MARIETTA, Ga. - The three 2012 Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational tournaments that will conclude their five-day runs at the East Cobb Baseball Complex on Sunday are an exclusive presentation of Perfect Game USA. But East Cobb Baseball has its name on the event's marquee for a reason.
The pairings for Sunday's semifinal round in the 17u/18u, 16u, and 14u/15u PG-EC Invitational tournaments are set after a full day of playoff action at venues all across the northwest Atlanta suburbs on Saturday, and ECB finds itself with five teams among the 12 still fighting for championships.
That's not a complete surprise based on two realities. The first is, of course, that year-after-year, ECB fields some of the nation's most competitive teams, regardless of the age group. The second is that of the 184 teams that entered the three events this year, 42 fell under the ECB umbrella (23 percent). The fact they make up almost 50 percent of the semifinal fields really shouldn't surprise anyone.
The defending champions at this event are the East Cobb Braves 17u in the 17u/18u PG-EC Invitational; the East Cobb Astros 15u in the 16u tournament; and the East Cobb Longhorns in the 14u/15u Invitational. None will repeat this year after being eliminated in one of the first two playoff rounds.
THE 17U/18U PLAYOFF FIELD was not seeded this year, but that appears to have been of little consequence. Three of the four teams playing for championship berths - the EC Blue Jays, EC Astros 16u and TGBA 17u - are all 5-0, and the fourth, the Alabama Seminoles, are 4-0-1.
Some may consider the EC Astros 16u, coached by ECB founder Guerry Baldwin, the favorite, but that's premature. They will first have to get past the EC Blue Jays in the semis and then derail either the Alabama Seminoles or TGBA 17u to claim the title.
"This year's team is one of the best I've ever put out on the field," EC Blue Jays head coach Chris Butler said before his team's quarterfinal game Saturday afternoon. "We've got a lot of speed, a lot of great athletes and we're pretty deep in pitching, and we work hard; I put a lot of pride in that."
One unexpected casualty of Saturday's play was pre-tournament favorite Marucci Elite, which lost a 1-0 decision to ABA 17u Elite in the playoffs' first round. Another first-round victim was SC Shockwave 17U (National) which had steam-rolled its way through pool play.
A team to keep an eye on is the Alabama Seminoles.
"We feel pretty good with where we're at and we feel pretty good about our team and our kids," head coach Jerry Hendricks told Perfect Game on Friday. "We're going into the weekend feeling pretty good about our pitching and we feel like we should make a pretty good run at this thing."
SATURDAY'S RESULTS IN THE 16U PG-EC INVITATIONAL PLAYOFFS went just about according to the seedings. The No. 1-seeded Indiana Prospects (5-0) and No. 2 East Cobb Astros 16u Gray (5-0) are both in the semifinals, joined by No. 5 Dallas Tigers Vanlandingham (5-0) and No. 11 North Alabama Vipers (4-1).
The Vipers, actually based in Hanceville, Tenn., rebounded from a loss in their first pool-play game of the tournament to win four straight games and now finds themselves in position to play for a championship. The semifinal pairings have the Prospects playing the Tigers Vanlandingham and the EC Astros 16u Gray going up against the upstart Vipers.
THE 14U/15U PG-EC INVITATIONAL SEMIFINAL PAIRINGS also went pretty much according to form, with one No. 11 seed crashing what would have been an all top-four party.
And don't say you didn't see it coming. The 11th-seeded East Cobb Tigers (5-0) eliminated the No. 6 East Cobb Astros 14u in the first round and then dispensed of the No. 3 Tifton Mavericks in the quarterfinals.
"We've put together a pretty good little streak here the last couple of days and the guys are starting to figure it out a little bit; everybody's starting to understand their roles," Tigers head coach Art Evans said after his team's win the first round. "The teamwork has been terrific - we're still working on a couple of things but we're getting to where we want to be."
The top-seeded Iron Pigs (5-0) out of Port Charlotte, Fla., will face the No. 4-seeded EC Astros 15u (5-0) in one semifinal with the No. 2 Double Day Giants (5-0) playing the EC Tigers in the other semi. Be sure to check the playoff brackets for game times and field assignments.