For their last All-Star tournament before Dizzy Dean State and Cooperstown, the Devils travelled to Gwinnett County to battle in the Training Legends Georgia State Championship, June 22-25. The coaches sensed the team coming together, and were excited to see how things played out on the field against seven other quality opponents in the "A" division.
In the first game of pool play on Thursday, the Devils faced a familiar foe, the Brookwood Americans, on a rainy evening at Collins Hill Park. Will Berry took the hill for the team, and set down the Americans in the top of the 1st. The high-powered Devils offense went to work early, with 7 runs in the bottom of the inning, with RBI hits by Gus Molnar, Donovan Parker, and Noah McMahon. Berry continued to cruise on the mound, before the Devils provided the knockout blow in the bottom of the 3rd. McMahon and Layton Dickinson both had RBI doubles, and the Devils blew it open plating 5 more runs. The game was called for rain after 3, with the Devils shutting out the Americans, 13-0. Berry finished his impressive shoutout performance allowing only 2 hits while striking out 5.
Pool play continued on Friday, with the team facing the Mill Creek Navy Hawks, who came into the game undefeated at 14-0 on the summer. For this feature match, McMahon took the mound first, and shut down the Hawks in his 2 innings of work. Parker provided an early jolt for the offense with a 2-run homer in the bottom of the 1st, his 5th of the season, and the Devils appeared to be on its way to another easy win, leading 5-0 after 3. However, the Hawks showed why they hadn't surrendered a game this season, shutting down the Devils in the 4th and 5th and breaking through for 3 runs in the 4th, and 3 more in the top of the 6th to take a 6-5 lead, sending their home town crowd into a frenzy. However, Devil coaches remained confident, with the top of the order coming up. Alexandru Grama walked to start the inning and, after a stolen base, tied the game by scoring on an RBI single by Cullen Riel. After pinch runner Molnar stole a base and reached 3rd on a wild pitch, the Hawks chose to intentionally walk Parker to face Santos Miranda with only 1 out. Miranda delivered as he has all season, with a hard ground ball to shortstop, scoring Molnar for a walk-off 6-5 win. It wouldn't be Miranda's last walk off of the weekend.
In its first game of a double-elimination bracket on Saturday, the Devils drew Bright Pipe Baseball. While these teams had never squared off, Devil coaches were well-aware of this Little League team from Smyrna, having watched them easily win a Gold bracket tournament last summer at 11U while this young Devil squad quietly battled to a Silver bracket win. It was a high-powered team, coming off a 1st-place travel tournament perfomance in Myrtle Beach, SC the week before. Devil coaches turned to "old reliable", Jackson Cheek, to battle on the mound, and he fought the big bats in the top of the first, surrendering only 1 run. Clearly up to the challenge, the Devils scored 4 in the bottom of the 1st, highlighted by a 2-run double by Kevin Austin. After Cheek surrendered a solo home run in the top of the 3rd to cut the lead to 4-2, the team responded with 3 more in their half of the inning, with RBIs by McMahon, Austin, and Creighton Dunbar. Cheek was the real star of the game, mixing pitches and eating up the corners Tom Glavine-style, frustrating opposing hitters all day. The Devils won easily, 7-4, and one could tell in the handshake line that Bright Pipe was stunned, perhaps taking our boys a little lightly.
The Devils then drew their old friends, the NYO Bulls. The teams had 4 memorable clashes last summer, including the Bulls knocking the Devils out of District, with the Devils returning the favor in State. This reunion was circled on the calendar by both coaching staffs. Aaron DeCarlo was tabbed to pitch for the Devils, and his performance gave this one a markedly different feel from last year's tight battles. Aaron dominated the Bulls over 5 innings with his power fastball and pinpoint 12-6 curve that kept them off-balance all day. He allowed no walks, only 1 earned run, and 3 hits all day. The offense put up 4 runs in the bottom of the first to take control early, riding big RBI hits by Parker and Cheek. It was an easy win coaches didn't expect, with the Devils cruising 7-4, and locking up the bye to the championship game on Sunday afternoon.
