EMERSON, Ga. - The first weekend at LakePoint was capped off with the 17u PG/EC Invitational championship game. In a tournament full of incredible moments and great baseball, the finale was nothing short of a classic.
The game was all but over. With two strikes and two outs, the East Cobb Bulldogs 17u had to make something happen or their impressive run in the tournament would end in defeat. But, they had one thing in their favor. Up to bat was Jackson Webb. Webb had been the catalyst for the Bulldogs all tournament, and this was his time to give them one more big hit, this time in the biggest game. He did just that. He laced a towering double off the wall in left field, scoring a runner all the way from first base and tying the score at three. The next batter, Bradley Davidson, drove Webb in with a single to give them a 4-3 lead.
“I’m looking fastball, [and] reacting to a curveball,” commented Webb on his mindset during his last at-bat. He throws me a good fastball, and I just turn on it. I got all the barrel to it. I thought it was a home run, but it hit off the top of the fence. I’m happy with a game-tying double.”
Webb was impressive throughout the entire tournament earning him MVP honors. He went an astounding 13-22 (.591 AVG) in seven games, and he always seemed to be right in the middle of the offense for the Bulldogs. In every single game he had at least one hit, and in most of the games he had two. His consistent hitting was key for the Bulldogs, who went an unblemished 7-0 in five days.
“We all go through those hot streaks. And, I guess, just putting in the work in the off-season, hitting off the tee every day, I just feel it gave me the best opportunity to go out there and compete.”
Teammate Cole Austin, who hit in front of Webb, also had hit the ball extremely well. He went 11-21 (.524) and picked up three hits in the championship game. Webb was quick to explain how much his confidence throughout the tournament was partly due to the stellar performance Austin put on.
“It gives you so much more confident to do your job knowing that somebody in front of you is going to pick you up,” said Webb.
For every championship team, it is never just the offense that reels a team to victory. This Bulldogs team was no different. Brando Ernest was on the hill for East Cobb, and he gave everything that a coach could want in a tournament championship start. He went all seven innings, allowing no earned runs, striking out seven hitters, and walking nobody. His mindset was simple: throw strikes and let the defense work. And that is exactly what he did. Ernest admits he wanted “just to pump strikes because I knew that we had a defense that could handle any ball in the outfield, infield, and behind the plate.”
This start mirrored the start he had early in the tournament in the Bulldog’s second pool play game. He threw a three-hit complete game gem, allowing just one earned run and striking out seven batters. His two complete games, one coming in the championship game, earned him MV-Pitcher honors, awarding him as the best pitcher in the tournament. His team-first attitude is something that makes what he did even more impressive.
“I pitched on Friday and threw 93 pitches, but I knew if the team needed me to pitch I had to pitch no question about it. Even if my arm was about to fall off, I needed to pitch. So, that’s how I felt going into the game.”
A performance like that never goes unnoticed, especially from the head coach. Tom Webb had no idea who he was going to throw in his last three games. His pitching was thin from trying to achieve the daunting task of playing seven games in five days. As guys continuously stepped up, the Bulldogs advanced. But, the pitching problem grew bigger and bigger. When the Bulldogs ran out to the field for the bottom of the seventh inning up a run, Tom was skeptical to put his guy out there who had already thrown six innings on just two days rest. All of that skepticism changed after a conversation he had with Ernest right before the bottom of the seventh.
“We have an excellent closer, our third baseball Jacob Ramos,” Tom told Ernest. We got in the seventh inning and I said ‘hey man I got a good closer sitting right there and you [Ernest] have thrown like two million pitches.’ He said ‘coach I’ve earned the right to go back out there.’ That’s all a coach can ever ask for. [He] took the baseball and threw it.”
The end result was victory, and the ultimate decision to leave Ernest in the game proved to be the right one. It’s guys like Ernest who have that confidence in themselves, even as a young ballplayer, that are the reasons coaches love the game and love their players. The passion showed by the Bulldog’s pitcher, and the fight shown by the entire team propelled them to their first Perfect Game event title.
“It all just comes down to you got to want it more than they want it,” Tim said. “It’s heart at this point. It doesn’t really have that much to do with talent. It’s just all heart. And you have more heart than those guys. And today, we did.”
“It’s our first Perfect Game championship. These things are hard to win. You start bringing a hundred teams out here and you get to be the last one standing, it’s pretty special. I couldn’t be any more prouder in my kids.”
The Bulldogs reached the championship game after winning four one-run games including three in a row in bracket play. Their 4-3 win in the final game made their championship run even more impressive having won five out of their seven games by one run. Not only did they prove they could win the close games, but their wins over the likes of the Homeplate Shelton 17u, the Georgia Roadrunners 17u, DeMarini GA 17u, Team Elite Prime, and the Upstate Mavericks in the finals, showed they can beat anyone on any day.
On the other hand, the Upstate Mavericks advanced to the finals after a marathon semi-final game against the Prospects National Team that lasted 10 innings and more than three hours. While the Bulldogs waited patiently to see who their opponent would be in the finals, the Mavericks used a lot of pitching to edge out a win in the semis.
“I thought before the game it was going to really benefit us, but in the seventh I didn’t know if it was benefitting us as much,” Tom said of the Mavericks long semi-final game. “But, I think the extra innings those guys had to play, the extra pitching they had to do, probably benefitted us down the line.
Whatever it was that ultimately lifted the Bulldogs to a Perfect Game tournament championship, the team will take it. For a team that relatively flew under the radar before the PG/EC Invite started, the East Cobb Bulldogs 17u have definitely made a name for themselves now. With the summer starting to heat up, this team is sure to be heard from again.
2014 17u Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational runner-up: Upstate Mavericks
2014 17u Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational MVP: Jackson Webb
2014 17u Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational MV-Pitcher: Brando Ernest