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Tournaments | Story | 7/7/2019

Burn look for BCS bounce-back

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Mac Guscette (Perfect Game)

FORT MYERS, Fla. – The  way the players and coaches from the Florida Burn 2020 Platinum see it, any sort of frustration they may have experienced after spending six days in North Georgia last week will quickly dissipate over the seven days they hope to spend in Southwest Florida this week.

The Burn 2020 Platinum are back closer to their base of operations in Sarasota, Fla., here to compete at the Perfect Game 17u BCS National Championship after what they felt was a disappointing showing at the PG 17u WWBA National Championship played in the north Atlanta suburbs.

“Perfect Game puts on great tournaments and it’s such a fun event going to Atlanta with all the colleges watching and all the great teams that are there,” Florida Burn 2020 Platinum head coach Craig Faulkner told PG after his team had won its 17u BCS opener Sunday morning at Terry Park.

“The teams come to play and we usually see everybody’s best pitcher, but we battled every single game. It was a little bit unfortunate because we gave up the least amount runs in our pool but then we lost some close games.”

The game of baseball can be fickle, even when it’s played at a very high level. The final Pool E standings at the 17u WWBA event shows the Burn 2020 Platinum finished with a 4-3-0 record and missed the playoffs. But that won-lost-tied record doesn’t begin to tell the story of the type of tournament the Burn had.

Having won the championship at the PG WWBA 17u WWBA National Championship Qualifier here in Fort Myers June 17-20, the Platinum rolled into Georgia and won their pool-play opener by a 3-0 count. What followed were losses of 2-1 and 5-4, a 5-0 win and then a 4-3 loss.

They rallied to win their last two games by scores of 14-0 and 6-0 but those three one-run losses had effectively extinguished the Burn’s playoff fire. Adding to the frustration is the fact that the Burn 2020 Platinum’s 36-11 run differential during pool-play was far-and-away better than any of the other teams in the pool.

Florida Burn top 2020 catcher Mac Guscette – a Florida commit ranked No. 116 nationally – told PG on Sunday that the one-run losses did become a source of frustration mostly because he felt like he and his teammates didn’t finish those games strong; that’s unacceptable when playing on a PG national championship tournament stage.

“You’ve got to stay (focused) through the whole game,” he said. “We’d lay down for one or two innings and that’s when (the other team) would score all their runs. You have to play every inning 100 percent.”

Burn 2020 top-500 third baseman/outfielder/right-hander Santino Cervone agreed with his teammate:

“The experience was actually really fun,” he told PG on Sunday. “Of course, we were really let down because we couldn’t follow through with all of our games, but once our hitting turned on, everything came back. I’m really excited for this tournament to see what we can do because with everything that happened last week, it seemed like it just kind of clicked late. … When I think about that, it just kind of gives me a cool confidence for this week.”

Just the way the Burn 2020 Platinum closed out in Atlanta – they won three of their last four with the three wins coming by a combined score of 25-0 – gives the team a lot of momentum coming into the 17u BCS, Faulkner noted. His guys were playing hard to the end even when any realistic shot at a playoff berth had vanished.

“Definitely coming in here, the guys came to play today and they’re ready to try to get to the playoffs,” he added. “It’s a little different (format) here … and you’ve got to be careful with all your pitching in this tournament. But we’re excited to be here.”

They definitely looked excited during their 17u BCS National Championship opener, an 8-0 five-inning victory over Berlin, Md.-based DCP Rawlings.

Seven batters combined for nine hits: Cervone had a double, a single, an RBI and a run scored; Jack Speights singled twice and drove in two; Andrew Bergeron smashed a two-run triple; Guscette singled, walked and scored twice; Samuel Gordon singled, was hit by a pitch and scored a pair; Matthew Barnhorst singled, walked, drove in a run and scored one.

A trio of 2020 right-handers – Trace Goforth, Tyler Zylstra and Jacob Faulkner – combined on a 12-strikeout, no walk, four-hitter; Goforth struck-out eight in 2 2/3 innings of work.

“We had some really good outings from our pitchers,” Faulkner said. “Goforth set the tone by striking eight guys out and then ‘Z’ came in there for an inning or so and Jacob, the side-armer, finished it off, so it was nice.”

The BCS National Championship is the only PG national championship series – the WWBA and World Series are the others – that uses BBCOR bats instead of wood bats. Faulkner said his hitters do have to make adjustments when they switch from wood to metal even though the BBCOR bats are more similar to wood than the old aluminum bats were.

Most of the top hitters adjust with little effort. Just as an example, Guscette was 9-for-18 (.500) with a home run, a triple, three doubles and 10 RBI at the 17u WWBA National Championship; Cervone was 6-for-14 (.429) with a home run, a double and three RBI.

Eight Burn 2020 Platinum players were named to the all-tournament team while swinging wood bats at the WWBA National Championship Qualifier: Cervone, Guscette, Gordon, Speights, Bayron Acevedo, Trace Burchard, Pierce Chambers and Carter Geier; 2020 righty Daniel Vassallo was the MV Pitcher.

This is a very close-knit team, with most of the players all attending high schools in the Tampa-Clearwater-Venice area; Craig Faulkner is the head coach at Venice High School.

“We all play against each other in high school so we’ve all known each other from the beginning,” Guscette said. “We hang out and have fun, and we just play the game the way it’s supposed to be played. We don’t worry too much about (what) the results are personally, so I think that’s why we bond so well; we just pick each other up and go out and have fun.”

There is going to be a lot more fun to be had in the days ahead as the Florida Burn 2020 Platinum look to put Atlanta in the rearview mirror while embracing the challenge presented when your team is once again fighting and scrapping for a PG national championship.

And besides, there were valuable lessons learned and opportunities seized upon in Atlanta. As Faulkner was quick to point out, while the baseball itself was great, the real value of the experience came in the form of the exposure to top college programs his players received, and that will continue this week.

“You want to win it but you’re really there to get your players some recognition, and that’s what Perfect Game does,” he said. “If you play at a Perfect Game event, you know scouts are going to be there, so we accomplished that part of what the guys are trying to do.

“We played a lot of games, and really the whole summer is just to get better and to get seen, and they’ve gotten better and they’ve gotten seen, so we’re really happy with what’s happening.”

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