Approaching the field late afternoon on Sunday for warmups, the coaches heard raucous cheering and immediately noticed the bright L- and XL-sized neon green jerseys of Bright Pipe batters circling the bases seemingly at will. They hammered our quality District 4 foes, East Side and NYO, for 18 runs in the first 2 games, and were clearly seeking revenge against our boys in the finals. What followed was an epic battle that neither team will soon forget.
Knowing opposing hitters could crush even the fastest 12U fastballs, Devil coaches turned again to the 4-pitch arsenal of McMahon to hopefully keep them off-balance. The top of the 1st gave some hope, as the top of the Bright Pipe order could only scratch 1 unearned run. It became apparent that opposing coaches had saved their best pitching for this finals, as Devils hitters were silenced in the first time through the order. Bright Pipe tacked on another run in the top of the 3rd, and backed by their power pitcher, seemed in control despite only a 2-0 score. However, the Devils finally broke through with their first hard-hit ball all day coming off the bat of Riel, who delivered a clutch 2-run double to knot the game at 2. Both pitchers then settled in, and shut down the big bats of their opponents for FOUR more innings. Bright Pipe used the power of 2 big boys, and McMahon delivered a virtuoso 80-pound, 78-pitch performance. His line finished at 6.0 IP, 6 hits, 2 runs (0 earned), 2 Ks and 0 walks.
Well into extra innings, someone had to win this game, didn't they? The Devils thought they had it won in the 7th, as a sacrifice bunt by Berry had put the winning run at 3B with 2 outs. Dunbar then hit a screaming line drive between SS and 3B that was somehow was stabbed by the Bright Pipe third baseman. Alas, the saga continued.
In the top of the 8th, Bright Pipe finally broke through with a fielder's choice and hard single to CF to take a 4-2 lead into the bottom half. A 2-run lead seemed like 10 in this game, as the Devils had managed only 3 hits all day and struck out 11 times, easily a season-high. With Dunbar starting the inning at second with one out (due to extra inning rules), things looked grim following a first batter ground out to the pitcher. The Devils were down to their final out. However, hope spouted at least a bit, as Parker drew a walk, bringing up the game winning run in the person of Santos Miranda. Miranda, who was celebrating his 13th birthday, led the team in home runs on the season...but was also having his worst game of the season, striking out 3 times in 3 at bats, and looking bad doing so. But one of the great things about Santos is his attitude. No matter what bad may come, he keeps plugging away. So, he grabbed his bat, took the uusal instruction from his 3B coach to just be patient and wait for one he likes, and stepped into the box.
Then, this happened:
Happy Birthday, indeed! That's the birthday boy's proud papa trying to scale the fence to hug his boy!
It was a game and weekend these players and coaches will never forget. The team had only 9 players on Sunday due to the beginning of camp week for several. Just to get to 9, Will Harvison from the Blue Devils joined the team for the weekend (and he fit right in, making great plays subbing for Cheek at 1B on Sunday, and batting .333 on the weekend). This one was the definition of a team win, with all players doing their jobs, and never giving up. The level of focus on every pitch while in the field was exemplary. They battled and battled on every pitch at the plate, waiting for that moment where we would finally break through. Until, finally, they realized what coaches had preached all season. Every. Moment. Counts.
A Night at the Fights
The motto for the team this summer is "Every Moment Counts". The boys learned that the hard way when they went to Alpharetta for the Dizzy Dean District tournament beginning June 15. In Dizzy Dean tournaments there is no pool play, an teams open directly in a double-elimination tournament. We drew Ocee Black in the first round, a team we had defeated pretty easily in 11U. But the coaches knew to again emphasize to the players the Every Moment Counts given that an early loss sends you into the loser's bracket, and an extremely difficult road to the championship.
