MARIETTA, Ga. - With nine of the 16 teams that comprised Saturday's playoff field at the 14u/15u Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational playing under the East Cobb Baseball umbrella, it was inevitable that two of the ECB teams would meet in the first round. In fact, it happened twice.
What wasn't inevitable was that one of those ECB teams - the East Cobb Tigers - would pull off one of the first-round's two upsets against one of its ECB brethren, but that's exactly what happened. The 11th-seeded Tigers (4-0) knocked-off the No. 6-seeded East Cobb Astros 14u, 6-2, Saturday morning at the East Cobb Baseball Complex.
The win moved the upstart Tigers into Saturday afternoon's quarterfinals where they were scheduled to face the No. 3 seeded Tifton Mavericks (4-0). The other EC-EC first-round matchup pitted the No. 8 EC Titans 5u against the No. 9 EC Angels, a game won by the Titans.
The East Cobb Tigers' victory in their playoff-opener was the continuation of a four-day run in this tournament in which they seemed to get just enough pitching and more than enough offense to win their pool title while outscoring their three pool opponents by a combined 28-13.
"We started playing really, really well about eight or nine days ago," Tigers head coach Art Evans said, noting the Tigers have already played more than 20 games this spring. "We've put together a pretty good little streak here the last couple of days and the guys are starting to figure it out a little bit; everybody's starting to understand their roles. The teamwork has been terrific - we're still working on a couple of things but we're getting to where we want to be."
Evans said he paid no attention to his team's No. 11 seed or the seeds of the Tigers' opponents.
"It doesn't matter who we play. We just want to make it to the dance, right?" Evans said with a smile. "You can't dance if you don't get there."
It's likely the EC Tigers will have to keep their wood bats cranking if they want to be dancing after the championship game Sunday afternoon. That hasn't been a problem so far.
The Tigers are fortunate to have on their roster one of the top young prospects in the class of 2015, Lucas Herbert. A 6-foot, 185-pound primary catcher and first baseman who will be a sophomore at Milton (Ga.) High School in the fall, Herbert has already committed to UCLA.
In his first four games at this tournament, Herbert was 5-for-9 (.556) with two home runs, a double, six RBI and six runs scored. He had also been hit by a pitch four times and walked three other times.
"Lucas is a tremendous player. He can hit with any 15-year-old in the country," Evans said. "He catches quite a bit for us and he's got an arm - I don't know if I've coached an arm like that before."
Catcher is Herbert's primary position but Evans won't use him behind the plate much this summer. He played first base on Saturday.
For his part, Herbert seemed to be enjoying himself playing baseball under the hot Georgia sun, despite the four HBPs.
"We're playing good, hitting the ball well and scoring a bunch of runs, and that's helping out our pitching," he said. "We want to win this tournament, and obviously we want to play the best teams and go against the best competition to get that done."
Herbert said he committed to UCLA as a high school freshman because he used to live by the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., and attended UCLA football games. He also attended a couple of UCLA baseball games and a baseball camp where he caught the eyes of Bruins coaches.
"It was just where I always wanted to go," he said.
The Tigers' other top hitters here through their first four games were outfielder Logan Hornback (2015, Canton, Ga.) and shortstop Alex Hartz (2015, Suwannee, Ga.). Hornback went 5-for-11 (.455) with a home run, two doubles, six RBI and four runs and Hartz was 4-for-10 (.400) with a pair of doubles and three runs scored.
The pitching has been better than adequate, led by right-hander Taylor Lobus (2015, Woodstock, Ga.) and left-hander Cal Stevenson (2014, Freemont, Calif.). Lobus scattered eight hits over seven innings and gave up only one earned run (1.00 ERA) and Stevenson allowed no earned runs on five hits in seven innings of work on Saturday, with four strikeouts. In 27 innings of work, the Tigers' staff combined to allow 15 earned runs on 22 hits, with 17 strikeouts and a team ERA of 1.81.
"Our pitching has been stellar; from the starters to the bullpen, it's been good; it's been solid," Evans said.
Evans is proud to be under that inclusive East Cobb Baseball umbrella. Fourteen other ECB teams were part of the 60-team field for the 14u/15u PG-EC Invite and to have nine of those 14 advance to the playoffs speaks for itself.
"You can't beat being a part of the East Cobb Baseball program," Evans said. "We get all the support we need, we have the great facilities and all the guys who run it do a top-notch job. We're very, very fortunate to be a part of it."
And Evans also enjoys every opportunity to play in a PG event, especially one right in the Marietta-based Tigers' backyard.
"The Perfect Game events are always good," he said. "We've got a kid from California (Cal Stevenson) who is staying with us this summer just so he can play in the Perfect Game tournaments."