Tournaments : : Story
Tuesday, July 08, 2014

There's no pitching around them

Matt Rodriguez        
CARTERSVILLE, Ga. – When you see ‘East Cobb Baseball’ on the schedule there are a few things you can guarantee. First, you will see some of the best high school talent in the country. Second, with the best high school talent comes a plethora of college coaches and scouts. Third, you will see a high-quality baseball game played in all aspects. Finally, there is a very good chance you will see East Cobb walk off the field winners, like it’s traditionally been throughout East Cobb’s storied existence.

East Cobb Baseball didn’t disappoint those in attendance for their game at the Cartersville Baseball Complex Tuesday morning. For the first time in their six pool play games, East Cobb put up double digits in the runs category, beating the New England Ruffnecks 17u, 15-2, and moving to the top of Pool I.

“This game we just came out and started hitting the ball a lot, just putting it in play,” said shortstop Jalen Miller. “We did a good job getting runners in scoring position in and doing anything we could do to get the runs in.”

East Cobb putting together 15 base hits, with six different players turning in multi-hit performances. It was an offensive performance head coach Jamie Crane needed to see out of his team, who’s only hitting .261 (40-for-153) in the tournament.

“We hadn’t swung the bats really well this tournament, which has been kind of disheartening because some of the better sticks in our club are the better 17-year-old kids who are here this week,” said Crane. “It was good to see the guys come around and hit. The bats carried us through it.”

Fighting for the top of the pool with the Ruffnecks coming into Tuesday’s matchup, it was anticipated to be a very competitive contest. The Ruffnecks sent Hopkinton, New Hampshire native and 142nd ranked Jake Nelson to the bump.

“Before the game, Crane said that it was the important game and everybody said, ‘lets turn it loose, let’s have fun and win’,” said catcher Chase Smartt. “That was our thought process heading into the game.”

Nelson, who was up to 92 mph, was able to retire Perfect Game National Showcase attendees Alonzo Jones and Jalen Miller to start the ballgame, before giving up a two-out double to Dazmon Cameron, the top-ranked player in the 2015 high school class. Smartt following Cameron’s double with a two-run home run to left field and the wheels fell off for Nelson and the Ruffnecks.

“That’s four of our best hitters, period,” Crane said. “Chase swung the bat well today. With Alonzo’s speed, if he puts it on the ground he gets on base. Daz and Chase both hit balls out, so they had good approaches at the ball. I feel like they’re getting in a groove, so it think we should be okay.”

Nelson’s outing ended after one inning and three earned runs given up. Things just got worse from that point on. After adding a run in the second, East Cobb blew the game wide open with a nine-run third inning. Cameron put an exclamation mark on the offensive surge with a grand slam to left field that was gone off the bat.

“We go out and we perform everyday,” said Miller. “Whatever [Crane] wants us to do, we do it for him and it ends in good results.”

“We just have fun, that’s what the whole summer’s about,” Smartt said. “If we have fun, we win. If we don’t have fun, we don’t play well at all. Today we started seeing the ball better. We hit the ball in the gaps and hit a few out of the park.”

Smartt finished the game 2-for-3 with a home run, a double, two RBI, and a run scored. He is now 8-for-16 on the tournament, leading the team in hitting. However, it’s his leadership behind the plate that really catches the eye of Crane.

“When he catches, it’s just a different animal,” said Crane. “He’s very vocal, controls the tempo of the game, controls our pitchers well, and normally he’s a gap-to-gap hitter. It was fun to see him come out today and hit the ball hard.”

Smartt hits fourth in the East Cobb Baseball lineup, behind Cameron. He’s ranked No. 309 in the 2015 high school class and has earned some impressive honors as a ballplayers, including making the All-Tournament Team at last October’s WWBA World Championship as a member of Team Rawlings.

Even more impressive, he’s done it all while hearing impaired.

When Smartt was just 14-months-old it was discovered that he didn’t have ninety-eight-percent of his hearing. His father, Mark Smartt, said the sound of a jet plane is equivalent to a whisper to his son.

Chase wears a cochlear hearing implant, which gives him the ability to hear without a problem. He plays the game with it in and it clearly hasn’t affected him one bit.

“I’m just like everybody else,” said Smartt. “It’s nothing different. I just play the game that I’ve always loved since I was little.”

Smartt will have the opportunity to continue to play the game he loves for another four year after high school. He has committed to play at Troy University under his father, who is the assistant baseball coach.

“It’s gonna be awesome since he has a hard time watching me during the high school season,” Smartt said. “I’m really looking forward to playing my college career with him. It’ll be a good experience for me and my dad.”

With most of the talented East Cobb Baseball roster committed to schools, everybody is holding their breath to see what college shortstop Jalen Miller will choose to put on a baseball jersey for.

He isn’t short on options after impressing the tons of college coaches and scouts who were in attendance at last month’s invite-only Perfect Game National Showcase in Fort Myers, Fla.

“At the National Showcase, I just came out and did what I know how to do; hit the ball, I feel like I did everything I needed to do,” Miller said. “I just did everything hard to the best of my abilities and it turned out well for me. I came here and just capitalized on everything, keeping it all going, and hopefully I can keep it going from here.”

The Atlanta, Ga. native impressed during exhibition games at the showcase, in which he recorded the seventh longest hit ball. He connected for a 355-ft double that was clocked at 93 mph off the bat. Miller also possesses smooth actions as a middle-infielder, which makes him a very attractive prospect.

“It felt good just to see whom you’re up against and to see all the other good players that you always hear about and just compete out there,” said Miller. “That’s all you wanna do is compete and that’s what we did. I think I got my name on the map. Down there, everybody got to see me play and I did what I needed to do.”

Perfect Game scout Jheremy Brown took note of Miller’s tools at last week’s WWBA 18u National Championship:

The PG National was a bit of a coming out party for Jalen Miller (2015, Atlanta, Ga.) as he had some of the better in-game swings and he hasn’t let up since getting back on his home turf in Georgia. An uncommitted shortstop, Miller shows the actions at short that should play well there at the next level, with smooth, quick hands, plus athletic actions, and playable arm strength across. Like his hands, his right-handed bat is also quick with a feel for the barrel, and he exhibited his strength as well, driving a pitch off the scoreboard in left field at Field 2 of the East Cobb Complex.

“He’s one of the best shortstops in the 2015 class, in my opinion,” Crane said. “He’s so athletic, swings the bat well, and has a great glove and strong arm. He’s a great team leader. He’s fun to be around. The guys love being around him and he’s kind of our energy catalyst in the dugout.”

The leadership of Smartt and Miller, combined with the ultra-talented roster of the East Cobb Baseball team has them on top of the pool with expectations for a deep playoff run.

“All these talented players have a passion to play the game,” said Smartt. “That’s what really gets us excited in the summer is playing a lot of games everyday.”

“We’re full of talent,” added Miller. “We have a bunch of speed. We have power hitters. People that you don’t think can put one over the wall still do, just like Chase today. We’re just complete.”

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