PEORIA, Ariz. - The dog-pile the South Florida Elite Squad players formed after rushing onto the field to celebrate their championship at the inaugural 17u Perfect Game World Series got mixed reviews from two of the team's brightest stars.
"That was so much fun," standout right-hander Shaun Anderson said. "We won at East Cobb last year (2011 PG WWBA 16u National Championship) but that was nothing compared to this. Winning this with the top 16 teams in the country is something special."
Perfect Game All-American catcher Zack Collins couldn't bring himself to use the word "fun" when he thought back on the mass of humanity that constituted the dog-pile.
"It really wasn't that enjoyable for me," Collins said. "I'm glad that we won, of course, but I was at the bottom of it and it kind of hurt."
The hurt was sure to be short-lived once Collins got a chance to reflect on the reason for the dog-pile in the first place.
The South Florida Elite Squad (7-1-1) built an early 7-2 lead and then held on for their lives as the mighty East Cobb Braves (7-2) battled back, and emerged with a 7-5 win in the 17u PG World Series championship game played Saturday at City of Peoria Stadium on the grounds of the beautiful Peoria Sports Complex.
The championship game brought to a close a premier Perfect Game event that featured 16 of the best 17u teams in the country, more than 100 of the nation's top-ranked prospects in the classes of 2013 and 2014 and more than a dozen 2012 Perfect Game All-Americans.
The title game itself didn't exactly resemble a work of art -- the Squad and the Braves combined to commit four errors and their pitchers issued 14 walks -- but in the end, SF Elite walked out with the championship cup and the players will soon be wearing PG national championship rings.
"I give all the credit in the world to these kids," SF Elite head coach Richie Palmer said after being doused with a barrel full of ice water. "They won a championship last year, they know what it takes, and when it came down to it today, they played their best baseball."
Collins (2013, American Heritage HS, Pembroke Pines, Fla.) was 2-for-3 with a double and three RBI in the title game. He is the 13th ranked overall national prospect in his class, has committed to the University of Miami and in two weeks will play in the Perfect Game All-American Classic presented by Rawlings at PETCO Park in San Diego.
He was also 7-for-20 (.350) with four doubles, a triple, 10 RBI, three runs scored and eight walks (.552 on-base percentage) in nine games here this week, and was named the PGW Series' Most Valuable Player.
"This has been just an awesome experience," Collins said. "We came in knowing that we had one tournament left that we needed to win, and we came in here and won it. It's definitely a grind out here; it's hot and with two games a day, but we grinded it out and we ended up winning it.
"We had to get use to the heat and used to Arizona, but I think we all started playing our best ball toward the end (of the tournament)."
Anderson is a 6-foot-5, 245-pound 2013 classmate of Collins' at American Heritage who is the country's 155th-ranked prospect and has committed to Florida. He was named the Series' Most Valuable Pitcher.
Anderson made two starts here this week, including the Squad's 8-0 win over Team Northwest in the semifinals. He threw 5 2/3 innings in that game, scattered five hits, gave up no earned runs and struck out seven. He was 2-0 at the Series and worked 12 2/3 innings of nine-hit ball, allowed one earned run (0.55 ERA) and struck out 15.
"There were some games where we struggled but we learned from those struggles and we came back out on top each and every game," Anderson said. "We knew that nothing was going to be easy coming into this and we knew we had to start off (strong) and everything just worked out well."
South Florida Elite Squad pounded out 11 hits - five of the extra-base variety - in the semifinal win.
Florida State commit Derek Fritz, yet another 2013 American Heritage High School product, was 2-for-3 with a double, home run and two RBI to lead the attack. Danny Pardo (2013, West Broward HS, Pembroke Pines, Fla.), a Campbell commit, was 3-for-3 with a double, an RBI and two runs scored and LSU recruit Nick Longhi (2013, Venice HS, Venice, Fla.) was 2-for-2 with an RBI.
SF Elite won the Pool B championship with a 5-1-1 record; its only loss came in its second game to San Diego Show and it tied the ABD Bulldogs in its sixth game.
"In this tournament, you can never really get on a roll," Palmer said. "You can wins games, but we won games and they were ugly. It was a new guy stepping up each time and it wasn't pretty, and that's a credit to every team that was here. We're used to playing a different style, and when you go to other tournaments you can kind of roll through your pool pretty easily; you couldn't do that at this tournament."
The East Cobb Braves Michael Chavis (2014, Sprayberry HS, Marietta, Ga.) hit a pair of home runs and drove in three in the championship game but the Braves' rally fell short. He was 8-for-20 (.400) with a triple, the two HRs, six RBI and 10 runs scored at the tournament.
The Braves (7-2) rode the powerful right arm of Perfect Game All-American Kevin Davis (2013, T.R. Miller HS, Brewton, Ala.) into the championship game. Davis, the No. 44-ranked national prospect and an Auburn commit, pitched a complete game three-hitter with 11 strikeouts in the Braves' 3-1 win over the ABD Bulldogs (4-2-2).
"I was feeling pretty good out there today, I was pitching on about a week's rest and everything felt good," said Davis, who has been in Arizona only the last three days. "I was getting in line and my delivery felt good, and I was just trying to (start) the hitters off with my fastball."
Although Davis wasn't here the entire five days, he echoed the sentiments of just about every other prospect who attended the PGWS in terms of the experience.
"This experience out here in Arizona has been amazing," he said. "You got the top teams in the country and you put them all in one complex, it just doesn't get any better."
Dalton Ewing (2014, Milton HS, Alpharetta, Ga.) had a two-run double for the Braves in the semifinal win. The Braves only loss at the tournament before the championship game was an 8-7 setback to Team Northwest in their last pool-play game Friday night. They were trying to win their second Perfect Game national championship in seven days, having won the PG 18u BCS Finals in Fort Myers, Fla., last week.
At the end of the day, everyone agreed the first 17u PG World Series provided a competitive stage for the young prospects and the country's top teams.
"To me, this event is the best one in the country," Palmer said. "There wasn't a game where you could just go in there and think, 'OK, hey, maybe we'll slide by this team, kind of take it easy, rest some guys.' You just couldn't do that, and (the players) knew going in the kind of competition we were going to face.
"Every day was a challenge and I think it made these kids better, and it will make them better people and better players because at the next level, that is what it's like; challenging yourself every single day."
2012 17u Perfect Game World Series runner-up: East Cobb Braves
2012 17u Perfect Game World Series MVP: Zack Collins
2012 17u Perfect Game World Series MVPitcher: Shaun Anderson