Many Atlanta baseball fans in the Chattanooga area know of the East Cobb summer program that's produced Braves players such as Brian McCann and Jason Heyward. Many East Cobb athletes in Chattanooga this week competing in the Amateur Softball Association 16-under national tournament are hoping to follow in the footsteps of Kenzie Kohler.
Kohler (College of Charleston, 1998-2001) was the East Cobb association's first softball player to sign a college scholarship. According to a list at eastcobbfastpitch.com, 28 are pledged to play in college from the 2011 high school class.
Gary Schnute, who had a baseball-playing son and two softball-playing daughters, came to the Atlanta area from Birmingham, Ala., in the early 1990s. He told East Cobb baseball organizer Guerry Baldwin at the time he wanted to start a fastpitch program as soon as Georgia high schools moved in that direction, which turned out to be soon afterward.
Schnute is now commissioner of East Cobb Fastpitch, which branched out on its own in 2000. Teams range from 12-under to 18-under Gold.
"Each team is responsible for their own budget," Schnute said. "We rent fields, buy equipment. It's all about just paying our bills."
There were five 16-under East Cobb Bullets teams this season. Schnute's is one of four of them that qualified for the ASA nationals, and each won at least its first game.
"We had a good year," Schnute said.
Perrucci a champ
Jeanie Perrucci plays for the '94 Duluth (Ga.) Wildcats and is hoping to help her teammates become national champions, too. In 2009, she was the 13-14 girls' age-division winner in Major League Baseball's Pitch, Hit & Run national finals at St. Louis.
Perrucci, a junior at Duluth High School, is off to a 2-0 pitching record in the tournament. She's thrown 8 2/3 innings and allowed five hits, one walk and no earned runs while striking out 16.
"I think it's taken a lot of pressure off me after competing in a stadium where MLB games are played," Perrucci said. "I've gained a lot of confidence in myself."
At the PH&R Super Regionals, Perrucci set a record for her age group by running from second base to home in 5.6 seconds on 60-foot bases. She set another record on Busch Stadium's 90-foot bases, running second to home in 7.4 seconds.
"Once I was there I wasn't worried about the competition," Perrucci said. "The prize was just being there. I knew I would never be able to experience anything like that again."
Local Emory scout
NCAA Division I coaches aren't the only ones scrutinizing the talent this week. Others like Lee Dobbins are out there looking for playes whose classroom accomplishments may be even greater than those on the field.
Dobbins, a local native and former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga assistant, is in his first week as an assistant to Emory University head coach Penny Siqueiros, who started the NCAA Division III program in Atlanta 13 years ago. In 2011 the Eagles (41-4-1) registered their 12th consecutive winning season and wound up rated No. 11 in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Top 25 poll.
Dobbins' duty this week is to scout the athletes whose .300-plus batting averages coincide with 30-plus ACT scores.
Because of that tough criteria, Dobbins doesn't have as many athletes as some others to keep up with, prompting him to say: "This is the easiest, yet hardest job I've had."
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.