JUPITER, Fla. – The EvoShield Canes are not salesmen. No one needs to be sold on a 22-man roster that features 22 prospects with NCAA Division I college commitments. But the Canes are pitchmen, just not the kind that offers a pitch to promote a specific product. They simply offer pitches that are virtually unhittable.
Led by an 11-man pitching staff that allowed six earned runs over eight games, the EvoShield Canes on Monday captured the championship at the prestigious PG WWBA World Championship. The title was secured after the Canes survived a seventh-inning rally from the Florida Burn and won the championship game, 4-3, at Roger Dean Stadium.
The championship is the second major Perfect Game national crown of the year for the Canes, who also used exceptional pitching performances to win the 17u PG World Series out in the Phoenix area in late July. Neither title came without a fight: the Canes finished 6-0-3 at the 17u PGWS and completed its championship run Monday with a 7-0-1 record.
“By no means did we scoot through this thing,” a relieved Canes head coach Jeff Petty said from the playing field at Roger Dean. “We had two one-run games in pool-play and we tied a game … but our pitching staff obviously carried us. We kept telling the hitters to just keep chucking through it and be patient and keep working and have quality at-bats, and the hits would come at the right time – and boy did they ever. When we needed to get the hits, we did.”
The Canes held what looked like an insurmountable 4-1 lead heading into the bottom of the seventh of Monday’s championship game – thanks in large part to a 3-for-3, one RBI performance at the plate from D.J. Burt – but if history has taught us anything over the last two seasons, nothing is insurmountable for the Florida Burn (7-1-0). The Burn’s Hunter Lee (2014, Maitland, Fla.) smacked a two-run double with nobody out in the frame, and stood on second base representing the tying run; he reached third, but got no closer to home.
Ryan Avidano, a 6-foot-7, 215-pound left-hander from Fayetteville, Ga., and a Georgia recruit, started and pitched the first four shutout innings for the Canes, allowing only three hits and striking out seven. The three relievers that followed weren’t nearly as effective, but Avidano had done his job.
“Starting the championship (game), I didn’t think I would be there but when I showed up I was ready to go and I knew my team was behind me,” he said. “I had more nerves when I was riding the bus over here but when I got on the field I was all business.”
It was Avidano’s second appearance at the tournament and he finished having allowed no earned runs on four hits with 12 strikeouts and no walks over six innings, and was named the event’s Most Valuable Pitcher. He was one of many stars on the Canes’ staff that combined to throw 52 innings and allow nine runs, six earned (0.81 ERA) on 35 hits with 54 strikeouts and 25 walks.
“It’s all big D-I commits and we really go out there and we shove,” Avidano said of his pitching mates. “We have a great (defense) behind us and they really pick us up when we’re down. It’s a team effort, really. Coming down here and playing for such a big team like the EvoShield Canes you expect to go far but sometimes the championship feels like a dream.”
It’s a good thing for the Canes their pitchers performed like they did, allowing an average of only 1.1 runs per game in the eight games. The Canes’ talented hitters struggled over the last four days, combining to hit just .249 (45-for-181) with only six extra base hits and 32 runs, an average of 4.0 runs per game over eight games.
Faced with such feeble run support, Petty had only one directive for his pitchers:
“Command the fastball; go after hitters with the fastball. Obviously they need to command a secondary pitch because if they can’t command a plus-secondary pitch, then they’re not going to be out on the mound. I bet you we threw 70 percent fastballs this tournament, challenging (batters) that are high school hitters with wood bats in their hands, so we preach going after them with a fastball.”
The loss in the championship game effectively ended the stellar Perfect Game careers of many Florida Burn players in the class of 2014, including Venice Senior High School seniors and University of Florida commits Michael Rivera, a catcher ranked 177th nationally, and Dalton Guthrie, a shortstop ranked 91st. Those two and many others helped lead the Burn and head coach Mark Guthrie to four Perfect Game tournament championships since the start of 2012 summer season.
“As a coach, we’ve never doubted these guys,” Mark Guthrie said Monday. “They play hard, they play with a lot of guts, but there’s just so much talent out there. They’ve made a name for themselves; there aren’t going to be many runs like that with one group going through like that. We’re very proud of them and we’re excited to watch them go on to the next level, and it’s been a lot of fun.”
MONDAY MORNING’S SEMIFINAL GAMES MATCHED the EvoShield Canes against the Orlando Scorpions/Mets Scout Team, and the Florida Burn against the Reds Midwest Scout Team.
Appropriately named right-hander Michael Byrne (2015, Orlando) was spot-on in the Burn’s 3-1 win over the Reds Midwest Scout Team (6-1-0) in one of the semis. Byrne baffled the normally productive Reds’ bats, limiting them to one run on four hits over seven innings while striking out four and walking one. He threw 87 pitches during the outing, 60 for strikes.
The Burn scored single runs in the second, third and sixth innings. Deacon Liput (2015, Oviedo, Fla.) and Hunter Lee each delivered sacrifice flies in the second and third, and Zach Spivey (2014, Ormond Beach, Fla.) executed a suicide squeeze in the sixth to account for the Burn’s three runs. Jared Pruett (2014, Sarasota, Fla.) was 2-for-2 with two runs scored.
