Tournaments | Story | 6/6/2019

Mature beyond their years

Jack Nelson        
Photo: Dylan Lesko (Perfect Game)

MARIETTA, Ga. – The East Cobb Astros 16u X scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning, walking off the Georgia Jackets 17u National, 5-4, to advance to the semifinals of the 17u East Cobb Invitational. The 16u team continued their impressive run this week, all while playing competition a year or two older.

The Astros received strong pitching all game. Starter Andrew Armstrong worked quickly and efficiently, going five innings, walking one and allowing one earned run. The Florida State commit found himself in a jam in the fifth due to a walk and an error, but limited the damage, keeping his team in the game. The steady performance came as no surprise to his coach.

“Armstrong gave us some quality innings,” Astros coach Ridge Hillhouse said. “We knew he was going to come out and compete.”

With the Astros trailing 4-3 in the sixth inning, Coach Hillhouse went to the bullpen for Dylan Lesko, the top-ranked player by Perfect Game in the high school class of 2022. Lesko was electric in relief, using his low-90s fastball to overpower the Jackets lineup. He struck out three, but more importantly, he stopped the bleeding and gave the potent Astros lineup a chance to come back.

“I try to work off the fastball,” said Lesko after the game. “I may mix in off-speed to keep them off my fastball, but I really try to attack with my best pitch, which is my fastball.”

And come back they did. Trailing 4-3, shortstop Kristian Campbell led off the seventh inning with a triple down the right field line, and an errant throw into the Jackets dugout allowed the Georgia Tech commit to score from third. From there, Jared Jones and Nathan Smith walked and Treyton Rank, another Florida State commit, ripped a single. With the bases loaded, Carter Wright hit a grounder to second base, but a poor throw let Jones slide home safely, giving the Astros the 5-4 victory.

It was a different kind of win for the Astros. Through three pool play games, the Astros outscored their opponents 26-2. In fact, no game had been closer than eight runs. Even in their first playoff game of the day, the Astros defeated Team Elite 17u Prime 8-0. Against the Jackets, they found themselves trailing, and trailing very deep into the game. But there was never any panic.

“We know we can hit,” added Lesko. “For a few innings on the mound and defensively we kept ourselves in the game, but in the end we did what we needed to do.”

The East Cobb Astros 16u X have had eye-popping success, especially considering they are playing teams composed of players one year older. For players like Dylan Lesko and Jared Jones, they are actually 15u players, playing on a 16u team, dominating at a 17u tournament.

“All these guys come to the field and show up to work,” Hillhouse said, praising the maturity of his players. “These 15u guys, they’re not scared. They’re going to compete, and that translates to the rest of the team.”

“We don’t really care about the age,” added Lesko. “We have the mentality that we’re just as good, if not better.”

The team already has five Division 1 commits, and all of them are to Power 5 schools including Florida State, Georgia Tech and Tennessee. As the summer tournament season progresses, there are sure to be more commitments on the way.

Fueled by momentum and confidence, the Astros appear primed for a big day on Friday. In their semifinal, they will face a familiar foe, the East Cobb Astros 17u Navy, who won the final quarterfinal content of the day, defeating the Duluth Noles 17u, 4-1. East Cobb pitcher Will Sanders, a South Carolina commit, was the story, going 6 2/3 innings.

In other quarterfinal action, DRB Elite 17u dominated the 643 DP Cougars 17u Pralgo, winning by a score of 13-2. For DRB, William Underwood led the way going 2-for-4 at the plate and tossing two innings of scoreless relief. They will take on the Georgia Bombers in the semifinal.

Georgia Bombers 16u defeated Team Georgia 17u National, 4-2, to advance. Evan Kehren earned the win on the mound for the Bombers, going five strong innings, striking out eight.

Both semifinals will be played at the East Cobb Complex with the championship game to follow.

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