Tournaments : : Story
Monday, October 15, 2012

It's Burn, baby, Burn

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- About midway through Monday's championship game at the PG WWBA Florida Qualifier, a Perfect Game official made a telling observation about the Florida Burn squad that was playing in the game out on the field at jetBlue Park.

"I'll tell you what," the official said. "I wouldn't want to be in the Burn's pool down in Jupiter. They just play the game so well."

No travel ball team, anyway, has been playing the game as well or at a higher level at Perfect Game tournaments this summer and fall than the Sarasota-based Florida Burn. And the Burn continued its remarkable string of successes early Monday afternoon at jetBlue.

Thanks to a four-run first inning, a five-run fourth and a combined five inning no-hitter from a couple of their young pitchers, the fourth-seeded Florida Burn routed No. 3 SCORE International 18u, 9-0, in the championship game of the PG WWBA Florida Qualifier.

It was the second Perfect Game WWBA tournament title the Burn captured in just one week's time, coming on the heels of the national championship they won at last week's PG WWBA Underclass World Championship. It is also the third PG tournament championship the Burn has won since early August when basically this same group grabbed the title at the 16u Perfect Game World Series in Marietta, Ga.

In addition to the titles, there were also a couple of near-misses. Florida Burn Orange was second at the 16u PG WWBA East Memorial Day Classic in late May and third at the 16u PG BCS Finals in mid-July, with both of those tournaments held here in Fort Myers.

"It's pretty amazing; they just show up (ready to play) every game," Burn head coach Mark Guthrie said Monday. "We faced a lot of number-one pitchers, a lot of highly committed college guys, and they did a good job with all of them, so I tip my hat to them.  They are a very under-rated group, in my opinion, exposure-wise. They all give you tough at-bats, and to round it all out our pitchers throw strikes and get everybody off the field. It's just a credit to (the players)."

By winning the Florida Qualifier, the Burn get more than another PG championship cup for their crowded trophy case -- this title also awards a paid invitation to the PG WWBA World Championship over Jupiter Oct. 25-29. That's an elite tournament that will raise the bar even higher for the Burn.

"We didn't have a spot in Jupiter and I think that was kind of (the players') focus; they wanted to go there," Guthrie said. "It's going to be a real nice challenge for them and I think that's kind of what they set their sights on."

The Burn's march to this championship never really seemed threatened, with their closest game a 4-1 win over top-seeded Chet Lemon's Juice in the semifinals. They outscored their four playoff opponents by a combined score of 34-2.

Tyler Atwell (2013, Venice, Fla.) smacked a two-run double and Michael Rivera (2014, Venice, Fla.) stroked a two-run single to get the Burn (7-0) off to a 4-0 start in the championship game against SCORE International (6-1). They added five more runs in the fourth, but the only purpose they served was to end the game after five innings because of the run-rule. The four in the first were more than enough.

Right-hander Brandon Elmy (2014, Osprey, Fla.) and lefty Zeke Pietrzyk (2014, Estero, Fla.) combined to pitch a five inning no-hit, no-walk, five strikeout gem, with the only SCORE base-runner reaching on an error.

Rivera, a 5-foot-10, 180-pound catcher and U. of Florida commit, was named the tournament Most Valuable Player at its conclusion. He hit .389 (7-for-18) with four doubles, a home run, nine RBI and four runs scored, and boasted an OPS (on-base plus slugging) of 1.254.

"This was really challenging with a lot of good teams, but our team stuck together," Rivera said. "We had some ups and downs but we battled and got through it."

Rivera, like so many others in this group, has been a part of all three Burn PG championship teams.

"This is the first time it's happened for me and my teammates, and all I can say is it's real good," he said. "I knew we had players that weren't selfish and they're all scrappy players and we played as a team, and whenever you play as a team you can always win, no matter what."

