FORT MYERS, Fla. - With one sweeping victory Wednesday morning, the East Cobb Yankees seemed to make the statement they wouldn't play second fiddle to anyone at the Perfect Game 15u BCS Finals the rest of the week.
Not even to any of their five brethren from the mighty East Cobb Baseball organization that are also in the field, including the defending 15u BCS Finals champion East Cobb Astros 15u.
East Cobb left-hander Austin Godfrey battled through seven gritty innings of work to help the Yankees to a 6-2 win over the previously unbeaten New England Firebirds. That left them only 3 1/3 innings away from winning their second set of pool-play games and advancing to the 16-team playoffs, scheduled to begin Thursday morning.
The Yankees (4-1 overall, 2-0 second pool) held a 4-0 lead over the Max El Game Changers in the top of the third inning in a game that was suspended by rain Tuesday night and was to be completed late Wednesday. They lost their first game of the tournament on Sunday, but rallied to win four straight to move into solid playoff contention.
"All of our kids have played great. They're just scrappy," Yankees head coach Taj Zipperman said after the win over the Firebirds at City of Palms Park stadium. "They just come out with a good attitude; it doesn't matter if we're losing or not, they just come with a good attitude. They all know they're going to get into the game, so they just go out there and have a good time."
Godfrey (2015, Douglasville, Ga.) keyed the must-win situation the Yankees faced against the Firebirds on Wednesday. The Firebirds (5-1, 2-1 second pool) would have clinched the pool championship with a win, but instead were left hoping they might secure the lone wild-card berth into the playoffs.
Godfrey worked all seven innings on the comparatively comfortable morning, and scattered nine hits and gave up two earned runs while striking out nine and walking two. He's listed at 5-feet-7 and 140-pounds, but his fastball sat around 78-81 mph and touched 84 during the outing.
"My curveball and my fastball were working pretty good, and I threw my changeup a little bit," Godfrey said. "I just kept relaxed and didn't get tensed up and let (the Firebirds) get in my head, and just tried to relax and throw strikes."
"He did awesome," Zipperman said. "He's probably our best guy ... and he's shut down everybody this year; he's thrown some huge innings for us. He's been with me since he was 9 years old, he a good kid, and we count on him in big games. We can beat anybody when he's on the mound."
In two appearances at this tournament, Godfrey worked nine innings and allowed nine hits, two earned runs (1.56 ERA) with 13 strikeouts and four walks. He showed a real knack for changing speeds on his pitches when necessary and was often able to keep the Firebirds' batters off-balance.
"He throws nasty," Zipperman said. "He can hold people on base, and he's just money every time he goes out there. He's also a hell of hitter and outfielder, and he's having a great tournament."
Godfrey smacked an RBI triple in the win over the Firebirds, and through five games was hitting .400 (4-for-10) with two doubles, the triple, three RBI and three runs scored.
Zipperman began coaching in the East Cobb organization when his son, Kane Zipperman (2015, Canton, Ga.) was 9 years old. Taj stayed with him until a year ago when Kane decided to play AAU basketball during the summer, but Kane returned to the ball field this summer and his father is with him.
"He started missing baseball so we threw a team together," Coach Zipperman said. "Through word of mouth people started calling and here we are."
The East Cobb Yankees are one of six teams here that play under East Cobb Baseball umbrella. The others are the 15u BCS Finals defending national champion East Cobb Astros 15u with head coach Dennis Jordan; the EC Bulldogs; EC Cardinals; EC Pride and EC Tigers.
The Astros 15u (6-0, 3-0) assured themselves of a spot in the playoffs Wednesday morning, and the Tigers (4-1, 2-0) had also positioned themselves for spot as of early Wednesday afternoon.
"East Cobb is a great place to play and we're all very lucky to be a part of it," Zipperman said. "I live 15 minutes from (the East Cobb Complex in Marietta, Ga.) and our kids go up there on Tuesday nights to practice. I think they take it for granted, but these other teams come in (to the complex) and look around and think 'this is ridiculous.' But Dennis Jordan does a great job, Guerry Baldwin - it's the greatest place to play in the country."
All of the East Cobb teams expect to be successful when they come to Perfect Game tournaments, and the Yankees are no exception. Zipperman brought only 12 players to this tournament, but he thinks they compete with the best and still be playing on Friday when the semifinals and championship game are scheduled to be played.
"All these teams out here are good, but I expect these kids to win; I know what these kids can do," he said. "We play one of the hardest schedules in the nation. Every weekend we're playing somebody tough; we're playing the (Homeplate) Chili Dogs, we're playing Barrett Baseball, we're playing the East Cobb Tigers. This is nothing new to these kids. Granted, they can go in there and lose, also, but we're used to playing good teams."
Even though he has only 12 players available, Zipperman feels like has used his pitching wisely - 10 pitchers worked 32 innings and allowed 10 earned runs on 31 hits in 32 innings (2.19 ERA) in the first five games - and tries to make sure every one of his players gets in every game.
"Everybody on our team goes in every game ... and all year long everybody plays. Everybody plays usually half the game, and the parents are happy, the kids are happy and everybody has a good time," he said. "We love these Perfect Game events, especially when you're getting at least six or seven games in. We really love it; we just wish the season wasn't ending."
Godfrey wasn't lacking for confidence late Wednesday morning.
"It's gone really good," he said of the tournament up to that point. "We've been playing our best ball that we've played all year and we need to keep it going so we can make it to the final four. We're one of the best teams in this (tournament); we can beat anybody."