Tournaments : : Story
Saturday, June 08, 2013

Jackets 14u finding ways to win

Jeff Dahn        

MARIETTA, Ga. -- One kid on the visiting team threw a seven-inning no-hitter and three kids on the home team combined on a seven-inning two-hitter in one of the showcase first-round playoff games at the 14u/15u Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational played Saturday afternoon at the East Cobb Baseball Complex.

Unfortunately for the kid who threw the no-hitter -- Game Ready Athletics 15u Orange right-hander Cole Varner -- the game went eight innings and the Perfect Game playoff tie-breaker format was imposed. It was unfortunate for Varner because it was in that extra frame that the Georgia Jackets Baseball 14u team collected their first and only hit.

The PG tie-breaker system mandates that each extra half inning start with the bases loaded and one-out. In the first at-bat in the top of the eighth, Jackets 14u hitter Kale Ledford (2017, Oxford, Ga.) smacked an RBI single -- the first hit of the game off Varner -- and Jason Rooks (2017, Marietta, Ga.) later added a sacrifice fly to give the Jackets 14u all the runs they would need. The Athletics 15u Orange pushed one run across in the bottom of the eighth but it wasn't enough in the Jackets 14u's 2-1 win.

"These guys are super resilient," Georgia Jackets 14u head coach Jeff Auterson said of a 14-man roster that is 85 percent 2017 grads and includes one player each from New York, Alabama and Florida, with the rest are from Georgia. "It's not like they're not proven in battle; they've done this a handful of times already this week.

"But we have to tip our hat to that pitcher over there (Varner) -- dropping down, mixing speeds up and doing what he needed to do. It was a great baseball game, he pitched fantastic; the boys did a good job fighting, but I most definitely tip my hat to that pitcher -- he threw great."

Varner (2016, Alpharetta, Ga.) threw 7 2/3 innings and gave up just the one hit, with one walk, one hit batsman and two strikeouts. It was an especially impressive outing against a Georgia Jackets 14u team that came into the game averaging 7.6 runs per game and hitting .400 as a team.

"That's just baseball," Auterson said. "Some days you're out there hitting the baseball and you can't go wrong and the next day you're swinging a wet newspaper and fighting to get a run. I played this game and I know how it is -- some days you're on fire and the next day you don't know what you're doing.

"But again, I don't think we did a bad job at the plate, I just thought (Varner) did a great job, and sometimes you just have to tip your hat to a good performance and that's what that was by him."

The Jackets 14u got some pretty good pitching of their own in the seven inning shutout. Right-hander Cameron Turley (2017, Dacula, Ga.) worked the first 4 1/3 innings, and gave up only one hit while striking out six and walking three. Left-hander Austin Weiermiller (2017, Alpharetta, Ga.) and righty William West III (2016, Niceville, Fla.) pitched one-hit ball over the final 3 1/3 innings.

"Cam came out and threw a gem," Auterson said. "I thought he got a little tired there in the fifth inning so we brought in a lefty (Weiermiller) who usually throws great with a runner on first. We actually threw three of our better pitchers this game to try to get out of it, to try to sneak that win in."

Rooks and Ledford have been among the Jackets' most consistent hitters at the tournament. Rooks went into Saturday night's quarterfinal game 4-for-11 (.364) with a triple, home run and three RBI, and Ledford was batting 4-for-12 (.333) with a double and two RBI. Chaney Rogers (2017, Ringgold) led the pack at 5-for-11 (.455) with two doubles and a pair of RBI.

The Georgia Jackets program, based in Sandy Springs, Ga., and Milton, Ga., is only in its second year of existence. A second Jackets team, the Georgia Jackets National, also played in the 14u/15u PG-EC Invitational and advanced to the playoffs. The Georgia Jackets 16u played in the 16u PG-EC Invite but did not advance out of pool-play.

"We're just kind of getting our first foot in the door and we're just kind of trying it out," Auterson said. "Right now there's been a great response, great families, great kids and we're just kind of starting it up. A lot of these boys have been playing together for a long time. We've got a lot of good hearts, a lot of good families, and a lot of good people came together and said, 'Hey, this is a good idea.'

"So what we're doing now is trying to build them up, teach them the game, teach them some character and have them learn and leverage the game to fight through adversity," he continued. "These boys ... know how to play and were just kind of nurturing them now onto the next level."

Despite the Georgia Jackets Baseball 14u team's youth and inexperience as far as playing in Perfect Game tournaments, they showed poise beyond their years in their three pool-play wins. They were leading Orlando Baseball Academy 14u, 11-2, before OBA 14u exploded for eight runs in the bottom of the sixth, but still managed to hold on for an 11-10 win. The Jackets 14u then rallied from a 3-2 sixth inning deficit to beat the Knoxville Stars 15u, 4-3, before easing to an 8-0 win over the East Cobb Rockies 15u to clinch their pool championship.

"We go into every game looking to try win every ballgame," Auterson said. "The expectations for the boys are to go out there and play their best and at the end of the day it's not about the wins, it's about their best effort is required. At the end of the day they're still going to be loved, we're still going to see them, we're still going to appreciate their efforts.

"Whatever happens on the field doesn't determine how we feel about them -- this a free place to play fearlessly and not have somebody blasting down their throat where they feel their identity is based on what they do," he continued. "That's not this environment and that's not the Jackets program."

All things being equal, the Jackets were certainly enjoying their first go-around at a Perfect Game tournament early Saturday afternoon, enjoying their eight-inning victory while looking ahead to the evening's quarterfinal. Auterson, who played parts of six seasons in the Los Angeles Dodgers and Colorado Rockies minor league systems, seems to be enjoying himself as much as the players.

"This has been a fantastic experience," Auterson said. "We have a lot of guys from all over this place, so for them to come together this week, and we were able to practice every single days (along with playing games) so, again, it's been a fantastic experience."

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