The Reds scored their only run on a fielder’s choice in the top of the seventh. Simeon Lucas (2014, Ingleside, Ill.), the country’s No. 114-ranked prospect and an Illinois State recruit, and Ethan Skender (2015, Metamora, Ill.) each doubled for the Reds.
The always tenacious Florida Burn cruised to its pool championship by outscoring its four opponents by a combined 25-9. They outlasted the Atlanta Blues Jay 9-8 in the playoffs’ first round and snuck past Palm Beach PAL, 4-3, in the quarterfinals.
The Reds Midwest Scout Team emerged as the undefeated champion in Pool E after out-gunning pre-tournament pool favorites Tri-State Arsenal and CBA Marucci. The Reds outscored their pool foes by a combined 32-7, blasted the favored Houston Banditos, 13-1, in the first round of the playoffs and then dusted off the Chicago Sports Association, 8-1, in the quarterfinals.
Reds 2014 catcher Evan Skoug from Libertyville, Ill., was named the tournament Most Valuable Player in a rare instance when the award didn’t go to a player from one of the two finalists. Skoug, a Texas Christian recruit ranked 311th nationally, was 7-for-11 (.636) with a double, home run, six RBI and eight runs scored. He was also walked eight times and hit by a pitch, good for a .800 on-base percentage (20 plate appearances) and a 1.800 OPS to help the Reds reach the tournament’s final four.
“I was honored to be down here with all these great baseball players,” Skoug said after accepting the award. “To make it to the final four with my team is just fantastic and it was a great experience. We started early this fall and we wanted to come down here and make a statement and I think we showed that the kids from the Midwest can play with anyone in the country. We weren’t even supposed to make it out of our bracket, so the farther we kept going the more we just wanted to prove people wrong.”
The Canes were trailing the Scorpions/Mets 3-1 heading into the top of the seventh in a semifinal game Monday morning when they decided enough was enough. Madison Stokes (2014, Columbia, S.C.) got the Canes within one with a one-out sacrifice fly, and they then pushed runners to second and third.
Up stepped Taylor Lane (2014, Chesapeake, Va.), ranked 172nd in the country and a Florida recruit, who came through with a two-out, two-run pop-fly single to right that scored both the tying and go-ahead runs. The Scorpions/Mets had runners on first and second with two out in the bottom of the seventh but couldn’t capitalize.
Troy Stokes Jr. (2014, Baltimore) was 2-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored; Justin Morris (2014, Edgewater, Md.) was 2-for-3 with a run; and Chase Pinder (2014, Poquoson, Va.) was 2-for-4 to lead the Canes at the plate.
Right-handed Perfect Game All-American Grant Holmes (2014, Conway, S.C.) worked the first four innings and allowed one earned run on three hits with five strikeouts. Righty Jeff Harding Jr. (2014, Cambridge, Md.) picked up the win after working the sixth and seventh and giving up one hit and striking out two.
Scorpions/Mets right-hander Logan Crouse (2015, Valrico, Fla.) started and threw five innings of one-run, four-hit ball with four strikeouts. No. 10-ranked Brendan Rodgers (2015, Longwood, Fla.) and No. 45-ranked Tate Blackman (2014, Altamonte Springs, Fla.) both drove in runs for the Scorpions/Mets. Rodgers has committed to Florida State and Blackman to Mississippi.
With their masterful pitching staff firmly in control, the EvoShield Canes allowed only one run during pool-play and that came in 1-1 tie with Northeast PG Vegas Gold in the last of their four pool games. The Canes had trouble generating runs, winning a pair of pool-play games by 1-0 margins. The close games continued with a 2-1 win over SCORE International in the playoffs’ first round before the bats came alive in a 7-1 win over Orlando PG Purple in the quarters.
The Scorpions/Mets (5-2-0) lost their first pool-play game of the tournament to the Sandlot Scout Team, 1-0, but rallied to win their next three. That was just the beginning of the drama that was about to unfold.
Sandlot eventually lost a pool game to the Lids Indiana Bulls, so after the Scorpions/Mets won its final pool-play game to move to 3-1, they had to wait for the outcome of the game between Sandlot and Mid-Atlantic PG Orange to find out their fate. PG Orange pulled off the upset, beating Sandlot 4-3 while members of the Scorpions/Mets cheered their every move.
Once in the playoffs, the Orlando Scorpions/Mets Scout Team rolled past Chet Lemon’s Juice, 9-3, in the first round and buried Team Rawlings, 9-0, in the quarterfinals.
The EvoShield Canes didn’t need to prove anyone wrong and they certainly didn’t need a sales pitch – just 11 very strong-armed pitchers – on their way to collecting another set of 2013 PG national championship rings.
“These kids play together every weekend (during the summer) so they’re like brothers,” Petty said. “They travel all over the East Coast together; they probably played 100-plus games together this year. It’s a grind on the parents traveling every weekend, but it’s a really close-knit, family type group.
“This is a resilient group and we’ve figured out ways to win all year,” he added. “It’s a special group when you can do that.”
2013 WWBA World Championship runner-up: Florida Burn
2013 WWBA World Championship MVP: Evan Skoug, Reds Midwest Scout Team
2013 WWBA World Championship MV-Pitcher: Ryan Avidano, EvoShield Canes