobb Astros 14u, winners of 13 national championships since 2006, including six Perfect Game WWBA and PG BCS Finals titles and last year's inaugural 14u Perfect Game World Series.
You could forgive the Fury Legion -- the name of the Fury Baseball team playing in this week's 14u/15u Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational -- for feeling somewhat like an interloper into East Cobb's territory.
Fury Baseball opened a new academy last October in downtown Woodstock, Ga., no more than a 10 minute drive from the East Cobb Baseball Complex. Nine Fury Legion roster spots are filled with kids who call Woodstock home with a sprinkling from Canton, Acworth, Kennesaw and others, all communities within an easy drive from East Cobb's home in Marietta.
But the symmetry the Fury Legion players feel with their East Cobb counterparts goes well beyond geographical proximity. It's something that, well ... it's something that PG is going to let Fury coach Brandon Robinson explain.
"These guys have been together for a couple of years now," Robinson said before the Legion took the field against the Astros 14u Thursday afternoon. "Basically what we did was take a bunch of guys that didn't make (the cut for) East Cobb teams and we made a team out of them; we've been working with them so that we can compete at this level.
"We wanted to show (the players) that just because they didn't make one of (the East Cobb) teams, life isn't over and there's plenty of life outside. We come here to compete a lot and show (the Fury players) that they do belong here."
After pushing across single runs in each of the first two innings, the Legion, holding a 2-1 lead, are threatening again in the top of the third, with runners on second and third and only one out. Big Astros 14u right-hander Brady Scott (a 6-5, 217-pound 2017) records a strikeout before unleashing a wild pitch that scores the Legion's Jake Milkey and gives Fury a 3-1 lead heading into the bottom of the third. The Astros 14u come back with two in the bottom of the frame and the game stays tied at 3 until the bottom of the fifth.
The Fury Legion won their PG-EC Invite tournament-opener on Wednesday, 10-0, over the Blue Chip Bills. Jonathan Sentell, a 2016 out of Woodstock, was brilliant in throwing a complete game one-hitter with five strikeouts and three walks. Avery Sirmans (2016, Ellijay, Ga.) went 2-for-2 with a double, two RBI and two runs scored, Hunter Gaddis (2016, Canton, Ga.) was 2-for-4 with two RBI and Jake Johnston (2016, Acworth, Ga.) finished 2-for-5 with two ribbies.
"We started Jon Sentell, and his slider was absolutely electric and he worked it off the fastball pretty well," Robinson said Thursday. "It took us a little while to get the bats going but because of John's pitching we were able to stay in the game pretty early and then we put away 10 runs."
In three tournaments prior to this one this spring, Fury recorded one championship and two round of eight finishes, according to Robinson. And it's a relatively young team -- Robinson guessed 60 percent of the players are yet to celebrate their 15th birthday.
There are challenges working with 14- and 15-year-old boys and Robinson doesn't mind enumerating them. He speaks frankly about hormonal changes for boys in the their mid-teens and how those changes can mess with a young man's mind.
"They're full of testosterone right now, and as we all know baseball is not just a physical game, it has a lot to do with the mental side," Robinson said with a knowing smile. "Sometimes that testosterone can make you forget about the mental side and you want to get up there and show how big your guns are; learning to control that is an issue."
An offshoot of that is distracting behavior, better known in teenage circles as "horsing around with your buddies." Robinson said it sometimes takes the young Fury players two or three innings before they decide it's time to knock off the horseplay and get down to business
"They realize that they've been fooling around for a little bit too long and it's time to kick it into gear," he said. "Unfortunately, as a coach, you don't want to see that carry on for too long, but it's good to see that switch does flip on at some point. Now, if we can get that from the start of the game until the finish of the game, that's the goal."
With the score still tied at 3 with two out in the bottom of the fifth, the switch flips on for the East Cobb Astros 14u. It starts with an RBI single from Tucker Bradley which is followed promptly by a two-run single from Davis Schwartz. The Astros 14u will take that 6-3 lead into the seventh inning.
Fury Baseball is already growing, with seven teams in the age-groups 8u through 16u: just this week Fury Legion is playing in the 14u/15u Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational and Fury 16u-Blue is playing in the 16u PG-EC Invitational.
That number is absolutely smothered by ECB's numbers, of course -- more than 80 teams are expected to play under the East Cobb Baseball banner this summer and 46 are playing in the three tournaments this week (East Cobb is one of the tournament sponsors).
Fury's Robinson knows this isn't a contest and the king of the hill isn't about to be knocked off his perch any time soon, if ever. He just wants to see as many people wearing the Fury Baseball name around town as possible, all constraints considered.
"We call this our 'Baseball Mecca' and we like that most of the attention is not on us because that takes some of the pressure off, obviously," he said. "We know that we're a program that is growing and with plenty of room to grow. At the same time, we learn from programs like East Cobb and try to model ourselves after their success because, obviously, when you look around this place they've had plenty of it. This is the goal I think everybody wants to attain and this is what we strive for."
The Fury Legion rally started immediately in the top of the seventh. After a leadoff walk and a bunt single, Randy Shelton smacked a line-drive, no-out RBI single into right field and the runners move around to second and third. Jake Johnston then stroked an RBI single into left field that brought the Legion to within 6-5. Davis Polley followed with a fielder's choice groundout that scored Shelton with the tying run. The score stayed knotted at 6 going into the bottom of the seventh.
The Fury Legion are not supposed to be in this situation, not yet anyway. Very few teams come into the East Cobb Astros 14u's front yard and put up this concerted of a fight. This game -- and a possible pool championship and berth into the 14u/15u PG-EC Invite playoffs -- is still very much up for grabs.
"One of the first things we told these guys when the season started was that we owed it to them to know where they stood in the game and the only way to do that is by playing the best," Robinson said. "It's one thing to be the best of the worst and it's another to be middle-of-the-pack with the best, and I think right now I would probably consider us middle-of-the-pack -- but we're constantly taking steps up and moving forward."
Everything fell apart for the Fury Legion in the bottom of the seventh. The Astros 14u's Andrew Cash and Jamie Taylor walked to start the frame and Brett Usry singled to load the bases. Two pitches into the next batter, a passed ball scored Cash with the winning run. Final: East Cobb Astros 7, Fury Legion 6.
No heads were hung. The Fury Legion have one more pool-play game Friday and with a little help here and there, they could still win the pool championship on one of the many tie-breaker criteria. That's extremely unlikely, of course, so they'll accept a consolation game and keep looking ahead. The Fury Baseball model is about more than one game in an early June PG invitational tournament.
"We're all about tomorrow, and when I say 'tomorrow' I'm talking three years down the road when it comes time for them to decide if baseball is something they want to continue on doing when they further education," Robinson said. "If that is something that they want to do then that's something we're going to help them do both academically and athletically."