Despite these warnings, the team opened pretty flat agains Ocee, giving up 4 runs in the top of the 1st. However, they rebounded for 3 runs of their own in the bottom, led by RBI singles from Donovan Parker and Jackson Cheek. Over their next 3 at bats, Ocee's offense executed well, taking advantage of the limited opportunities that Red Devil pitchers gave them. Meanwhile, the Devils had some bad baseball luck, hitting the ball hard but right at Ocee defenders. Ocee accordingly carried an 8-3 lead into the bottom of the 4th, and, approaching the end of the time limit, the Devils needed a big inning to avoid an early trip to the loser's bracket.
With their backs against the wall, the Devils jumped on Ocee's tiring pitchers and finally got a little luck from the baseball gods. They took advantage of 2 walks, an error, and sharp hits by Kevin Austin and Aaron DeCarlo to cut the lead to 8-6. After another walk, the bases were loaded with 1 out, with 2 of the team's best contact and power hitters coming up against a tired Ocee pitcher. Unfortunately, the baseball gods turned cruel, and 2 strikeouts ended the game and sent the boys on a difficult road. Ocee wins 8-6.
For the team's first elimination game on Friday night, they drew Murphy Candler Blue. Sensing a need to calm the waters after the disappointing first round loss, the coaches did what has worked in similar situations this season: put Cheek on the mound. Alexandru Grama led off the game with a single, and Cheek helped himself with an RBI single for an early 1-0 lead. Cheek delivered as expected after that, shutting down Murphy Candler bats until the Devils could open up the game. That happened in a big way in the top of the 3rd when the Devils exploded for 7 runs. RBI hits by Cheek, Santos Miranda, Layton Dickinson, and Grama gave the Devils control of the game with an 8-0 lead. Cheek needed only 32 pitches to complete 3.1 innings, surrendering only 1 hit and no earned runs to right the ship. Devils cruise 11-5.
In it's next elimination game, the Devils faced a Buckhead Bomber team that had used up a lot of quality pitching in their first 2 games of the tournament. Confident in their team's ability to bash second-tier pitching, the coaches decided to rest a lot of pitchers for later in the tournament. And, boy, did the team back up that move! In a game where seven Devils had multiple hits and every starter tallied at least one, the boys racked up 20 hits and 20 RBIs. They also brought out the big sticks, with home runs by Miranda, Grama and 2 by Gus Molnar, including a Grand Slam. When the dust finally settled, the team advanced easily, 23-14.
The team arrived at the fourth round of the tournament where the level of competition ratchets up significantly. It faced Murphy Candler Gold, a team that was unfamiliar to most as a team that primarily played travel tournaments and was new to Dizzy Dean in 2017. However, they announced themselves as a team to be reckoned with in the first round here, taking last year's champs, the Sandy Springs Storm, 9 innings before finally surrendering. But the coaches had the team in a good position to battle, with all pitchers eligible to take the hill. Game on.
The boys were fired up! Grama did what Grama does, leading off the top of the 1st with a hit. After 2 quick outs, Parker did what Parker does, sending a 3-1 pitch into the trees for a 2-0 lead. Gold counterpunched with a 2-run dinger of their own off starter DeCarlo in the bottom of the 1st, and Devil coaches and fans settled in for a heavyweight fight. After the Devils went quietly in their half of the 2nd, Gold jabbed an RBI single for a 3-2 lead. Parker delivered a knockdown uppercut with another 2-run homer in the 3rd for a 4-3 Devil lead. After getting their legs back, Gold tacked on 2 RBI singles in the 3rd for a 5-4 lead. Molnar then stepped in the box in the Devil 4th with 2 on, and promptly belted a roundhouse 3-run homer for a 7-5 lead. The coaches then gave the ball to Noah McMahon, whose 4-pitch arsenal mystified the Gold after DeCarlo's power pitching. He registered 5 Ks and shut out the Gold in their 4th and 5th. The Devils then tacked on an insurance run in the top of the 6th on an RBI single by Parker (who else!). Entering the final round of this prizefight, the Devils took the field in the bottom of the 6th with an 8-5 lead. With the coaches carefully navigating the new Dizzy Dean pitching rules and the boys responding after its disappointing first round loss, the team was 3 outs away from a clear path to the finals and a score-settling date with Sandy Springs.