Rivera wasn't the only Burn player to have an MVP-caliber tournament. Dalton Guthrie (2014, Sarasota, Fla.), another Florida commit, was 8-for-16 (.500) with a double, home run, two RBI, seven runs and an OPS of 1.329. Atwell finished 7-for-15 (.467) with a pair of doubles, a triple, six RBI, four runs and an OPS of 1.263.

SCORE International 18u right-hander Jose Pupo (2013, Tampa, Fla.) was named Most Valuable Pitcher. Pupo threw a seven inning, five-hit shutout with 11 strikeout's in SCORE's 2-0 win over the Sarasota Baseball Club in a quarterfinal game Sunday.

Coach Guthrie used 12 pitchers in the Burn's seven games here this weekend and they combined to post a miniscule 0.52 ERA in 40 1/3 innings, allowing 23 hits and striking out 37. Right-hander Tyler Shambora (2013, Venice, Fla.) made three appearances and picked up a win and a save in five innings of four-hit, three-strikeout work.

Guthrie is confident this is a group that will represent itself well  when the PG WWBA World Championship gets under way in Jupiter in 10 days.

"We don't have 90 mph throwers but we have guys that miss bats," he said. "We have guys that know how to pitch, we have guys that get outs outside of the strike zone. We have hitters that don't strike out and we have hitters that hit the ball out of the park, and our lineup up and down gives you tough outs.

"That's the reason for the consistency. It's by the basics and they do the little things right ... and for us as coaches it's fun to watch."

THE FLORIDA BURN ADVANCED TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP by knocking off top-seeded Chet Lemon's Juice (5-1) by a 4-1 count in a Monday morning semifinal.

The Burn pushed across three runs in the top of the second with Jared Purett (2014, Sarasota, Fla.) and Ryan Miller (2014, Sarasota, Fla.), a Florida Atlantic commit, each contributing RBI singles. Pruett added another run-scoring single in the fourth.

Righty Michael Byrne (2015, Orlando, Fla.) worked the first five innings for the Burn, allowing no earned runs on five hits while striking out three and walking no one

After that game, the Burn had out-scored its six tournament opponents by a combined 43-6. They beat No. 13 Gatorball Baseball Academy, 9-1 in five innings, in the first round of the playoffs and toppled No. 5 Boca Thunder Baseball, 12-0 in four innings, in the quarterfinals.

The Juice had also been formidable in its five wins leading up to the semifinal, outscoring its foes, 30-4. They beat No. 16 Ostinger's Baseball Academy Select, 8-1, in the first round and just got past No. 8 SWFL 17u, 2-1, in the quarters.

SCORE lived up to its name by scoring early and often in a five inning 9-1 win over 10th-seeded SWFL 18u (4-1-1), the Florida Qualifier defending champion, in one of Monday morning's semifinals.

Leadoff batter Zach Hessinger (2013, Wesley Chapel, Fla.) led SCORE's 15-hit attack with a double and three singles, four RBI and two runs scored. Jacob McFadden (2014, Seminole, Fla.), a South Florida commit, was 3-for-3 with an RBI and a run; Levi Gilcrease (2014, Odessa, Fla.) went 2-for-3 with a double, an RBI and two runs;  Jorge Flores (2013, Riverview, Fla.) was 2-for-3 with an RBI and a run; and Brandon Brosher smacked a two-run double.

Right-hander Caleb Koulianos (2013, Tarpon Springs, Fla.) backed it up with a five inning four-hitter, allowing no earned runs and striking out three.

SCORE International 18u advanced to Monday's semifinal round by beating the No. 14 Florida Heat, 9-1, in the first round and the No. 11 Sarasota Baseball Club, 2-0, in the quarterfinals.

SWFL 18u, which won four straight games after opening the tournament with a tie, beat the No. 7 Hialeah Warriors, 2-1, in the playoffs' first round and got past No. 15 Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy, 3-2, in the quarters.

2012 WWBA Florida Qualifier runner-up:  SCORE International 18u

2012 WWBA Florida Qualifier MVP:  Michael Rivera

2012 WWBA Florida Qualifier MV-Pitcher:  Jose Pupo

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