Tournaments : : Story
Sunday, June 12, 2011

ABA slides into 17u/18u semis

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

MARIETTA, Ga. – When the 17u/18u Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational began on Thursday, there probably weren’t many folks out there who expected the Atlanta Baseball Academy (ABA) Braves to be playing in Sunday’s semifinal round.

The ABA Braves were not among the skeptics.

The Braves once again got strong pitching from its deep staff and topped East Cobb Astros 16u Gray, 3-2, in the quarterfinal round of the 17u/18u tournament Sunday morning. It was the second time in just more than 12 hours the Braves beat an EC Astros 16u team – they topped EC Astros 16u Orange in the first round of the playoffs Saturday night.

Not many expected it except, of course, the Braves.

“We took a lot of time putting this team together, and we picked the right guys,” head coach and ABA founder David Stephenson said after the quarterfinal win. “We picked the guys that believe in our philosophy, and they’ve got it done so far.”

ABA was scheduled to play Team Alabama in one semifinal, while East Cobb Braves 17u played TGBA 17u in the other semi.

Stephenson said he was looking forward to a challenging run that he hopes ends in the championship game. Sunday’s schedule was adjusted slightly so the championship game could be moved up from 4:30 p.m., which requires the two teams that meet in the championship to play games at 9 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m.

“I think if we use our pitchers right – we’ve got about seven or eight guys left – so we’re doing OK there,” he said. “We’ve got to keep getting timely hits and just keep playing well defensively.”

The quarterfinal win developed into a tense affair. The Braves led 3-0 after three innings thanks to RBI singles from Pierce Ressmeyer, Austin Dykes and Clay Thomas, but the Astros rallied with single runs in the bottom of the fifth and sixth to pull within one.

They still had the bases loaded with two outs in the sixth when Braves’ right-hander Avery Seckinger was summoned. Seckinger got a pop-out to end the threat in the sixth and struck out two of the three batters he faced in the seventh.

“Our pitching has been great this tournament,” Stephenson said. “We’ve got two complete games … and our starting pitching has been great.”

Atlanta Baseball Academy is only about a year-and-a-half old, and was organized when former college coaches Stephenson and Doc Fowlkes decided to leave that behind and form ABA.

“We decided to get out of that and see what we could do, so we put it together and it’s gone well so far,” Stephenson said.

The organization offers baseball and softball instruction in addition to fielding teams for 7-year-olds through 18-year-olds. The organization is based in Peachtree, Ga., and most of its players are from the south metro Atlanta area.

Although ABA is relatively new to the game, Stephenson said he and his players have already come to appreciate events like the Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational.

“Perfect Game does a great job with it,” he said. “They put the best teams in there and you kind of see where you’re at, see how you stack up.”

Other semis set

The semifinal pairings in the 16u Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational and the 14u/15u PG-EC Invitational were also set after Sunday morning’s quarterfinals, and a younger ABA Braves team found itself playing for a spot in the 14u/15u championship game.

The 16u semifinals featured Top Notch (SC Heat) 16u vs. East Cobb Astros 15u, and SC Shockwave vs. East Cobb Yankees 16u.

The 14u/15u semis pitted the ABA Braves against the East Cobb Longhorns, and Georgia Stars against Florida Flash. A 14u Flash team won last year’s PG-EC Invitational championship.

East Cobb Astros 15u shutdown Dallas Tigers-16u Vanlandingham, 4-0, in the quarterfinals to reach the 16u semis.

“We play (16u) tournaments pretty much all year long; we don’t play too many 15’s,” Astros head coach Dennis Jordan said. “Did we expect to be here? It’s a situation where we come out every day to play as hard as we can, and we try to put ourselves in the best position to win that we possibly can.”

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