But, alas, the boys couldn't hold of the powerful Gold, who got off the mat quickly with a walk and a 2-run homer to cut the Devil lead to one. The coaches tried to stop the bleeding by relieving a tiring McMahon who had put in a very game effort. However, the tide couldn't be turned, and after quickly putting 2 runners on, Gold delivered the knockout blow to the team's title dreams with a 3-run walkoff homer and a 10-8 final.
Bloodied and a bit bruised from this battle, the boys headed home disappointed, but with their heads held high, knowing they could go toe-to-toe with the best the state of Georgia has to offer. We knew the Road to Cooperstown wouldn't be easy, and were excited to live on to fight another day.
Growing as a Team and Protecting our Home Turf
The Devils didn't have to travel far for their fourth tournament of the season, as we hosted other All-Star teams at the first Battle of Atlanta at our own Medlock Park. The boys were excited to get the opportunity to protect their home field. Mother Nature finally cooperated for a full weekend, and it was a great weekend, both on and off the field at the park!
The team opened the 12U division drawing back-to-back games on Saturday morning against the Brookwood Americans and the East Side Cyclones. Will Berry took the mound in the opener and retired the Americans 1-2-3. The Devils took charge quickly in the bottom of the 1st with a lead-off single by Alexandru Grama followed by Santos Miranda's second home run of the season. Creighton Dunbar and Kevin Austin followed with RBI singles for a quick 4-0 lead the team would never relinquish. Each Devil had at least one hit among the 15-hit barrage, with Donovan Parker, Aaron DeCarlo and Grama joining Miranda in going long, and Austin enjoying a perfect 3 for 3 game at the plate. Berry, Dunbar and Jackson Cheek each took their turn on the hill and scattered 5 hits over 5 innings. Despite a few sloppy plays in the field, the Devils cruised in the opener, 15-6.
In the short time before the second game, the coaches pulled the team together to emphasize that their level of play in the first game wouldn't cut it in the second game, or for the rest of the season against high-level competition. Playing a tournament at your home park has its obvious benefits, but can also present the challenge of the familiar surroundings feeling like a Rec game or a mid-week practice in April. The players were challenged to dial up their focus for the second game against a good East Side team, coming in with only one loss on the season.
Pregame message received. Devil hitters took charge in the first, with a 2-run double by Cullen Riel and RBIs by Parker and Cheek, who did their job knocking ground balls with runners on third and less than 2 outs. That 4-0 first inning lead was more than enough, but the hit parade continued all afternoon, with 5 Devils recording multi-hit games, led by Austin who had a 5-hit doubleheader. The coaches gave the ball to Riel, who continued the dominance he's shown on the mound all season. He shut out the Cyclones, struck out 4, and allowed only 2 baserunners over 3 innings. The Devils won easily, 10-2. Most significantly to the coaches, the boys were flawless in the field backing up their pitchers all game.
The team again secured the #1 seed and a bye going into bracket play with their Saturday performance, but Sunday afternoon would present the unique challenge of facing their brethren, the DHYS Blue Devils, in the semi-finals. One never knows how the team will react in these situations, so the coaches challenged the team to see only the numbers on their opponent's jerseys, not the names. The fired-up Blue Devils turned up the heat with a 2-run homer off starter Cheek in the top of the first. However, the steady boys rebounded quickly with RBI singles by Miranda and Parker to take a 3-2 lead after one. The Devils were business-like the rest of the game, adding runs in every frame, highlighted by RBI hits from Noah McMahon, Paul Gaeta, and Riel. Cheek went the distance and was surgical on the hill, throwing 55 strikes in 73 pitches, and shutting out the Blue Devils after the first. Devils win 10-2 to make the finals.
