EMERSON, Ga. – The East Cobb Braves 16 followed in the footsteps of what Max Wotell and the East Cobb Astros 18 team did yesterday, and even decided to one-up their fellow East Cobb friends in the first round of the 16u Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational playoffs at Perfect Game Park South at LakePoint Sunday morning.
Right-handed pitcher Christopher Lucero decided he would keep the East Cobb Baseball reputation going in this tournament, capturing the attention of many college coaches, fans, and fellow travel baseball players who would walk by and gently say the phrase ‘no-hitter’ after scanning the runs and hits columns on the scoreboard in right field.
One of the many unwritten rules of baseball is when a pitcher has a no-hitter in his grasp you don’t talk about it, or at least you don’t talk openly about it, and you definitely don’t say a word about it to the pitcher. However, Lucero isn’t the type of player to let the trends of the game affect his performance.
“It’s amazing – his demeanor out there,” said East Cobb Braves 16 coach Ron Veres. “You’ll never see if he’s rattled. It doesn’t matter if he walks somebody of strikes someone out, you’ll get the same pulse.”
Lucero might have improved as the game went on; retiring the last ten batters he faced to close out his first ever no-hitter.
“I just felt good out there,” said the class of 2016 high school hurler. “My game plan was just to throw a lot of offspeed pitches and my curveball was pretty good today.”
His curveball worked so well, in fact, that he decided to throw almost as many hooks (40) as fastballs (43) and finished the game throwing more offspeed pitches than fastballs.
“That guy is nasty; probably the ace of the team, and it’s a pleasure catching him,” said battery mate Drew Hinton.
“He is one of the kids that you don’t even have to coach,” Veres said. “We allow him to call his own pitches and he does a good job. A lot of times he pitches in reverse. A lot of times he started with a curveball, came back with a changeup, and then came with the fastball.”
“He mixed up his pitches well,” continued Veres. “His curveball was really good today and he kept the batters well off-balance. He almost gave up a base hit and Ben Brock saved a base hit with a dive.”
While Lucero did much of the work himself, striking out 11 batters while surrendering just two walks, the defense played a large part in keeping his pitch count down and preserving the no-hitter.
“They made a lot of good plays in the field, like the nice diving catch at third base that saved the no-hitter,” Lucero said. “We’ve only given up two runs so we’re playing really well.”
While the performance of Lucero was the story of the game, and perhaps the first day of the Perfect Game – East Cobb Invitational playoffs, catcher Drew Hinton made a little bit of noise himself when he connected for a two-run home run in the bottom of the fourth inning to put his team up 4-0 against the Georgia Aces.
“My team had me turnt [excited], so I thought, ‘I gotta put a charge into this one’ and it just snuck over the left field fence,” said Hinton. “I took the first pitch and then one of their guys in the dugout screamed out, ‘throw him a curveball’ so I just sat on it and it just soared, I guess.”
“He’s a heck of a ballplayer,” mentioned Veres. “We moved him up in the box and he just got the right pitch and put a good swing on it.”
Hinton paces the offense while the team played strong defensively to make things a little easier on Lucero and his gem of a game.
“This team plays more like a team effort,” Veres said. “There’s no individuality on this team and this was a good team win.”
Veres seemed to be very positive and optimistic about the tolling summer schedule his boys will be up against, mentioning that they have a game just about every single day. It’s something he was very excited about, almost as if he could envision a couple of championship runs his East Cobb Braves 16 team should make this summer.
“I’ve been coaching for 20 years and this is by far the best, hardest working team I’ve been affiliated with,” said Veres. “They treat each other with respect, and they all work hard. All of them want to play college ball and most of them will. That’s the main reason they are on this team is because they wanna play at the next level.”
“As a team, we’re like a big family,” Hinton added. “Everybody picks each other up. We all get along.”
Veres agreed, saying, “I’ve never seen a team be more like a family before in my life. These guys are just a bunch of brothers.”
That team chemistry combined with tremendous talent and unselfish approach is a recipe for success in baseball, and no coach or player would argue that, but what this East Cobb Braves 16 team has done in the tournament so far is just unfair.
The Braves enter tomorrow’s semifinals with a perfect 5-0 record, outscoring their opponents 38-4. Another mind-blowing fact about this team’s tournament run: two no-hitters through five games.
That’s right, in Thursday’s opener the Braves blanked the Bullpen Diamond Dogs 8-0 thanks to the pitching efforts of Patrick Martin (2 innings), James Williams (2 innings), and Ryan Wilson (1 inning).
“The East Cobb program is a winning program,” said Veres. “It’s a program with a lot of respect. They guys truly know if you wanna be seen by the colleges you come play ball at East Cobb.”
Hinton would agree with that, saying, “I heard how they get a lot of looks and how they really help you elevate your game.”
Drawing talent from around the southeast has become a common occurrence for East Cobb Baseball, and it’s evident with the teams they consistently put together.
With the Braves now just two games away from a championship, expect to see some impressive arms take the bump as the 16u Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational concludes. Don’t be shocked to see many college coaches in attendance, as well.