FORT MYERS, Fla. – Wednesday marked the end of the inaugural Perfect Game Florida State Championships. They finished in wild fashion, with four of the five championships ending in extra innings and the fifth game ending with a walkoff in the bottom of the seventh.
The 13u, 14u and 15u Florida State Championships were all exciting affairs, as every team in the finals brought their A-game and left their heart and soul on the field.
The 13u final kicked off the day as the Iron Pigs and Central Florida Wolverines battled for seven innings.
The game came out to a roaring start, with the teams exchanging blows through the first three innings. After the Wolverines scored one in the first and two in the second, the Iron Pigs stormed back for four in the bottom of the second. The Wolverines responded by adding two runs in the third, and after that, pitching took over for the rest of the game.
The Wolverines added another run in the fifth to give themselves a 6-4 lead, but the Iron Pigs chipped one run away in the sixth. They then rallied for two runs in the bottom of the seventh for the walkoff victory, as Mac Guscette slammed a single to right and the Iron Pigs stormed the field.
The Iron Pigs’ resilient win is nothing new for the young squad, as they’ve battled all season and expect to win every game, even if they are down. “We’ve played over 70 games since January, and we’ve proven we’re a team that never quits,” said Iron Pigs coach Wayne Harrell.
Harrell’s team is always ready for tournament-play because of the pitching depth it boasts. “We’re really deep in pitching; we threw three guys today, and we still had two really good pitchers who hadn’t thrown a pitch all week. We’re really deep and really young.”
There were many great performances from the pitching staff, but it was Iron Pigs left-hander Joshua Kinker who took the Most Valuable Pitcher award. He earned the recognition because of his great start on Tuesday against the Roaddogs, throwing a complete-game one hitter. “For Josh, all three of his pitches were spot on,” Harrell explained. “I think only two balls left the infield the entire game.”
The MVP of the tournament was Julian Rivera from the Wolverines. Rivera came up huge for his team all week, hitting .471 with a 1.079 OPS, including a two-for-three effort with two RBI in the championship game.
2014 PG 13u Florida State Champions: Iron Pigs
2014 PG 13u Florida State Championship runner-up: Central Florida Wolverines
2014 PG 13u Florida State Championship MVP: Julian Rivera, Central Florida Wolverines
2014 PG 13u Florida State Championship MV-Pitcher: Joshua Kinker, Iron Pigs
It was hard imagining any games the rest of the day would live up to the excitement the Iron Pigs’ victory produced, but the 14u and 15u championships were just as dramatic.
The 14u championship was a battle of two goliaths, as the Miami Suns and Florida Stealth came into the final game of the tournament with unblemished records.
The Suns jumped out to an early lead, scoring two runs in each of the first two innings, sparked by their leadoff hitter Ihosvany Castaneda. Castaneda was a picturesque leadoff hitter in the first inning, walking and stealing second and third before scoring the game’s first run. In his second at-bat, he acted as a run producer, smacking a two-run bomb to put the Suns up 4-0.
“Castaneda is our sparkplug,” said Suns coach Ricky Gutierrez. “I tell him all the time, when he struggles to get on base, we struggle. He was able today to get a good pitch and hit one ball out. He was all over the field today with his quality at bats and in center field.”
Castaneda has the ideal mentality for a leadoff hitter, as he explained, “I always just try and get on base and get on any way and steal some bases I can so that my team can produce.”
The Stealth fought back in the bottom of the second by adding two runs, but the Suns held them down until the sixth inning. In the bottom of the sixth, the Stealth rallied for three runs to tie the game 5-5.
With the championship seemingly slipping away from the Suns, they kept their composure and didn’t panic. After failing to score in the top of the seventh, the Suns held the Stealth scoreless in the bottom half of the frame before exploding for three runs in the eighth, and holding onto the lead and at the same time the Florida State title.
On winning the championship, Gutierrez said, “It means a lot, it’s great for this program and for the kids. We work hard all year and just try and teach them the game of baseball. It’s always awesome to go back and reflect at how hard they’ve worked and see them win.”
While Castaneda gets the offense going, the Suns have a number of guys they rely on, including Tyler Grant, Kevin Mauras and Michael Diaz.
Suns pitcher Jordan Rodriguez was the Most Valuable Pitcher of the tournament. He didn’t give up a run in his nine innings of work. He struck out seven and gave up just eight hits, making him a well-deserved winner of his award.
The 14u tournament MVP was the Stealth’s Nicholas Wells. Wells mashed all tournament, evidenced by his remarkable 1.578 OPS. He drove in six for the Stealth while scoring eight times, and was a force all week long.
2014 PG 14u Florida State Champions: Miami Suns 14u
2014 PG 14u Florida State Championship runner-up: Florida Stealth
2014 PG 14u Florida State Championship MVP: Nicholas Wells, Florida Stealth
2014 PG 14u Florida State Championship MV-Pitcher: Jordan Rodriguez, Miami Suns 14u
Despite the exciting nature of the 13u and 14u title games, the 15u championship was arguably the most exciting of the three. The Gainesville Naturals and Elite Squad Slugger were tied 1-1 after three innings, and the score stayed that way until the ninth.
The Naturals received a great pitching performance from Kyler Marquis, but they couldn’t score more than one run against Elite Squad’s pitching trio of Alek Sierra, Arrison Perez and David Archaki.
Sierra, who started the game for Elite Squad, decided to end it in the top of the ninth, as he drove in the go-ahead run. They ended up holding onto the victory in the bottom of the ninth, after which the entire team stormed the mound and celebrated together in a dogpile.
“This win is huge for our team and our program,” said Elite Squad coach Reggie Rodriguez. “We’ve come a long way. We’ve learned to play together, we’ve made tons of improvement, and it ended up great.”
“The great thing about our team is that they never give up,” Rodriguez explained. “This is our third come from behind win in the past two days. These guys don’t quit, they’re always grinding and they’re always working. I’m proud of them.”
Elite Squad’s Anthony Leary earned the MVP honors with his incredible play all weekend. He hit .550 and slugged .950 while driving in seven runs, acting as the team’s key run producer. “Anthony is a grinder. He’s a great hitter with a great approach,” Rodriguez said.
David Archacki from the Elite Squad earned the Most Valuable Pitcher award with his performance. He pitched two clean innings in the championship game, and didn’t allow a run in his 4.1 innings of work in the tournament.
2014 PG 15u Florida State Championship runner-up: Gainesville Naturals 15u
2014 PG 15u Florida State Championship MVP: Anthony Leary, Elite Squad 15u Slugger
2014 PG 15u Florida State Championship MV-Pitcher: David Archacki, Elite Squad 15u Slugger