But on Tuesday afternoon, amid a solid pitchers’ duel and a string of fortuitous breaks for both defenses, the East Cobb Padres generated just enough offense to overcome a slow start and secure a 2-1 victory over the Dayton Dodgers at Cherokee High School.
With the win, the Padres pulled to an even 3-3 record in Pool B of the World Wood Bat Association’s 17-and-under national championship. East Cobb will close pool play today against Under Armour Franchise, but the team has already been eliminated from contention for a spot in the tournament playoffs.
“I thought the boys overcame adversity in the first three innings,” Padres coach Byron Kizer said. “They started staying on the top of the baseball and driving it, hitting it where they weren’t.”
Rising Woodstock senior Brandon Byrd roped a single into left field off Dayton starter Kyle Zelinskas in the bottom of the fifth to drive home the winning run for the Padres, atoning for strikeouts in his first two at-bats.
“I was just looking fastball,” Byrd said. “He had been throwing me stuff down the middle the whole game, and so I just sat back, waited a little longer and put my hands on the ball and hit it hard.”
Until that point, both offenses had been haunted by a strange series of missed opportunities with runners on base.
After East Cobb catcher Zach Wingate connected for a leadoff double in the second inning, courtesy runner Will Carson misread a long flyout and was forced to hold up at third instead of tagging to score. Center fielder Kyle Gaddis then grounded into a fielder’s choice two batters later to end the threat.
In the third inning, Zach Murdock, a rising Creekview senior, narrowly escaped grounding into a traditional 6-4-3 double play, only to be tagged out at the back end of a less traditional one. Murdock turned for second base after the errant throw to first sailed high, but the ball ricocheted off a wall in foul territory and right back to Dayton first baseman Marcus Neff, who stepped in front of Murdock easily for the second out.
Then, in the fourth, Zelinskas fooled Carson with a third-to-first pickoff move that spoiled Wingate’s second hit of the game, an infield single. This time, rising North Cobb senior Daulton Hill singled home Troy Kizer, who had led off the inning with a towering ground-rule double, to tie the score at 1-1.
“There was good pitching out there. We had to sit back on the curveball and go up the middle with it,” said Kizer, another rising senior at Woodstock. “I saw fastball right down the middle (on the ground-rule double) and pulled it.”
East Cobb starter Kenny Ajello escaped a bases-loaded jam in the third inning with only one run to his name before yielding to reliever Cody Long, who scattered two hits and struck out four Dodgers over four innings of work.
“He brought a great pitching effort,” Byrd said of Long. “He threw a bunch of good curveballs and had them out in front.”
Long also produced the defensive highlight of the afternoon, snagging a sharp line drive back up the box that was headed toward his head and doubling off the Dodger baserunner at first to end the top half of the fifth. He retired the final six batters of the game to keep the Padres rolling after three straight losses to open the tournament.
“We played good our first three games. We just faced some really tough teams,” Byrd said. “Now, to come back and win three in a row, we’re just playing our hearts out.”