FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Using several pitchers to do the work of one can sometimes be a dicey managerial method of operation, but Iron Pigs skipper D.J. Wood made it work this weekend at the PG WWBA 16u Labor Day Classic.
If "pitching by committee" is what's required to bring home championship gold, then so be it. And that's exactly what the southwest Florida-based Iron Pigs did Monday afternoon, with one big caveat. The whole committee wasn't called into session in the game when the most was on the line.
Left-hander Luis Ferrer (2014, Cape Coral, Fla.) pitched six innings of razor-sharp two-hit, shutout ball and the Pigs made a four-run second inning hold up in beating the CFL Vipers, 5-1, in the championship game of the 16u Labor Day Classic played at sun-soaked jetBlue Park.
Before Ferrer's outing, Wood had used eight pitchers in the previous five games and only one for as many as seven innings. By the time Ferrer pitched his six innings Monday -- a reliever was brought in to pitch the seventh -- the Pigs' pitching staff had compiled a 1.62 team ERA.
"We kind of came into this not having a lot of pitching and we just kind of had to pitch by committee," Wood said after his players had drenched him with a barrel full of ice water. "I put guys where I felt like I could get them to perform and to showcase them, and I thought we played some pretty good ball. Overall, I thought the kids played great over the last couple of days."
The championship game outing was the only appearance by Ferrer, who finished with a stat line of 6 innings pitched, zero runs, two hits, seven strikeouts and two walks. It was good enough to earn the Mariner High School junior Most Valuable Pitcher honors.
"That first inning was a little nerve-racking since it was a championship game, but once I got into the game I just kept going," Ferrer said.
Brendan Cutting (2014, Englewood, Fla.) was 0-for-3 in the title game but was good enough in the previous five games to earn the tournament's Most Valuable Player award. Cutting finished 7-for-15 (.467) with two doubles, six RBI and five runs scored, with an on-base percentage of .500 and an OPS of 1.100.
"My swing felt really nice all weekend," he said. "I had to change my approach; I couldn't go up there thinking I was going to kill it, especially with a wood bat."
Anthony Churlin (2016, Cape Coral, Fla.) also had a great tournament and was 1-for-3 with two RBI in the championship game.
The Iron Pigs (6-0) earned the top seed in the 16u playoffs by beating their three pool-play opponents by a combined score of 12-5, including a 4-2 win over Rave to kick off the tournament. Their bats really came alive in the playoffs with an 11-3 win over SWFL Underclass in the quarterfinals and an 8-2 win in a rematch with Rave in the semifinals.
Right-hander Kyle Arjona (2015, Cape Coral, Fla.) pitched a seven inning, complete game five-hitter and struck out eight in the semifinal win over Rave.
"We finally got around to hitting the ball in the semifinal game and I think that kind of boosted the morale in the dugout a little bit and got the kids a little more fired up," Wood said. "And then Arjona pitched a hell of game (Sunday) to get us here today, so here we are."
Playing and winning three games on Sunday proved to be the biggest challenge to the Pigs, but it was one that also brought them together.
"It's been a great tournament," Cutting said. "Playing three games yesterday was pretty tough, but it was a great outcome and it was a great tournament for the team. Playing so many games together we're starting to get more familiar with each other; I'm new to this team and some of these guys have been playing together since they were 14, and meeting all these guys I think we're all starting to get real close."
Ferrer agreed: "This was a good baseball experience with good competition; now we've just got to keep it going," he said while echoing Cutting's thoughts on how the Pigs came together over the weekend. "Especially in this (championship) game, we all came together, we all hit the ball and we all played hard."
The Vipers (4-2) started out tournament pool-play with a 7-6 win over SWFL Underclass but then dropped an 8-7 decision to Naturals Florida in their second game. They beat the Florida Surge Select, 5-1, in their final pool-play game, earned the playoffs' No. 6 seed and a rematch with No. 3 Naturals Florida in the quarterfinals.
The outcome was much different this time around with CFL using a seven-hit attack to post a 10-2 victory. Right-hander Walfrank Pineiro twirled a five inning two-hitter with six strikeouts to pick up the win.
That trend continued in the semifinals where the Vipers used 10 hits to whip the Orlando Baseball Academy, 10-1. Righty Nicholas Barber picked up where Pineiro left off, tossing a five inning three-hitter and striking out seven. He also drove in three runs with a pair of hits, including a double.
This is the second Perfect Game tournament the Iron Pigs have won this calendar year. They were named the champion at the 14u/15u Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational in Marietta, Ga., in early June after the semifinals and championship games were cancelled by rain.
This time they earned it on the field, and Wood feels they belong in the same conversation with some of the other top 14u-16u teams around, at least the ones in the state of Florida.
"There are a lot of good programs ... and there is a lot of great talent right here in Fort Myers and Cape Coral," he said. "I don't think you need to go searching all over the state and even out of state to find that talent; I think it's sitting here and a lot of its untapped."
Wood is a strength coach by trade who owns a training center in Fort Myers, and his emphasis is on strength training.
"To me it's about building the athlete and I really push these kids to come in and train three or four days a week to build their athleticism and their strength," he said. "It's all specific to the sport ... and they're doing exercises that are specific to what they need to be doing to excel out here.
"Winning tournaments like this, hopefully that builds that credibility to try to get some more talented kids to want to be a part of it, and that's really what I'm looking to do."
2012 WWBA 16u Labor Day Classic runner-up: CFL Vipers
2012 WWBA 16u Labor Day Classic MVP: Brendan Cutting, Iron Pigs
2012 WWBA 16u Labor Day Classic MVPitcher: Luis Ferrer, Iron Pigs