Waiting in the finals were the East Side Cyclones, still smarting after their loss the day before. After "winning" its first 2 tournaments this season by having the top pool record yet getting bracket play rained out, the team was keen on winning its first on-field trophy. East Side put up a run in the top of the first, but Devil hitters did what they had done all weekend: jump on their opponent early. RBI singles by Miranda, Parker and Cheek gave the team a 4-1 lead after one, and the team likely sensed another easy win approaching. However, East Side showed their grit, chipping away and eventually taking a 5-4 lead to the delight of their raucous crowd. The boys were quiet and wide-eyed, leery of losing their first championship game of the season, and on their home turf to boot. But the boys used the long ball to silent their visitors. After a lead off single by Gaetain the fourth, Grama belted a home run to left center that nearly cleared the trees, and Miranda followed 2 batters later with a 2-run moon shot of his own. The tide having turned, the Devils cruised from there, 13-5, capped by Dunbar's second walk-off hit of the weekend that instituted the mercy rule.
The team has reached the halfway point of the season sporting an 11-2 record, including a perfect 10-0 vs. All-Star competition. The road gets much more serious from here, with the team's goals all still in front of them. The first comes this week, as the team travels to Alpharetta to take part in the Dizzy Dean District 4 tournament. It will face some familiar rivals, and has some scores to settle. Go Red Devils!
Learning Through a Step Up in Class
The Devils moved out of the ranks of All-Stars to play full-time travel teams in the Training Legends Cooperstown Send-Off at All-Tournament Players Park in Marietta the weekend of June 2. Having gone 6-0 against All-Star teams thus far this summer, coaches were anxious to see how the team would stack up against the types of teams we will see later this summer and in Cooperstown. Having spent the Fall season playing in similar tournaments, the coaches and some of the players knew what to expect. But with five new players on the team this Spring, it was a new experience. One we will learn from.
The team opened on Saturday night with back-to-back games with the Sequoia Jr. Chiefs and the Roswell Black Hornets. The opener with the Chiefs was a pitching duel and defensive gem. Starting pitcher Noah McMahon surrendered a solo home run in the top of the first, but he rebounded to shut them down after, allowing only one other baserunner and racking up 7 Ks before handing the ball to Aaron DeCarlo in the 4th inning trailing 1-0. Devil bats were slow to get going, scratching out only 1 hit and 1 walk through 4 complete. However, persistence paid off in the bottom of the 5th. Cullen Riel and Gus Molnar opened the inning with back-to-back singles, and loaded the bases following an error. The Devils took advantage with key RBI singles by Santos Miranda and Creighton Dunbar to take a 3-1 lead. That was all DeCarlo needed, as he made those runs stand up, surrendering only 1 hit and matching McMahon by striking out 7 in 3 innings. Devils won an exciting opener, 3-1.
With the clock approaching 10 p.m., the team had to move straight to game 2, against a good Roswell team that had won its opener earlier in the day. The Hornets took advantage of their rest, and jumped on the Devils for 3 runs on 4 singles in the top of the first. After giving up 3 more runs in the top of the 2nd to quickly trail 6-0, the Devils began to rebound. Will Berry came in at pitcher and settled the ship, pitching 1.2 innings of 2-hit baseball. Hitters then did their part, scratching for 1 run in the second on an RBI single by Jackson Cheek, then tacked on on 4 more runs in the third. After 2 strikeouts to start the inning, the Devils took advantage of a Hornet error and hit batsman with four consecutive RBI singles by McMahon, Riel, Donovan Parker, and Miranda to cut the deficit to 6-5. Unfortunately, the team seemed to run out of gas thereafter, and ended after midnight with a 12-8 defeat, despite Alexandru Grama's 3rd home run of the young summer.
A couple things this young team will need to adjust to is quick turnarounds and playing shorthanded. The team faced both of these obstacles on Sunday, drawing the early 8:30 a.m. game after most getting to sleep back in Decatur around 2:00 a.m., and playing without 4 of their teammates. They drew the Sequoia Jr. Chiefs, the team it had beaten some 12 hours earlier. However, the Chiefs set a different tone, punching the Devils in the mouth for 5 runs on 5 hits in the top of the 1st, including back-to-back homers. As the now-usual Sunday rain began to fall in the mid-innings, the Devils did rally on a couple of occasions behind 9 hits from 8 batters, but never really recovered, allowing the Chiefs to even the score and send the Devils home for the weekend with a 10-5 loss.
