CARY, N.C. - The East Cobb Astros, Elite Squad, Florida Burn and South Charlotte Panthers booked their respective spots in the playoffs of the inaugural 17U National Team Championships North Carolina on Tuesday. All four teams advanced after finishing atop their respective pools during preliminary round action at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, North Carolina.
The four teams will now go head-to-head in a double-elimination bracket-style championship beginning on Wednesday, July 29, and culminating in the championship game on Thursday, July 30.
#1 Seed: South Charlotte Panthers (3-0)
The South Charlotte Panthers earned the number one overall seed in the 17U National Team Championships bracket after being the only team with an unblemished record during the preliminary round. The Panthers opened the tournament with a pair of narrow, one-run victories over Elite Squad (2-1) and 5 Star National (6-5) before ending pool play with a 4-1 win over the Richmond Braves Platinum.
Pitching has been the name of the game for South Charlotte as the team holds a 2.00 ERA after the preliminary round. Carson Kelly and Carson Starnes have led the pitching staff, striking out 10 and 9, respectively, in their lone appearances in the tournament. Gage Lewis has paced the offense for South Charlotte, leading the team with a .700 batting average (7-for-10) and four RBIs, both tournament highs.
#2 Seed: East Cobb Astros (2-0-1)
The East Cobb Astros finished Pool B with a 2-0-1 overall record at the 17U National Team Championships North Carolina. The Astros opened the tournament with a stalemate against the East Coast Sox, 0-0, as Andrew Armstrong pitched a complete game, striking out nine batters on just 86 pitches. They followed with a 3-2 pitchers duel-victory over CBA Northeast and a 5-0 shutout over Canes American to clinch their spot in the playoff.
Treyton Rank and Joseph Mack lead the East Cobb offense, batting .667 (4-for-6) and .444 (4-for-9), respectively. Following Armstrong's nine strikeouts, fellow starters Christian Williams and Coleman Willis contributed four strikes apiece to a pitching staff that has only given up a single earned run in 21 innings.
#3 Seed: Florida Burn (2-0-1)
The Florida Burn's offense has been on fire during the 17U National Team Championships North Carolina, outscoring opponents 22-7 in the preliminary round and securing the top spot in Pool C. They opened with an 8-2 victory over NEB, scored two runs in the top of the seventh to battle back for a 4-4 draw against Canes National and closed the opening round with a convincing 10-1 win over Tri-State Arsenal.
Four batters hold a .333 batting average or better, led by Tommy White and BJ Graham. White is hitting .571 (4-for-7) with a pair of doubles and two-RBIs, and Graham boasts a .455 (5-for-11) average with two doubles and is tied for the team lead with three RBIs. The pitching staff has struck out 19 batters in 19 innings, led by Clayton Boroski (7 strikeouts) and Jaxson Crump (6 strikeouts).
#4 Seed: Elite Squad (1-1-1)
Elite Squad finished first in Pool D action of the 17U National Team Championships North Carolina after finished with a 1-1-1 overall record, their lone loss coming to eventual No. 1 seed South Charlotte Panthers. After suffering a defeat to start the tournament, they bounced back with a hard-fought 1-1 tie against the Molina Stars and closed the preliminary round with a 5-2 victory over previously unbeaten Team Elite.
Three batters hold a batting average over .350 for the team, led by Alex Ulloa with a .500 average (4-for-8) and Bryan Loriga with a .444 average (4-for-9), who also leads the team with two doubles and two RBIs. Their three starting pitchers - Carsten Finnvold, Irving Carter and Karson Ligon - have combined to strike out 12 batters and surrendered just three unearned runs.
The first round of the double-elimination bracket starts on Wednesday, July 29. Elite Squad and South Charlotte Panthers kick-start the day on Coleman Field at 8 a.m. followed immediately by Florida Burn and East Cobb Astros on Field 2 at 8:15 a.m. Both games will be streamed for free online and will be scored using GameChanger.
The first semifinal game, as well as the first game of the elimination bracket, will start immediately after the opening games at 10:45 a.m. and 11 a.m., respectively. The championship game of the 17U National Team Championships North Carolina will take place on Thursday, July 30, at 10:45 a.m. on Coleman Field.
Fans should follow @USABChamps_NC for all the latest information and updates on the National Team Championships North Carolina.