The Wilson Premier Classic featured 14 2018 teams, making it the event’s deepest division. Come Sunday afternoon, following a 11-5 victory over Team Elite, the East Cobb Astros had every right to lay claim to being the best of the best. Winning the inaugural Wilson Premier Classic, East Cobb’s path to the championship was littered with taking down a who’s who of travel baseball.
“It’s a great group of kids,” East Cobb head coach Matt Hightower said. “A lot of it has to do with the chemistry. We work together, come together in crazy, hectic moments, and were able to come through.”
Going 1-1-1 in their first three games, the Astros picked up a resounding win over the 2-1 Orlando Scorpions, 14-4, Saturday night, earning a spot in Sunday morning’s semifinal. There, the Astros faced another team with just one blemish on their record, taking on a 3-1 EvoShield Canes team.
The Astros fell behind early, two runs in the bottom of the first by EvoShield staking the Canes to a quick lead. Showing their ability to come together, East Cobb responded in their next at-bat. A triple by Noah Ledford to center field and an RBI-single to right field by Jozsef Rohrbacher cut the deficit in half, 2-1.
When the Canes returned to the plate, they found Astros pitcher Bryar Hawkins dialed in, unable to duplicate the first inning success. Hawkins held EvoShield scoreless over his final 3.2 innings of work, before Keshawn Esque and Stevie Szues combined to pitch 2.1 innings of scoreless, two-hit relief. With their pitchers in control, East Cobb took advantage of extra opportunities provided to them by EvoShield.
Back-to-back hit batters and a walk loaded the bases to start the top of the fifth inning. Without putting a ball safely in play, East Cobb tied the game then grabbed the lead on consecutive at-bats. A fielder’s choice and sacrifice fly put the Astros in front, 3-2, a lead they held through the end of the game. The miscues by the Canes were costly as EvoShield pitchers held East Cobb to three hits, two by Rohrbacher, but six walks and four hit batters proved fatal, while the East Cobb pitchers provided only two free passes.
Advancing to the championship game, East Cobb ran into a Team Elite who had yet tasted defeat.
Team Elite reached the final by beating the Dallas Patriots, 8-1. Through five games, Team Elite outscored the opposition 30-2. The dominance Team Elite displayed all week came to an abrupt halt once on the field with the Astros.
As was the case against the Canes, East Cobb fell behind after one inning of play. Team Elite scored a run in the bottom of first as leadoff batter Isaiah Byars started the game with a single to right, scoring on a single to left field by Will Banfield. But just as they did in the semifinal, East Cobb countered with a run in their next at-bat. Ledford opened the second inning with a double to right field, scoring on a double to left field by Timmy Conway.
With the game back even, 1-1, after two innings, the final five innings featured crooked numbers up and down the scoreboard.
A five-run outburst by East Cobb in the top of the third gave the Astros a commanding lead. Three consecutive singles followed by four walks pushed four Astros across home before the first out of the inning was recorded. A fourth single of the inning, an infield single up the middle by Gavin Lee, made it a 6-1 contest. East Cobb tacked on a run in the fourth, which was matched by Team Elite in the bottom of the inning, before Team Elite made a final push.
“Good teams give you few opportunities,” Hightower aid. “It’s going to be very limited when that happens, so you have to be able to take advantage of when they do give you some.”
Down 7-2, Team Elite drew two walks to lead off the bottom of the fifth. After a flyout, an error on a fielder’s choice loaded the bases. On a 1-2 pitch, Kumar Rocker doubled down the right field line, clearing the bases. With Rocker at second, the tying run was at the plate with one out. The Astros called on Lee to take over on the mound with the two-way player delivering, back-to-back grounders to third ending the threat.
East Cobb scored two runs in each of the final two innings. Rohrbacher drove a two-run double to right in the sixth and Conway collected a double in the seventh, his second of the game, as East Cobb picked up five extra-base hits in a 12-hit attack. Banfield singled in the seventh for Team Elite, but no other runners reach based as East Cobb closed the door on action from Sarasota with the 11-5 victory, champions over an impressive field of exceptional quality.
“It’s phenomenal, especially for this organization,” Hightower said. “We played great completion this week, tremendous competition, I can’t wait to do it again.”
Wilson Premier Classic Most Valuable Player- East Cobb Astros Noah Ledford
Wilson Premier Classic Most Valuable Pitcher- Team Elite Shane Marshall