FORT MYERS, Fla. – A couple of teams from the Sunshine State met in the 14u Perfect Game World Series championship game under the overcast Florida skies Tuesday afternoon with hopes of being the next 14u Perfect Game World Series champion. The matchup did not lack in drama. Fans were treated to a short weather delay, followed by an incredible comeback, capped off with a walk-off base hit, which gave the Florida Pokers the 9-8 win over the Miami Suns in a seven-inning ballgame that lasted nearly three hours.
“We knew if we could get to this game we’d have a chance,” said Florida Pokers head coach Lenny Roberts. “We didn’t really have a lot of pitching left, but our kids really wanted to compete and win this baseball game and we gave them everything we had. That is a very talented baseball team and we knew what they were able to do. That’s a championship baseball team that we just beat and we knew they could come back in this baseball game.”
It took the Florida Pokers a 7-2 win over Chain Stealth in the semifinals to move on and meet the Miami Suns, who fought through the semifinals with a 4-3 thriller over the Central Florida Gators.
The Pokers were the first to tally a run, scoring in the bottom of the first inning and adding on another in the third to get off to an early 2-0 lead behind an excellent effort on the mound from right-hander Anthony Rodriguez, who started the game off with three straight 1-2-3 inning and did not allow a Miami Suns base hit through the first five innings.
The Pokers blew the game open in the bottom of the fifth, capitalizing on three Suns errors, a few command issues from the mound, and a big two-run double by Kyle Benson, to score five more runs and take a commanding 7-0 lead. At least, one would assume that would be a commanding lead. The Miami Suns had different plans.
A lightning delay would put the game on hold and somehow during that delay, the confidence and momentum seemed to shift from the Pokers to the Suns without a single pitch thrown.
The Suns went with the ‘never say die’ mantra and put a huge scare into the Pokers, batting around in the top of the sixth and scoring six runs off of five hits and command issues from the Pokers pitchers. Three different pitchers took the mound in the top of the sixth to try and stop the bleeding as the Suns ended Rodriguez’s no-hit bid.
The Pokers were able to get one back in the bottom of the sixth before the Suns came charging back once again in the top of the seventh.
The inning began with a single off the bat of Henry Anthony Vilar, followed by a one-out single by Triston Casas and then a two-run double by Kevin Mauras, which dropped in after a bold diving attempt by the Pokers left fielder. The game would head into the bottom of the seventh knotted up at 8-8.
The Pokers quickly loaded the bases to begin the inning with no outs before the Suns brought in their left fielder to play up the middle in the infield, leaving the left side of their outfield uncovered, which is exactly where Christian Scott would put the ball to drive in the winning run and walk off as 2014 14u Perfect Game World Series champions.
“Christian Scott has been with me for six years and he has come up in that situation so many times and come through in that situation so many times,” said Roberts. “I knew we had the right guy at the right time to do able to do that.”
Florida Pokers big bat and tournament Most Valuable Player Eddie Ayala recalled the butterflies he felt for his teammate in the big moment.
“I was kind of nervous for him at the plate, but he came through with the big hit and I’m just proud of him,” Ayala said.
The 5-foot-8, 160-pound Ayala swung the bat tremendously throughout the tournament to take home MVP honors. The North Lauderdale, Fla. native went 8-for-16 (.500 average) through six tournament games, collected a pair of doubles, a triple, four runs, and a team-leading nine RBI. He capped of a stellar tournament with a 1-for-2 showing in the championship, collecting two RBI, a run, and walking twice.
“It’s a great honor to win MVP,” said Ayala. “It’s good to know that I played good because I haven’t played really good this summer, but this tournament I came through for the team and I’m glad we won. Last week, we went to the USA tournament and I didn’t really do so well, so I was just trying to bounce back from that and do well in this tournament. I worked on my swing all week before we came and it just worked out.”
“He is a throwback competitor and a coach’s dream,” Roberts said. “That kid will never come off the field as long as he’s playing for me. That kid’s a winner, he’s a fighter, he’s fundamentally sound and hard-nosed; he’s what we’re all about in how we play the game.”
Right-handed pitcher Jordan Rodriguez, of the Miami Suns, took home Most Valuable Pitcher honors for the tournament, just one week after earning Most Valuable Pitcher in the Perfect Game 14u Florida State Championship, where the Miami Suns were crowned champions of the inaugural event.
“I’m a bit speechless right now,” said Rodriguez. “It’s a good feeling because, not only this tournament, but the USA tournament I won pitcher of the day and then at the last Perfect Game event I won MVPitcher also. I’ve just been throwing strikes. I don’t know if it was me or the team, but I just don’t feel like they can hit my pitching lately.”
Rodriguez will be the first to admit his fastball, which tops out at 75 mph is nothing special, but he’s been developing great secondary pitches and doing some things on the mound not a lot of pitchers can do at that age.
“My changeup is most likely my secondary pitch now,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve developed my changeup better so I can save my arm for the future. To be honest, I don’t need to throw my curveball. I’m hitting my spots and they’re not hitting me.”
Rodriguez earned a win in his complete seven-inning game against the SWFL Canes Elite, surrendering a pair of runs on five hits while tallying four strikeouts to take home the hardware for the second straight week.
“I give all the credit to the coaches,” said Rodriguez. “They’ve been great giving me all of these opportunities to pitch and get recognized by the whole tournament.”
Rodriguez was not discouraged by the team’s championship loss, but rather encouraged by what this team can do like they displayed in the impressive comeback.
“It just means that we’re contenders that fight.”
Meanwhile, it was milestone achievement for Lenny Roberts and his Florida Pokers baseball program, one full of emotion and pride for Roberts and his fellow coaches and players.
“My dad started this program back in 1990 and sent over 300 kids off to college and three dozen to the Major Leagues as an 18u team and to rebuild this thing starting from 7u to where we are now, we’re almost back to where my dad had it,” Roberts said. “He’d be so proud of these kids playing the game the way he used to coach the game.”
2014 14u Perfect Game World Series runner-up: Miami Suns
2014 14u Perfect Game World Series MVP: Eddie Ayala, Florida Pokers
2014 14u Perfect Game World Series MV-Pitcher: Miami Suns