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Tournaments  | Championship  | 10/14/2019

Burn blasts off, grabs repeat

Jeff Dahn     
Photo: Florida Burn 2020 Platinum (Perfect Game)

See also: Preparations and Expectations

JUPITER, Fla. – Two programs that have enjoyed as much success at the Perfect Game WWBA World Championship as just about any other over the last decade squared-off against one another in this year’s championship game on a beautiful Monday afternoon at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium.

And in the end, after five long days of intense play at the highest level imaginable, the Florida Burn 2020 Platinum were able to reach down and hit the gas one last time while the Dirtbags, quite possibly, simply ran out of gas.

The Burn 2020 Platinum turned a 2-1 lead after two innings into an 11-1 lead on the strength of a nine-run third, and bounced the Dirtbags, 11-2 in five innings.

The Florida Burn program claimed its second straight Jupiter championship, one year after the Burn 2019 Platinum won here. Florida Burn became the first organization to win in back-to-back years since the Canes Baseball program won three straight titles here from 2013-15; an earlier Florida Burn team was the runner-up back in 2013.

“Sometimes, this can be an intimidating scene,” Florida Burn founder and co-head coach Mark Guthrie told PG Monday as his players were getting fitted for PG national championship rings. “I’m proud of these guys for the way they did it and I’m happy that they get to go through this and experience what some of our other guys have done.

“Hopefully it can become a thing for more teams in the future although, as we always say, you can always come here and go 0-and-4, too,” he added. “It’s a tough gig, but what a great job by these kids.”

The Dirtbags program is no stranger to Championship Monday in Jupiter itself, having shared a championship in 2010 and then winning one outright in 2016. The No. 8-seeded Burn finished this event with an 8-0-0 record while the No. 22 Dirtbags wound-up at 6-2-0.

Monday’s contest started with a bang when Dirtbags PG All-American Jake Deleo drove a 2-1 fastball over the wall for a lead-off home run off of Burn starter Tyler Zylstra, a 2020 left-hander. It was the only hit and the only run Zylstra would give up in his four innings while striking out five and walking two.

“That was a big blow right there out of the chute, but I thought Tyler handled it well,” Guthrie said. “… I told him to just go out there and make your pitches, and he did; he bounced back very nicely.”

The Burn as a team bounced back very nicely, too, and they did it right away.

Samuel Gordon received a one-out walk in the bottom of the first and had barely settled in at first when he stole second. PG All-American Mac Guscette followed him to the plate and wasted little time in chasing him home with an RBI double. One out later, Tommy White stepped in and delivered an RBI single, giving the Burn 2020 Platinum a 2-1 lead.

“Every time we score in the first inning we can set the tone for the whole game,” Guscette said. “Me hitting that double and then Tommy hitting that single after me to get the RBI, that was big.”

The bottom half of the third was a daydream for the Burn and nothing short of a nightmare for the Dirtbags. Vince Smith got things started for the Platinum with a lead-off single and then a combination of a two-run single from White, a two-run double from Bayron Acevedo, a two-run single from Pierce Chambers and an RBI double from Gordon – with three walks and two hit batters thrown into the mix – resulted in the nine-run outburst.

Guthrie noted that this Burn team trailed in three or four of its games during the championship run but was able to come back and win those games. He also noted that they had not had a big inning like the third frame until Monday.

“I think (the players) believed in their ability to bounce back and get a run or two and then things kind of fell our way in that one inning,” he said. “You know, kids get tired and anything can happen and I think that’s what happened there (to the Dirtbags).

“We’re very fortunate; that could have been us,” he continued. “That’s a great team over there and congratulations to them. It’s unfortunate that when you get fatigued like that, sometimes those innings happen.”

White, a 2021 third baseman and a North Carolina State commit ranked No. 55 nationally, finished 2-for-2 with three RBI and three runs scored. He, like Guscette and several others, were on the 2018 Burn Platinum championship team, but White, in his mind, did not perform very well here a year ago.

“I knew from last year that I had to answer big and I just tried to put good swings on the baseball,” he said. “I tried to do my best in the most important game of the tournament … and I just answered with my bat.”

Guscette, the PG All-American 2020 catcher and Florida commit ranked No. 65 nationally, contributed the RBI double and enjoyed a terrific tournament overall. He finished hitting 10-for-22 (.455) with three doubles, seven singles, five RBI and six runs scored, and was named the Most Valuable Player.

“This tournament is crazy; here in Jupiter it’s just insane,” he said. “There are so many good teams and honestly you’ve just got to fight. We (felt) like the underdogs both years and we just won it again so anyone can win this thing.”

It must be noted that Guscette’s PG All-American counterpart with the Dirtbags, Jake Deleo, enjoyed an MVP-caliber tournament himself. He was good across the board, batting 10-for-24 (.417) with a home run, a double, eight singles, seven walks, seven RBI, eight runs scored and eight stolen bases; he also played a stellar centerfield throughout the ‘Bags’ five-day run.

This Burn 2020 Platinum team mirrored the Burn 2019 Platinum team that won last year’s championship, according to Guthrie, in that both teams were very gritty and played with a championship fire in their chests.

This team, he said, probably could run a little bit better than last year’s squad and it may have had a little more depth in the pitching staff, but the winning attitude and the way they approached each new challenge that awaited them was very similar.

“Every day I’m so grateful to have these guys on my team,” White said. “We’re so close – we’re just a big family with the Florida Burn – and everybody loves each other. It’s just so good to be able to hang out with your family on the weekend and skip school with your family … and we just love coming out to the baseball field every day and giving it our all.”

Both the ‘Bags and the Burn advanced to the championship with wins in their semifinal games Monday morning.

The Burn won in dramatic fashion when Vince Smith delivered a one-out walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth in a 2-1 victory over the No. 13 Padres Scout Team/ECB (5-1-1). The hit was only the fifth of the game off of PST/ECB 2020 left-hander Andrew Armstrong, who worked 8 1/3 innings and struck-out 10.

The Dirtbags used eight singles and six walks to get past the No. 31 Scorpions Founders Club (5-2-0) by a final count of 7-2. Cameron Clonch had three of the singles and scored a run and Ryan Wilson singled twice and scored twice for the ‘Bags.

2020 top-500 right-hander and Elon commit Ben Sieracki pitched five, six-hit shutout innings, striking our three and walking one for the Dirtbags in the win. He had pitched three hitless, shutout innings with two strikeouts and a walk earlier in the week and was named the Most Valuable Pitcher.

2019 WWBA World Championship runner-up: Dirtbags

2019 WWBA World Championship MVP: Mac Guscette

2019 WWBA World Championship MV-Pitcher: Ben Sieracki