Despite a 1-2 record on the weekend, the coaches got what they were hoping to get from the tournament. Playing against high-level competition exposed some key areas to work on on the practice field. And it allows the coaches to get the players to focus on the little things in the game--the details that matter and will swing games come District and State, and, ultimately, Cooperstown.
The Devils are excited to return to All-Star competition in the coming weekend, given that it is leading the return of tournament play to our own Medlock Park in the Training Legends Battle of Atlanta! Check the schedule here, and come out and support all the DHYS teams at Medlock this weekend!
Red Devils Battle Opponents and Weather Early
The 12U Red Devils began their Road to Cooperstown the weekends of May 19th and 26th, playing in two Atlanta-area All-Star tournaments, the Southeastern All-Star Championship in Douglasville and the Hobgood Memorial Day Warmup in Woodstock. The team did just about everything asked of them, going 6-0 in pool play and gaining the #1 seed in both tournaments heading into bracket play. Unfortunately, Mother Nature hasn't cooperated, with both Sundays cancelled due to heavy rain.
In Douglasville, the team delivered on its goal of making Every Moment Count. The team didn't trail all weekend, and outscored their 3 opponents from Carroll County, Winston, and Acworth by a combined score of 35-2. The Devils brought their bats with them, totaling 37 hits led by 6 from Cullen Riel and 5 from Alexandru Grama, while Noah McMahon delivered timely hitting, leading the team with 6 RBIs.
The pitchers were as dominant as the batters. McMahon, Riel, Creighton Dunbar, Jackson Cheek and Paul Gaeta combined to give up a single earned run all weekend, while tallying 16 strikeouts against only 3 walks. Minimizing defensive miscues is a primary focus of the team this summer, and the team got off to an adequate start, committing only 3 errors all weekend.
In Woodstock, the team picked up right where they left off the week before, steamrolling the Sandy Plains Cougars 10-0 in the opener. Santos Miranda led the hit parade with 2 hits and 3 RBIs, including his first home run of the summer. Riel, Aaron DeCarlo, and Gaeta were a lone hit short of throwing a perfect game on the mound, baffling opposing hitters for 9 Ks, including 5 from DeCarlo.
The Devils entered Saturday facing a step-up in competition, with games against the best of Alpharetta and Hobgood. Despite its coaches warning against getting too comfortable in its 4-0 shoes, the team got off to a slow start facing the high-quality play of the Raiders, and found themselves down 6-0 after 3.5 innings. Wake-up call received, the team responded to tie the game with 6 runs in the bottom of the 4th, led by a timely 2-run double by Donovan Parker. After Dunbar recorded a 1-2-3 top of the 5th on the mound, the Devils took control with a clutch two-out RBI single by DeCarlo, followed by a 2-run homer by Grama. Gaeta continued to emerge as a reliable closer for the team, and shut the door for a 9-7 final.
In the second game of the day, the Devils faced a fired-up host, the Hobgood Heat. Despite Grama leading off with his second homer of the day on the game's first pitch, good pitching and defense was expected, and delivered, as the teams were tied 1-1 after 3 innings. However, the Devils took control in the top of the 4th, plating 7 runs. Following RBI singles by McMahon and Parker, the Devils loaded the bases. They then surprised the Heat with two steals of home by Gus Molnar and Miranda in exciting fashion to break the Heat's spirit, and rolled from there to an 8-4 win.
For the tournament, the boys pounded out 25 hits, and 8 pitchers combined for a 2.62 team ERA with 18Ks against 5 walks. Despite only recording 2 errors in the field, defense will be a primary work area for the team in the coming weeks, as the competition only gets harder from here. And fast.
With the team off to a 6-0 start, the Road gets much more difficult with the Devils entering their first Travel Tournament next weekend, the Cooperstown Send-Off. This is a 12U-only tournament in Marietta, and the Devils will get an early taste of what to expect when the Road ends in Cooperstown in mid-July.
Follow the Red Devils' Road to Cooperstown on GameChanger here!