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Tournaments | Story | 10/6/2019

Stars sparkle, semis await

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Casey Cook (Perfect Game)

FORT MYERS, Fla. – Not long after his Virginia-based Stars Baseball Carroll outfit had posted a victory in the third round of the playoffs at the Perfect Game WWBA Underclass World championship early Sunday afternoon, head coach Carson Carroll shared a little secret with a PG note-taker.

“They expect to win, so I’m not surprised at all,” Carroll said of this team, smiling ear-to-ear. “And we have a fresh arm left. Even with a small roster, we’ve got a North Carolina commit that doesn’t have one inning yet under his belt. So there you go.”

There you go, indeed.

True to his word, Carroll handed the ball to top-500 2021 right-hander and UNC recruit Casey Cook to make the start against the formidable East Cobb Astros 17u in the ensuing quarterfinal-round game, and Cook responded brilliantly, leading the Stars to a 3-2 victory and a spot in Monday morning’s semifinals.

It was one of eight quarterfinal games played on Lee County MLB spring training practice fields Sunday afternoon, and after the final outs were recorded the 18th annual PG WWBA Underclass World championship had its final four; it looks like this:

No. 9-seeded Stars Baseball Carroll (6-0-0) will take on No. 4 Canes National 17u (6-0-0) in one of the semis, with the No. 14 Scorpions 2021 Founders Club (7-0-0) facing off against the No. 2 MLB Breakthrough Series 2021 (6-0-0) in the other.

The Stars Baseball victory over the East Cobb Astros seemed surprising at first glance, even though the Stars carried the No. 9 seed and the Astros the No. 17.

The perception probably came from the reality that the Stars’ dugout was populated by only 13 bodies and playing and winning three playoff games in a span of about seven hours can take its toll on teams with much larger rosters.

The Stars started the day at the jetBlue Park complex by beating the No. 24 Taconic Rangers, 6-1, in a second-round contest and then got past the No. 8 Dirtbags Bad Company, 4-2, in the third round. That led to the quarterfinal matchup with the Astros 17u.

“It’s pretty simple, man, and I’m just going to sum it up to heart; they’ve got guts,” Carroll said. “This team is a gutty, scrappy group and they’ve got heart. Of course, you’ve got to get good pitching and timely hitting and that’s all true, but it really all comes down to the makeup of the players.”

The quarterfinal between the Stars and the Astros 17u was a dandy, as should be expected during playoff baseball at a PG national championship event.

The Stars took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first but the Astros tied with a single run in the top of the fifth and took a 2-1 lead after scoring again in the sixth; the Stars won it with two runs in the bottom of the sixth.

Cook, the UNC-Chapel Hill commit, was right-on during his complete game stint, allowing two earned runs on four hits and striking out two without a walk. That was against an East Cobb lineup that was among the best in this 216-team event.

“I knew I wasn’t going to blow balls by guys so I was just living on the corners,” Cook said. “I trusted my fielders and I was just putting it in there for them to hit. I tried to save pitches so I could extend my outing and it worked out well.”

Cook also played a big part in the Stars’ offensive production. He walked with two outs in the first and eventually scored when Nathan Knowles delivered a line-drive double into left field.

The team also scored its two runs in the sixth with two-out, thanks to back-to-back doubles from Jackson Baird and Cook, with Cook’s providing what proved to be the winning run.

“Anyone dies for those situations where you can put your team ahead,” he said. “When I got up there, I knew I was going to get a hit; I was ready.”

Baird is a 2021 top-500 right-hander/middle-infielder who has committed to George Mason and Knowles is a 2021 to-500 right-hander/corner-infielder who has committed to William & Mary.

The Astros 17u never went away, of course – powerhouse programs never do. They scored their run in the fifth on a lead-off, solo home run off the bat of Joe Mack and Kaelen Culpepper came through with a one-out RBI double in the sixth to give them their short-lived lead. 2021 righty Agyei Quinichett threw six innings of seven-hit ball, giving up the three earned runs and striking out eight.

Mack is a 2021 catcher/infielder who is ranked No. 21 nationally and has committed to Clemson; Culpepper is a 2021 top-500 infielder who is uncommitted.

“This group has really grinded it out. It’s a lot of really, really good kids that play really hard,” Astros 17u head coach Kevin Baldwin said. “You get to this point in any tournament it’s a success, especially when you’ve got to play three games back-to-back-to-back.”

Because the Astros were seeded outside of the top-11 they had to play a first-round game Saturday afternoon, so they actually played four games in a 24-hour span. They beat the No. 48 Flood City Elite 2021’s 9-1 in that first-round game, then topped No. 16 Dig In Baseball, 3-0, and No. 32 Ohio Elite 2021, 10-3, in their second and third round games Sunday.

Stars Baseball Carroll also had to play three games on Sunday and prevailed in all three. Coach Carroll told PG that there was no need to mention any of that to his players because they’re smart enough to know they need a one-game-at-a-time mentality and you play them when the schedule-makers tell you to play them.

“They all just want to win,” he said. “We have a lot of guys that play in a real good high school league back home with a bunch of D-I players … and these guys know how to compete. It’s their competitive drive; that’s what got us here.”

And now they can look forward to playing on Monday, and that was the plan all along.

“It’s been real fun,” Cook said. “We knew we had the group to do it, but we’ve never gone this far previously. We just played our hearts out and look where it brought us.”

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