Tournaments | Story | 6/2/2019

East Cobb Astros march into semis

Cory Van Dyke        
Photo: Brad Grenkoski (Perfect Game)

MARIETTA, Ga. – At the 2019 18U Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational, it’s the East Cobb Astros party as both the 17u Orange and Navy teams are dancing into the semifinals to comprise half of the remaining field.

On Sunday afternoon, the East Cobb Astros 17u Orange team found themselves matched up with the No. 1 seed Team Georgia 17u National squad in the quarterfinals. Andrew Bennett, a Samford pledge, got the offense rolling with a two-out RBI single in the top of the first.

Team Georgia then struck for the next three runs to grab a 3-1 lead in the third, carrying that lead all the way until the sixth inning. In the top of the sixth, the offense that was quelled since the first inning came to life.

“I think the biggest thing is we were patient and we were able to execute on offense there,” coach Matthew Crownover said. “Early on we took off some at bats. I think later on in the game we kind of focused in and got in good counts. We put some good swings on the ball.”

After back-to-back walks to begin the inning, Ben Arnett connected on an RBI single to right field, his third hit of the game. Bennett followed with a sacrifice fly to tie the game, and Knox Preston ripped the go-ahead infield single to give East Cobb Astros 17u Orange the 4-3 advantage. 

“I had faced the new pitcher before,” Preston said. “He approached me kind of the same way with two curveballs. I saw how he set up the at bat before. Just saw him start me off with a curveball, so I was able to get some good wood on it beat it out.”

Joseph Eichelberger saw his day on the mound come to a close after he allowed a lead-off single in the bottom of the sixth. The righthanded hurler tossed five innings allowing six hits, three runs, and two walks with three strikeouts. It was a performance that inspired confidence for Eichelberger as he’s been working himself back from injury.

“He’s coming off an injury from high school, and we’ve been trying to be patient with him to make sure he’s healthy when he comes back,” Crownover said. “JoJo really threw the ball well as the game went on. He got stronger.”

Needing the last six outs, Preston was called on to do the job. And getting those six outs was exactly what Preston did. He didn’t allow a hit or walk over the final two innings, ending the game with a strikeout to advance East Cobb Astros 17u Orange in the tournament.

“The last strikeout there was definitely relief,” Preston said. “Coming into it with a guy on base, from being a catcher, like I said just trying to fill up the zone and eliminate walks. Let my guys do the defending because you can’t defend a walk. Walks usually lead to a run.”

For Preston, a Lipscomb commit, it wasn’t a role that he usually undertakes, as he typically plays catcher. However, it was still mission accomplished when the final pitch went whizzing into the catcher’s glove.

“He’s an innings eater as he likes to say,” Crownover said. “He threw the ball well. By trade he’s more of a catcher than a pitcher, but he knows where the ball is going. He understands how to put the ball where he wants to, and it goes to show that it’s not all about velocity.”

The late inning comeback for the Astros Orange team was indicative of the camaraderie that the team has developed. In the sixth inning, everything came together and allowed the team to survive and advance into Monday.

“We have a lot of determination on our team,” Arnett said. “I give all the credit to my teammates. We all play together, play through each other, and we all believe in each other.”

Just about a half hour later, the East Cobbs Astros 17u Navy squad took the field against Nelson Baseball School in another quarterfinals matchup. 

From start to finish it was a pitcher’s duel between the Astros’ Will Sanders and Nelson Baseball School’s Caswell Smith. Brad Grenkoski provided the only offensive fireworks on the fifth pitch of the game when he smacked a solo shot over the left field wall.

“Just trying to hit the ball out in front and seeing fastball,” Grenkoski said. “I know I try not to catch anything deep. If I hit the ball in front I know it’s going to go a good ways. 

“It’s just more be on time. That’s all you’re thinking about. I’m not thinking about anything else.”

It was Caswell’s only mistake, as the College of Charleston commit threw six innings of one-run ball, allowing six hits, two walks, and striking out four batters.

Grenkoski’s bomb was the only run support that Sanders, a South Carolina commit, needed as he fired a complete game shutout, going all seven innings, while surrendering three hits, one walk, and six strikeouts in just 80 pitches.

“The main thing I focused on was first pitch fastball and getting ahead with that,” Sanders said. “As I went on in the game, I kind of mixed it up a little bit with curveball, changeup, splitter as first pitch.”

Sanders certainly kept the Nelson Baseball School hitters off balance with his array of pitches including the fastball that touched 91 mph and the curveball and changeup that both got better as the game progressed. He worked efficiently and even instituted a little hesitation twitch in his delivery at times to throw off the timing of the batter at the dish.

“The biggest thing for a hitter is rhythm, so I can try to mess that up as much as I can,” Sanders said. “It felt good today, so you just kind of hope that it keeps going through the summer.” 

In a game with very few baserunners, Nelson Baseball Club had a chance in the bottom of the seventh when William Oliver Kelley led off with a base hit. After he advanced to second with one out, Sanders delivered his best piece of deception all day and showcased his intellect on the mound, using an inside move to pick off Oliver Kelley at second base.

“I actually played against that kid in high school,” Sanders said. “I felt like I was doing one look and then go a lot, so I felt like I should do a little pick off move and see if he fell for it, and it worked.”

Sanders induced a groundout to end the game and sent the East Cobb Astros 17u Navy team marching into Monday’s semifinals. On separate sides of the bracket, those in the program are hoping for an all East Cobb Astros championship, but 643 DP Cougars 16U Sterling and TPL National stand in the way.

“East Cobb is a hotbed of talent and everybody wants to be part of it to play for them,” Crownover said. “I think it’s one of those things where it’s playing up to a standard. These guys really have so far played up to a standard. Can’t be more proud in how they played today.”

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