FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Matt Gerber was an original member of the Orlando Scorpions baseball team when the program was formed 15 years ago and now he's the head coach. Happy Anniversary, Matt. And Happy Anniversary, Scorpions.
The Orlando Scorpions Black team rallied for three runs in the top of the seventh inning Monday afternoon and beat the Midland Braves/Royals Scout Team, 3-1, in the championship game of the 2009 WWBA Underclass World Championship at the City of Palms Stadium.
Orlando trailed, 1-0, heading into the top of the seventh and final inning before finally getting on the board for a dramatic victory. Earlier on Monday, the Scorpions rallied for five runs in the bottom of the sixth to overtake the East Cobb Braves, 7-4, in the semifinals.
All told, the Scorpions scored eight runs in their final at-bats on Monday to capture top honors in the 100-team tournament.
"We fought the whole time. It's a credit to the boys," said Gerber. "They really play the game the right way, and that's what we preach a lot."
Gerber received a surprise shower after the game when his players dumped a bucket of ice-water on his head. Happy Anniversary, Matt.
JoJo Woods, a gold medalist with Team USA in Taiwan this summer, found himself in the middle of all the late-inning action in the championship game. He came in to pitch in the bottom of the sixth inning and surrendered the hit that gave Midland a 1-0 lead, but he quickly made amends by leading off the top of the seventh with a ringing double to left-center. That opened the gates.
Woods was upset about letting Midland score and was determined to do something about it. "Oh, yeah," said the 5-foot-8 junior from First Academy school in Orlando. "I was trying to look for a good pitch to hit. Luckily it was a fastball, and I just stayed back and hit it."
Austin Slater, the tournament MVP who left the game in the fourth inning with a strained hamstring, re-entered in the top of the seventh and hit a clean single to right field. Woods sped around third and scored to tie the game, 1-1, with nobody out.
Gerber wasn't sure if Slater would be able to hit, but the junior from Bolles High School in Jacksonville, Fla., was not going to end the game on the bench, sore leg or not.
"He just came up to me before then and said, 'Coach, I can hit, but I can't run,'" Gerber related. "I told him to hit it in the gap and trot into second, but a base-hit will do."
Carl Everett Jr., the son of the former major leaguer, pinch-ran for Slater, giving the Scorpions a fast runner at first. Patrick Leonard, trying to sacrifice Everett to second, put down a good bunt and beat the play at first base for an infield single. A.C. Carter bunted the runners to second and third with one out, and the Braves gave Sikes Orvis an intentional walk to load the bases. The Scorpions seized the opportunity.
Auston Bousfield snapped the 1-1 tie with a sacrifice fly to right field, making it 2-1. Jordan Taylor followed with an RBI single to left, making it 3-1.
Woods, back on the mound for the bottom of the seventh, retired the first two batters before walking a man. That brought the tying run to the plate, but Woods got the final out on another grounder. The dog pile near the pitcher's mound started a few seconds later.
"A great job by everyone," said Slater, who went 11-for-24 in the tournament to claim the MVP award. "Everyone contributed and it's just a great feeling."
Both starting pitchers went deep into the game and pitched extremely well. Nick McCarty, who was honored as the Most Valuable Pitcher in the tournament, tossed six shutout innings for the Midland Braves before yileding to a relief pitcher for the top of the seventh. Taylor also pitched well for the Scorpions before yielding to Woods in the bottom of the sixth with two outs. Taylor was not touched for a run while he was in the game, but he was charged with Midland's only tally because he left with a man on base who scored.
Both teams played eight games in four days. It was relatively comfortable on Monday in southwest Florida, but the first three days of the tournament were played in hot, humid conditions with the temperatures in the 90s. That's a lot of baseball in hot weather.
"It is," said Slater. "Very tiring, losing a lot of fluids. It's fun, though. We had a good time."
Woods, who plans to play at the University of Central Florida, went 2-for-3 in the finals and was the winning pitcher. He's done a lot of winning the past two months, first helping Team USA win the gold medal at the IBAF 'AA' World Youth Championship in Taiwan and then helping the Scorpions win the WWBA title in Fort Myers. Woods was 2-for-4 and scored a run when Team USA beat Cuba, 7-6, to win the title in Taiwan.
"He's our sparkplug," said Gerber.
The Scorpions finished third in the WWBA Underclass World Championship last year and had a few of the same players on this year's team. This time, they finished the job.
"Pretty amazing," said Gerber. "This is what we came here for. We came in third last year and wanted to do better than we did last year."