FORT MYERS, Fla. – The 2013 Perfect Game tournament season moved closer to being voted- in as the “Year of the Scorpion” on Monday afternoon. The latest lean in that direction was not done so much by a show of hands as it was by a show of arms.
The Orlando Scorpions, under the direction of organization owner and head coach Matt Gerber, put on an electrifying display of dominant pitching performances in six games over the past four days, and claimed the championship at the 3rd annual PG WWBA 18u Labor Day Classic.
The final game-changing vote was delivered by right-hander Josh Wicker on Monday afternoon while, appropriately, thunder rolled and lightning flashed to the north and the west of jetBlue Park.
Wicker, a 6-foot-2, 185-pound senior at Apopka (Fla.) High School, threw a complete game, three-hit shutout at the New Orleans-based Nola Monsters, more than enough for the Scorps (6-0) to post a 4-0 win over the Monsters (5-1) in the 18u Labor Day Classic championship game.
Gerber marched nine pitchers to the mound over the six games, and those arms combined to surrender only one unearned run over 34 innings. As a group they allowed just 13 hits and 10 walks while striking out 45; team officials headed back to their home-base in Altamonte Springs, Fla., smiling at the fact that the team ERA was a perfect 0.00.
“Obviously, it started with throwing strikes. We didn’t walk many people and that was the key,” Gerber said after his team accepted its championship trophy. “We played good defense, our (pitchers) pounded the zone and the pitching staff kind of took pride in it after we went a couple of games without giving up any runs. They kind of challenged themselves to keep doing it and see how long we could keep doing it.”
Even with dominant pitching, a team can’t win without putting some runs on the board. The Scorpions hit .307 as a team and averaged just over seven runs per game on their way to the title.
They outscored their three pool-play opponents by a combined 31-1 – the Coastal Georgia Hooks scored an unearned run in a 10-1 loss to the Scorpions on Saturday – and blew by their three playoff foes by a combined 13-0. Billy Cooke (2014, Maitland, Fla.), a Coastal Carolina commit, was 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI in the title game.
Wicker allowed three hits and a walk and struck out seven in his seven-inning shutout of the Nola Monsters in the championship game. He had worked three innings of relief on Friday and finished with a tournament line of 10 innings pitched, three hits, no runs, 10 strikeouts and two walks. The University of West Florida commit was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Pitcher.
“I was feeling great today; my arm felt great,” Wicker said. “I threw three innings a couple of days ago and I didn’t think I was going to throw this game but (Gerber) gave me the ball. I’m happy that he did.”
It would have been easy for Wicker to fall through the cracks this weekend. Left-hander Colton Campbell (2014, Deltona, Fla., Wake Forest commit) and right-handers Jason Cryar (2014, Altamonte Springs, South Alabama) and Blake Sanderson (2014, Orlando, Florida Atlantic) were among the other pitchers Gerber used.
“We love each other,” Wicker said. “We have great team chemistry on this team and our pitching staff is really stacked. We took it one game at a time and we never looked ahead to see what the next game was. We just tried to win one game at a time and we ended up being here, and I’m happy that we were able to do it.”
Shawn Feltner, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound first baseman/right-hander who is a senior teammate of Wicker’s at Apopka High School, was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Feltner was 2-for-2 with a double, an RBI and two runs in the championship game and was 8-for-16 (.500) with five RBI, six runs and a 1.118 OPS in six games. He was also the Scorpions’ winning pitcher in a hard-fought semifinal-round game.
“We normally come out here just to win,” Feltner said of the Scorps’ matter-of-fact style. “This has been a blast the whole year and we all just come out to win and it seems to happen.”
This marks the fourth time this summer a team wearing Orlando Scorpions uniforms finished in the top-two at a Perfect Game tournament. The Scorpions won the PG WWBA 17u National Championship and 16u Perfect Game World Series and was runner-up at the PG WWBA 18u East Memorial Day Classic.
The team here this weekend was a hybrid of prospects that played this summer for the Scorpions Prime, North, Purple and Black squads.
This is the second straight year the Nola Monsters played their way into the championship game at the PG WWBA 18u Labor Day Classic, only to finish just short of the title. They lost last year’s championship game to the FTB Pride but came back to see if they could complete the job this year.
“I would be disappointed if we weren’t at jetBlue on Monday,” Monsters owner and head coach Todd Buster told PG on Sunday. “I think we’ve got a great team; we’ve got some fantastic chemistry and some extra arms where I think last year we fell a little bit short.
“But baseball is funny, so the way I look at it is that these guys are going to compete, give it everything they’ve got until the last pitch of the game and whatever happens, happens.”
In what was unquestionably the Scorpions narrowest escape of the tournament, Feltner allowed three hits and struck out nine with no walks in six shutout innings – and produced an RBI single in the first inning – to lead the Scorpions to a 1-0 win over the Carrollwood Gators (4-1) in an 18u semifinal Monday morning. Carrollwood righty Manny Robinson was pretty good in his own right, limiting the Scorps to four hits over five innings, and their run was unearned.
The Scorpions reached the semifinals by beating Mets Elite Baseball, 8-0, in a quarterfinal game that was suspended by rain Sunday afternoon and completed Monday morning.
The Monsters mustered only two hits against a trio of Team IMPACT (4-1) pitchers but took advantage of four IMPACT errors and won, 3-0, in an 18u semifinal Monday morning. Nola’s Brent Diaz (2014, Miami) drove in the game’s only earned run with a sacrifice fly.
Nola right-handers Todd Porche (2014, Luling, La.), Brandon Sequeira (2014, New Orleans) and Michael Smith (2014, Pearl River, La.) combined on the four-hit shutout, with Sequeira striking out five in four innings. IMPACT’s Michael Zimmerman (2015, Naples, Fla.), a Florida commit, threw five innings of one-hit ball with 10 strikeouts and no walks.
The Monsters zipped through pool-play, whipping three opponents by a combined 21-1. They beat the Florida Express, 7-2, in a quarterfinal round game that started Sunday afternoon, was suspended by rain, and completed Monday morning.
The PG WWBA 18u Labor Day Classic, with 28 teams, isn’t the biggest or most glamorous tournament on PG’s annual schedule, but that doesn’t make it any less important.
“This is a great experience,” Gerber said. “Most of these guys are committed (to colleges) but we have a couple of guys who aren’t, so we’re going to play a few events with these guys before we get to Jupiter just to give them some stuff to do. Obviously, once we got into the playoffs here we played some very good teams and got our work in. It’s always a great experience when you do Perfect Game events.”