FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The gate was left open after the first round of the playoffs were complete Sunday afternoon, but by early Sunday evening only one gate-crasher had made his way into the party's final day.
Three of the top four playoff seeds at this year's PG WWBA Florida Qualifier advanced to Monday morning's semifinal round after posting a pair of playoff victories Sunday afternoon at either Terry Park or the jetBlue Player Development Complex. The only Cinderella at the ball -- and it's really not that much of a Cinderella -- is 10th-seeded SWFL 18u, the WWBA Florida Qualifier defending champion.
Otherwise, the players in the final four are exactly who the playoff bracket predicted they would be: No. 1 Chet Lemon's Juice (5-0), No. 3 SCORE International 18u (5-0) and No. 4 Florida Burn (5-0). All four finalists are playing for a paid invitation to the prestigious PG WWBA World Championship over in Jupiter, Fla., Oct. 25-29.
Monday's semifinal pairings have Chet Lemon's Juice facing the Florida Burn and SWFL 18u going against SCORE International 18u. Both games are slated for 9 a.m. at the jetBlue Player Development Complex. The championship game is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. at jetBlue Park.
Chet Lemon's Juice won this event in 2010 and went on to become co-champion at the PG WWBA World Championship a few weeks later. The Burn have already won two Perfect Game national championships this year, including last week's PG WWBA Underclass World Championship held right here in Fort Myers.
SCORE International 18u is yet to win a PG championship although its head coach, former big-leaguer and 1st-round draft pick Sam Marsonek, has some experience at it. Marsonek directed Bullets Baseball to a co-championship at the 2011 18u PG BCS Finals and has had SCORE International in contention at major PG events throughout the summer.
SCORE International is a Christian ministry and the capital letters are an acronym for Sharing Christ Our Redeemer. It was founded in 1985 by Ron Bishop, a former college basketball coach, who used sports to preach the Gospel in Mexico and Latin American countries. Needless to say, the organization has its own unique approach to things.
"We've got a great group of guys who play the game the right way, and play hard, play selfless and just really lay it out for each other," Marsonek said after SCORE beat the No. 14 Florida Heat 9-1 in the playoffs' first round. "They're not worried about their individual numbers; they're not worried about anything other than helping each other out, and it's just cool to be around kids that want to help each other."
Right-hander Jose Pupo (2013, Tampa) threw a seven inning five-hitter in SCORE's 2-0 quarterfinal win over the Sarasota Baseball Club, and struck out 11.Righties Nick Nolan (2013, Seminole, Fla.) and Casey Sullivan (2013, Brandon, Fla.) combined on a five inning three-hitter in SCORE's 9-1 win over the Florida Heat in the playoffs' first round.
"Pitching, defense and base-running is really what we kind of pride ourselves on," Marsonek said. "I'm pretty confident that our pitchers are going to throw strikes and work quick, and then we've just got to be able to score some runs."
Chet Lemon's Juice earned the No. 1 seed after outscoring its three pool-play opponents by a combined 20-2, and beat No. 16 Ostingers Baseball Academy Select, 8-1, in the first round before stopping No. 8 SWFL 17u, 2-1, in the quarterfinals.
University of Florida recruit Tyler Danish (2013, Valrico, Fla.), the No. 96-ranked overall national prospect in his class, gave up three hits, no earned runs and struck out five in seven innings of work against SWFL 17u in the quarterfinals. Danish also pitched two hitless innings in relief, striking out two, in Chet's 1-0 win over Naturals Florida in their final pool-play game Sunday morning.
The Florida Burn are the country's hottest travel team at the moment, led by a talented 2014 class that is looking for its second major Perfect Game tournament championship in a week's time. The Burn outscored their three overmatched pool-play opponents 18-4, then shredded their two playoff foes Sunday afternoon by a combined 21-1.
In their two playoff wins Sunday, four right-handers -- Dominick Stefanacci (2014, Fort Myers, Fla.), Chris Hopkins (2014, Deland, Fla.), Tyson Albert (2013, Nokomis, Fla.) and Dalton Guthrie (2014, Sarasota, Fla.) -- combined to throw a run-rule shortened nine innings, scattered eight hits and struck out eight while surrendering no earned runs.
And then there's SWFL 18u, which may have already re-discovered the magic it conjured up a year ago at the Florida Qualifier. That was when SWFL 18u lost its second pool-play game but rallied to win five straight, including the championship game. This year it was forced to settle for 1-1 tie with the Ontario Blue Jays White in its opener Friday night but has come back to win four straight.
The run SWFL 18u surrendered against the Blue Jays was the only one it gave up in three pool-play games. The 10th-seeded squad upset the No. 7 Hialeah Warriors, 2-1, in the playoffs' first round and topped No. 15 Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy, 3-2, in the quarters. CBBA pulled off the first-round's biggest upset when it outlasted No. 2 Florida Future, 8-7.
"Every time we start out in a tournament, we always try to win (it), and it's the same thing here," SWFL 18u head coach Ryan Horton said Friday night. "We've finally got everybody back together, so we're going to try out different things and see what works. Our ultimate goal is to win this and to get better when we go down to Jupiter."