Tournaments : : Story
Monday, June 09, 2014

Great teams cap off great tourney

Matt Rodriguez        
Photo: Perfect Game
EMERSON, Ga. - Down 3-1 against MBA Pride Elite late in the championship game of the 16u Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational, the Team Elite Roadrunners dug deep and put together some impressive rallies to win 8-3.

It was a pitcher’s dual for much of the game, until Roadrunners shortstop Cam Shepherd connected for a home run in the bottom of the fourth inning that hit the bottom of the LakePoint scoreboard on Field 13 at Perfect Game Park South. With the crack of the ball and the way the ball flew, everyone knew it was gone. Shepherd’s shot broke a scoreless game and had the Roadrunners’ dugout up and load. That wouldn’t last long, though.

In the top of the fifth, MBA Pride Elite would take the wind out of the Roadrunners’ sails with a three-run frame. With two outs and a runner on first, MBA starting pitcher Logan Allen connected for a single to left field that drove in the tying run. Alec Sanchez immediately followed with a single to right before Mervyl “MJ” Melendez got the bat on a fastball for a double over the left fielder’s head that drove in two runs.

For a while the Roadrunners dugout fell silent, almost as if it was empty, and hit into two quick outs to begin the bottom half of the fifth. Momentum took another turn, though, when rising sophomore Morgan Copeland laced a pitch over the left field fence for a no-doubt home run. Roadrunners star Jahmai Jones followed the act with a single to center and tournament MVP Cobie Vance walked before Trey Cabbage singled to left field to drive in the tying run with two outs.

“Coach Brad (Bouras) tries to keep us up,” Vance said. “We have so many bats up and down the lineup that can make it happen that we don’t have to worry about pressing. When we fell behind we came together and coach challenged us to match that intensity and we did that.”

A five-run sixth inning for Team Elite Roadrunners would seal an impressive late-game comeback to capture the championship. The big hit in the inning came from Cobie Vance, who took an outside two-seam fastball the opposite way for a two-run double that wound up in the corner of right field.

“The pitcher was throwing a good two-seam fastball that was tailing in hard and I just tried to keep my hands in and just hit it backside,” said Vance. “It was up and out.”

The big hit from Vance appropriately compared with his performance the entire tournament. He finished the seven game stretch 9-for-24 (.375 avg.) with five extra-base hits, including a grand slam in the team’s opening game. He also totaled nine RBI and sported an impressive .423 on-base percentage.

“I’ve been working on keeping my hands in more and just trying to drive the ball and I think I did that this weekend,” said Vance.

“He can win games a hundred different ways,” said Roadrunners coach Tom “Ernie” Haire. “When he swings the bat great he looks like a power guy and when he doesn’t, he figures out some other way to come in and save the game on the mound or however he needs to do it. Cobie understands how to play the game.”

The MBA Pride Elite went down quietly in the top of the seventh to close the chapter on Perfect Game’s first championship game at LakePoint.

“Their pitcher tied us in a knot for five innings,” said Haire. “We have eleven pitchers on this team, so we have a lot of reserves in the bullpen and a lot of depth. I think that’s what did it is that we have great overall balance and great coaching by Brad.”

Team Elite Roadrunners impressed throughout the tournament, outscoring their opponents 46-10 while hitting .309 as a team with 25 extra-base hits, including eight home runs.

“We have a lot of talent,” said Haire. “We added Cam Shepherd this year and, of course, we have Jahmai Jones and he’s always been our superstar. A lot of kids come here to play with Jahmai because he’s such a great, positive kid. Trey Cabbage is probably leading our team in four or five offensive categories right now.”

The ultra-talented Roadrunners have two class of 2015 Top-100 players in Jahmai Jones (No. 5) and catcher Michael Curry (No. 99), as well as two in the 2016 Top-50 in shortstop Cam Shepherd (No. 33) and left-handed pitcher Jonathan Gettys (No. 34).

The road to the championship was anything but a cakewalk, however. After cruising through a few pool play games to open the tournament, things proved to be a little tougher when the playoffs began.

After losing a 4-0 lead late in the quarterfinal game against the Excel Blue Wave, it took extra baseball to send the Roadrunners home winners. Jones scored the winning run on a wild pitch with two outs, to win 6-5.

Monday morning’s semifinal matchup with the Astros TECB ended with a 1-0 final. If you like offense, this wasn’t the game for you. MV-Pitcher Jonathan Gettys proved to be too much for the Astros to handle, going five innings while striking out 10 and giving up just one hit in the win. He didn’t get much support from the offense, which only stringed together three hits and scored the decisive run on a sacrifice fly from Jones.

“Jonathan’s just amazing when he’s on the mound,” Haire said. “He’s got tons of confidence out there and he was born to pitch. He’s almost unhittable, for a 16-year-old.”

The southpaw flashed a lively 91 mph (miles per hour) fastball with a curveball that just didn’t look fair to hitters.

“I thought he did really well,” said the outspoken Jake Lee, a right-handed pitcher committed to Georgia Tech. “Nobody could come close to touching the smoke that he was throwing. When he wasn’t throwing smoke, he was throwing the hammer and they couldn’t touch it. He really put us in a good position to win the tournament.”

Gettys said his curveball was working well this week, but the velocity of his fastball comes as no surprise. It also helps to have no of the country’s best catchers as a battery mate, in Curry.

“I love Curry catching,” Gettys said. “He’s a good catcher. This was a good first tournament right here and I think we’re ready to compete all summer long.”

