Tournaments : : Story
Friday, September 17, 2010

East Cobb 14U Astros continue tradition of excellence

Jeff Dahn        

14U Travel Team Rankings

The East Cobb Astros 14-and-under powerhouse baseball team feels right at home every year when the time comes to participate in the Perfect Game 14U WWBA National Championship.

The Astros should feel at home at the WWBA National Championship. The five-day tournament is played on the fields of the East Cobb Complex, an eight-diamond facility built just outside of Marietta, Ga., East Cobb Baseball's home base.

When the Astros play at the East Cobb Complex they usually do a lot of winning, like they did this summer when they won the PG 14U WWBA National Championship June 24-28. That championship, and a host of other successes this summer, earned the Astros the No. 1 ranking in Perfect Game's final 2010 14U National Rankings.

"It's something we look forward to every year," Astros Coach Dave Roberts said. "We consider it to be one of the biggest events we play in all year and fortunately we've been lucky enough to win it, and win it here at home, too.

"We go into every big event that like that expecting to win," he said. "We had a very, very, very talented team this year. It was one of the best teams that I've had since I've been here. So, yeah, the expectation was that we were going to win."

The PG WWBA National Championship title was the third in four years for the 14U Astros - they were runner-up in 2009 - and their first national championship of the summer. They won the USSSA Elite National Championship about a month later.

East Cobb breezed through the WWBA National Championship unbeaten and beat the defending champion Dulins Dodgers, 9-4, in the championship game. The Astros built an early 9-2 lead in the game and easily avenged a 4-1 loss to the Dodgers in the '09 title game.

While readily admitting his team was the likely favorite going into the tournament, Roberts quickly acknowledged the talent level of the Astros' competition, including the Tennessee-based Dodgers, their nemesis in 2009.

"They are a very good team (but) we were very disappointed that we didn't win it the year before," he said. "Although it was a totally different group of kids, we certainly let them know about the circumstances and they took a hold of that and responded to it."

The Astros' D.J. Avrard (Metaire, La., 2014) was named the tournament's Most Valuable Pitcher after allowing only two runs and four hits while striking out 10 over the course of the five-day event.

Other players who excelled at the National Championship included outfielder Eric Knox (Guyton, Ga., 2013), outfielder Terry McClure (Atlanta, 2013), third baseman Hunter Anglin (Gainesville, Ga.), infielder Mitchell Webb (Dallas, Ga., 2014), catcher Handsome Monica (Mandeville, La., 2014) and outfielder Kelly Johnson (Palmetto, Ga., 2013).

McClure hit a two-run home run in the second inning of the championship game to give the Astros an early 3-0 lead.

Roberts has been the head coach of the 14U Astros the past five seasons and the team has enjoyed phenomenal success under his direction. The Astros won PG WWBA championships in 2007, '08 and this summer and PG BCS championships in 2006 and '07. They also won USSSA Elite National Championships in 2006, '07, '09 and '10 under Roberts.

East Cobb Baseball is set up so that starting at age 12 there is a designated "top" team in each age group and a designated coaching staff for that team at each age group. Coaching staffs don't stay with the same players all the way up the age-group ladder, which means those staffs are faced with molding an entirely new roster into a polished unit on a yearly basis.

"Every year we have to start over, which is a lot different," Roberts said. "Most teams that we compete against have been playing together for many years, and we have to start over every year and put the team together and go through that whole process."

Roberts, who is in the process of assembling his 2011 14U team, said drawing top-notch talent to East Cobb Baseball isn't very difficult. ECB is highly respected and acknowledged as the top travel team operation in the country, one that has won more than 146 national championships on all levels since 1985. ECB fielded 81 teams this summer, including the 14U Astros.

"Obviously, East Cobb is a big draw for a kid," Roberts said. "I like to think that 14 (years old) is kind of a real pivotal year. It's the first year that the kids play on the big fields (at East Cobb Complex) and it's an important year. My first couple of years here we had great players and we did well, and that kind of had a snowball effect where it attracted more great players every year from outside the park.

"We also get a large number of players each year from our younger age groups. But the fact that a kid played on the 13-year-old Astros team doesn't necessarily mean that he'll play on the 14 Astros team. Usually about half of our team every year comes from outside the park."

Roberts tries to expose his 14U Astros teams to higher levels of competition by playing up against older age group teams. His 14-year-old team has even participated in 17U wood bat tournaments in the past.

"We do a lot of that during the season. Probably more than half of our games against older teams," he said. "That really helps the kids and it prepares them, and I think that's part of the key to how we've been able to be successful."

Roberts said East Cobb's strong relationship with Perfect Game USA has benefitted his players greatly. Because he is willing to have the Astros play against older teams, his youngsters are getting noticed at a younger age.

"We've actually played in older Perfect Games where our kids have been watched by college coaches," he said. "The exposure that some of our kids get through (Perfect Game events) is real big. We actually had three kids that played for (the 14U Astros) a couple of years ago selected in the first round (of the Major League draft) this year. Through the benefit of East Cobb and Perfect Game, they got the exposure that was necessary to be a first-round draft choice."

Those three first-rounders who played for the 14U Astros in the last five years or so - and all Georgia high school boys - were outfielder Jake Skole, selected 15th overall by the Texas Rangers; shortstop Kaleb Cowart, 18th by the Los Angeles Angels; and center fielder Chevez Clarke, 30th by the Angels.

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