FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It was one of those days that will live in young ballplayers' memories for years to come. A day punishing in some respects, highly rewarding in others.
And it is those rewarding moments that the members of the Florida Burn Orange baseball team will take home with them from the 11th annual PG WWBA Underclass World Championship.
The Florida Burn, a relatively new organization put together about two years ago by former big-league pitcher Mark Guthrie, put its Orange squad out on the field Friday morning and ran the table, finishing with an 8-0 record after beating the Orlando Scorpions 17u Black, 6-4, in a Columbus Day championship game played at jetBlue Park.
Playing for the championship required both the Burn and the Scorpions to play three games -- 21 innings -- in just over seven hours on Monday. When the clock struck midnight (or about 3:45 p.m. EDT in this case), the Burn were the last team standing.
"You just have to trust that every guy on the team has his role and he gets it done, and they did it," Guthrie said after the Burn accepted their championship trophy and before the players got fitted for PG national championship rings. "We don't have to throw guys 10 innings ... and everybody pitched in, and that's what you've got to do to stay healthy and really to create a better team while going forward."
This is the second PG national championship the Florida Burn organization has won in less than three months. A team called simply the Florida Burn won the inaugural 16u PG World Series in Marietta, Ga., the first week in August, and jumped into the national conversation.
That tournament featured 16 of the best 16u teams in the country. This one featured 168 of the best underclass teams in the country. Ten young Florida Burn prospects were members of both national championship units.
"We're very fortunate to have these kids playing for us. They do a great job, and they listen to what Coach (Johnny) Goodrich and I try to teach them," Guthrie said. "We played three incredible baseball teams today -- well-coached teams and just high-quality baseball. It's an honor to just be a part of it, to tell you the truth, and winning is just icing on the cake.
"You can't expect to keep winning against all these good teams but I've got to tip my hat to these guys; they're something special."
The Burn Orange took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning in the championship game, and after the Scorpions knotted things at 2 in the top of third, the Burn went ahead 3-2 in the bottom half of that inning and extended that lead to 6-3 after six. The Scorpions Black tacked on a run in the top of the seventh, but couldn't get any closer.
Catcher Kyle Gilbert (2014, Lake Mary, Fla.) hit a one-hop double off jetBlue's "Green Monster" in leftfield that drove in two runs and what was Gilbert's seventh double of the tournament. He finished 8-for-20 (.400) with seven doubles, eight RBI and five runs scored, and was named the Most Valuable Player.
"This has been exciting, having a chance to play at jetBlue Park and with Perfect Game," Gilbert said. "And just being able to be as successful as I was, it was just phenomenal. This is very meaningful, and I'm going to remember this for a long time."
Gilbert didn't mind Monday's triple-header one bit.
"It gets to be a little bit of grind, but that's when the true athletes come out and you figure out who can play and who can't," he said.
Dalton Guthrie, a Florida commit ranked the country's No. 92 top-prospect who also happens to be Mark's son, and Zach Spivey (2014, Ormond Beach, Fla.) each had two hits in the championship game. Guthrie turned in an MVP-worthy tournament himself, hitting 10-for-19 (.526) with a double, triple, five RBI and six runs scored. Spivey stole a team-high seven bases.
Left-hander Zeke Pietrzyk (2014, Estero, Fla.) made three appearances for the Florida Burn Orange and went 2-0 with a save. He pitched 7 2/3 innings, scattered six hits, recorded a 0.91 ERA and struck out 13 and walked one, good enough to earn Most Valuable Pitcher recognition.
This was Pietrzyk's first Perfect Game tournament playing with Florida Burn Orange. He has played in nine other PG tournaments with Palm Beach Select and SWFL since 2010, however. He wrapped his arms around the thought of getting fitted for a PG national championship ring.
"This feels good. It feels really good," Pietrzyk said. "We won a lot of games and our energy was good and we were trying to win it the whole time. From the first game we were expecting to win it."
Right-hander Michael Byrne (2015, Orlando, Fla.) had a special tournament for the Burn, as well, working eight innings in two appearances and allowing no earned runs on three hits while striking out nine and walking no one.
"The kids enjoy playing with each other, and they feel like they have each other's backs," Guthrie said. "It's a little different from a normal summer ball situation. ... We're very fortunate to have our staff and to be able to have the time to teach, and they suck it all in and it's a lot of fun to watch. We're blessed to have them; they're the heroes."
Mark Guthrie pitched in the major leagues for 15 seasons and won a World Series ring with the Minnesota Twins in 1991. It's apples and oranges, of course, to compare what happened here Monday to winning a World Series title, but both are gratifying.
"It's different," Guthrie said with a smile. "Obviously, there's a little more pressure playing in the big leagues, and it's a different kind of pressure, but you do have pressure on yourself to do the right things for these kids out here. ...I'm blessed to be in this situation and this is a heck of a lot of fun."
Deacon Liput (2015, Oviedo, Fla.) slugged a two-run home run in the bottom of the fourth, and Dalton Guthrie smacked a two-run triple and Spivey and added an RBI single in the bottom of the fifth to lead the Burn Orange to a 5-3 win over the No. 3 Palm Beach County PAL in one of Monday morning's semifinals.
The Burn actually took a 5-0 lead into the sixth inning before PBC PAL put up three in the top of the frame.
"We got a lot of momentum going," Pietrzyk said. "We tried to jump on (the opponent) early in every game and we kept it going in the late innings."
The Florida Burn Orange picked up the playoffs' No. 2 seed by outscoring its three pool-play opponents by a combined 19-1. The outstanding pitching continued into the playoffs when they allowed just six more runs over 28 innings, and the eight pitchers Coach Guthrie used before the championship game compiled a 0.87 ERA with 56 strikeouts and only 12 walks in 48 innings.
The Scorpions 17u Black broke a scoreless tie by pushing across three runs in the top of the fifth and making them stand in a 3-1 win over the 13th-seeded East Cobb Braves (6-1) in one of Monday morning's semifinals.
Right-hander Alex Moradian (2014, Winter Springs, Fla.) gave the Scorpions just what they needed with a complete game, seven inning three-hitter, striking out four and walking four. Mason McClellan (2014, McDonough, Ga.) was 2-for-3 with a double and Conner Prater hit an RBI double.
Chandler Avant (2014, Marietta, Ga.) smacked a solo home run in the bottom of the sixth to account for the Braves' run.
The Scorpions slipped to the No. 17 seed despite outscoring their three pool-play opponents by a combined 38-5. All four of their playoff victories were upsets, according to the seedings, coming against No. 16 East Cobb New England Firebirds; No. 1 Elite Baseball Training; No. 8 and NVTBL Stars-White; and finally against the No. 13 E.C. Braves.