“As a unit, we have high expectations to win,” said Vance. “We wanna sweep PG. I think we can do it if we put our bats together. Our defense is there and our pitching’s there, we just gotta hit.”

Lee had a similar answer to what this team’s expectations are for the summer.

“Ernie’s always had a good program,” Lee said. “We have big shoes to fill this summer. We’re just trying to live up to expectations. We have a lot of individual talent, but we gotta put it together as a team.”

Well, the Team Elite Roadrunners got off to the right start en route to hopefully meeting those expectations. They put together a impressive tournament run this week at the 16u Perfect game-East Cobb Invitational.

2014 16u Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational Champions: Team Elite Roadrunners

2014 16u Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational runner-up: MBA Pride Elite

2014 16u Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational MVP: Cobie Vance

2014 16u Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational MV-Pitcher: Jonathan Gettys

The East Cobb Astros 18 team showed exactly why they carry the reputation of being one of, if not, the best 18u travel baseball teams in the country with an 18u Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational championship Monday afternoon.

The Astros shut out Team Elite 18u, 5-0 to win the championship, scoring all five of their runs in the top of the seventh inning after what was a pitcher’s duel for the most part.

“I knew we could pitch with anybody,” said head coach Jamie Crane. “We’ve had some offensive struggles early on, but the kids adjusted well; late today. It took us seven innings to score, but when we finally adjusted the runs came. As long as our pitchers keep us in it, we will get there at some point.”

Alonzo Jones started things off in the seventh with a one out infield single and eventually used his incredible speed to work himself around to third base before scoring on an error to give the Astros a 1-0 lead in the seventh.

“Early they were caught up in the speed of the game and didn’t really slow everything down,” Crane said about the offense’s early struggles. “We were just kind of trying to get them to slow themselves down to the speed of the game. Our guys play fast, and they don’t need to always play fast.”

With two outs the bats came alive, starting with a single from tournament MVP Chase Illig. Thomas Johns (2016) followed with a line drive to centerfield. Chase Smartt followed suit and drove in Illig with a base hit. The big blow came when the very next batter, Trevor Devine, connected for a three-run home run to centerfield, putting the Astros up by five runs. That proved to be more than enough for southpaw Alex Watkins, who went the distance in the 5-0 shutout, giving up just five hits and a walk while collecting 12 strikeouts.

“That’s what I expect them to do,” said Crane in regards to Watkins’ performance. “We have a throwing program they do. When they go out, I expect them to go seven (innings). So he did his job.”

“Watkins, he always gives us a strong chance to win,” said Illig. He’s a little deceptive, but all lefties are.”

Watkins might have gotten better as the game went on, striking out the side in the bottom of the fifth inning and recording the last out of the game with a strikeout. Team Elite 18u didn’t tally their first base hit until the bottom of the third.

“I just wanted to throw a lot of strikes and get groundballs to let the defense work,” said Watkins. “We have a good defense behind us.”

“Some days I got it [curveball working], and some days I don’t. Today it was really working. I was able to locate it well and get it on the lower outside half. I could put it wherever I wanted to and they were swinging over it.”

Watkins was efficient, throwing just 72 pitches. Exactly half of those 72 pitches were breaking balls, which he used to record a majority of his strikeouts.

“We tried to throw them off and change speeds; just mix it up inside and outside,” said Watkins. “I just felt that I needed to go and get the job done. We have such a good defense, and the bats came along late. They’ve been smashing the ball all tournament.”

Leading the offensive charge this week was 2015 catcher Chase Illig, who finished the six game slate 8-for-14 (.571 avg.) with four doubles, two RBI, and four runs scored.

“This weekend I knew we were facing some good pitching, so I had to dial it up a little bit,” Illig said. “My approach is ‘see the fastball, hit the fastball.’ Anytime you put the ball in play on turf it helps. We’re a big hitting team. We have a lot of strikeout pitchers, and we have some speed on the bases.”

Illig is also a lethal switch hitter, and he showed off that unique skill in the championship game when, after batting right-handed the entire game, Team Elite brought in a right-handed pitcher and he switched to the left side and connected for a base hit. He would eventually come around to score.

“Being a switch hitter is something I have been working on for a few years, and situations like that when they bring in a guy to face you, it always helps when you can turn around to the other side,” said Illig.

“Chase has swung the bat well all year,” Crane said. “He has a great approach from both sides. When you get two strikes on the kid it’s almost like he gets better. The focus is unbelievable. He carried us offensively through several games.”

The East Cobb Astros 18 displayed their dominance in all facets of the game, outscoring opponents by a combined 34-6 run differential. They hit an incredible .327 as a team and combined for a 0.68 earned run average.

Taking home MV-Pitchers honors was East Cobb Astros 18 Max Wotell, who was not present for the championship game. Wotell was featured in a tournament story for throwing a complete game and striking out 18 hitters while giving up just two hits and two unearned runs in a winning effort.

“It’s definitely a good feeling winning the first one they have here,” Illig said about winning at Perfect Game Park South at LakePoint. “I think we have a good makeup as a team.”

It only seems appropriate an East Cobb Baseball team wins the Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational hosted at the new state-of-the-art LakePoint facility for the first time.

“It means a lot to us because our relationship with Perfect Game has been great,” said Crane. “They’ve always treated us great. It’s a great team. It’d be hard for a better team to play out here this year. We’re glad we got to represent Perfect Game and East Cobb and win this tournament.”

2014 18u Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational runner-up: Team Elite 18u

2014 18u Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational MVP: Chase Illig

2014 18u Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational MV-Pitcher: Max Wotell

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