History has a way of repeating itself, and that was the case in the 18u WWBA National Championship, as the East Cobb Astros defeated the Game On West Braves 8-2 to win their second straight 18u WWBA title.
The team won it last year at LakePoint, beating the East Cobb Yankees 2-0 to bring home the championship trophy. They beat the Game on West Yankees in the semifinals of that tournament, to move on to the finals.
In this year’s game, the team would display more offense, with Zachary Daniels scoring the first run of the game in the top of the first inning via a wild pitch. Daniels would later add on to the offense with a three-run home run in the top of the fourth inning that would give the Astros a 5-0 lead. The home run by the Tennessee commit went 399.8 feet to straight away center field, leaving the bat at 98.2 mph. Kevin Dowdell would later single home a run to cap off the four-run inning.
The Game On West Braves would score one run in the fourth and the fifth to put them on the board. They threatened in the fourth inning, with bases loaded and one out, but were left stranded as Jacob Smith danced out of danger. The future Vanderbilt Commodore would strikeout Tyler Garner, before getting Austin Brown to groundout to third.
Sam Praytor would hit a two-run homer to left field in the fifth to increase the breathing room in the championship game. The ball left the bat at 92.7 mph, traveling 384.9 feet for the second homer of the game for the Astros. They would tack on one more run in the top the sixth to seal the deal, and would shut down the Braves the rest of the way.
Eight of the nine hitters in the Astros lineup would collect a hit in the game. Praytor, Daniels, and Dowdell would all finish with multi-hit and multi-RBI games, showcasing the power that their lineup possesses. Garrett Mathes also finished the game 3-for-4 out of the No. 4 spot.
“Josh Burris works our hitters, He does a great job of dialing them in, get them ready for games. I think the strength of our offense this year has definitely been that we’re deep, we can hit 1-9, and when we hit 10, we can roll 10 guys out capable of hitting the ball out of the park. Great approaches, and patience has been the key for us this whole tournament.”
Ninety-two runs would cross the plate for the Astros over nine games, including three games where they scored 16 or more runs. Their 2-2 tie with Academy Baseball Canada would be the lowest amount of run support that their pitchers would receive all tournament. Praytor led the offense all week, finishing the tournament 15-for-29 with six doubles, three home runs and 15 RBIs. The University of Alabama commit would be named the MV-Player of the tournament, winning the award in the event in back-to-back years.
“The award means a lot, it’s pretty cool, but it means even more to me that we won the championship two years in a row. It’s been a blast to be honest,” Praytor said. “To be honest with you, it was just my last tournament, I knew it was my last tournament ever playing with Jamie or East Cobb, last Perfect Game Tournament, [so] I just wanted to go out there and have fun, go up there with a good approach, hit the first pitch that I saw that was a good pitch and just play hard.”
On the pitching side, the staff only allowed 12 runs, and were benefitted by the large leads that they often inherited. Trevor Higgs would be named the MV-Pitcher of the tournament after striking out 20 batters over 11 innings. His best performance came in the form of a complete game, two-hit shutout against Team Elite Premier. The Auburn commit would strikeout 14 hitters in that game, and was dominant from the start. He offered his keys to success on the mound this week.
“My slider was really one of my most dominant pitches, and also my fastball,” Higgs said. “Get them down in the count, hit them with a slider, if not, I work away with a fastball to see if they would chase. Just attack them, just go straight after them, don’t beat around anything, just try to get them out.”
For many players, including Higgs and Praytor, this was the last tournament together, with many of them having graduated and set to attend college. This made the win even better for the team, knowing that many of them went out on top as back-to-back champions in one of the most prestigious 18u tournaments in the country.
“Oh, it means everything, this is the whole reason why we play, to love the game and to win,” Praytor said. “What other way would you want to go out?”
2017 18u WWBA National Championship MVP: Sam Praytor
2017 18u WWBA National Championship MV-Pitcher: Trevor Higgs
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