JUPITER, Fla. – The EvoShield Canes emerged from a field of 85 teams to win the Perfect Game WWBA World Championship, the first in the program’s history, after defeating the Florida Burn 4-3 in Roger Dean Stadium. The Canes, comprised largely of players from the Mid-Atlantic region and historically one of the premier programs in the country, went undefeated (with one tie) throughout the event.
Championship game starter Ryan Avidano, 18, was named the event’s most valuable pitcher after throwing four scoreless innings and striking out seven versus three hits against the Burn, who entered the championship game undefeated and having scored nearly six runs a game. The 6-foot-7, 215-pound Avidano has an extra-large frame, lanky build and long limbs. Avidano (Starr’s Mill High, Fatetteville, Ga.) has a deceptive delivery and mid-to-high-80s fastball. He threw his fastball for strikes and relied on his breaking ball-changeup combination, throwing offspeed pitches on nearly half of his pitches.
“My fastball is my get-over pitch if I need to throw a strike,” Avidano said. “I went to some 3-2 curveballs and I felt good about going to that a lot and mixed in some changeups. I feel like I had all my pitches working. I really felt on.”
Avidano, a Georgia commit who pitched two innings Sunday, finished the tournament with 12 strikeouts against no walks and no runs allowed in six innings.
The Canes entered the seventh with a 4-1 lead against the Burn, who won three of their seven games on comebacks in the final two innings. Back-to-back singles and a walk loaded the bases for No. 3 hole hitter Hunter Lee (Winter Park, Fla., High), who doubled to right field to put the Burn behind a run.
The Canes Brett Daniels entered with the tying run on third base to retire the next two hitters and win the championship. Daniels, a North Carolina commit, is a 6-foot-1, 180-pound righthander from Fuquay-Varina (N.C.) High capable of touching 91 mph with his fastball that sat in the high-80s, to go with a mid-70s curveball and high-70s changeup.
The Canes opportunistic offense took advantage of four errors by the Burn. Outfielder D.J. Burt went 3-for-3 and second baseman Taylor Lane 2-for-3, each scoring a run.
EvoShield’s run to a championship is a byproduct of a deep and talented pitching staff. The Canes allowed only one run during four games in pool play. They allowed only six runs (nine earned) in eight games, which is a .81 ERA, and struck out more than a hitter per inning (54 strikeouts in 52 innings).
With a plethora of arms, Canes head coach Jeff Petty had a number of possible ways to deploy his staff.
“Grant Holmes has been our horse all year and we started him first and went from there,” Petty said.
Righthander Grant Holmes started the first game of the tournament on Thursday, which allowed him to come back for Sunday morning’s semi-final matchup against the Orlando Scorpions, who have won many of the national tournaments this year. The strong-bodied Holmes, a Perfect Game All-American, touched 95 mph and sat 89-94, striking out five and allowing one run over four innings. The Canes rallied to win 4-3 in dramatic fashion, scoring three runs in the seventh inning to advance to the championship game, as Lane delivered an opposite-field two-run single.
Strong pitching propped up an offense that struggled to consistently score runs early in the tournament.
“They are a business-like group and my no means did we scoot through this,” Petty said. “We had two one-run games in pool play and we tied a game. We were struggling offensively as a team. We were hitting .218 as a team entering the playoffs. Our pitching staff obviously carried us.”
The Canes catching platoon was the most productive aspect of the offense, as the lefthanded-hitting Justin Morris (Dematha Catholic, Edgewater, Md.) and righthanded-hitting Hunter Taylor (Nandua High, Onley, Va.) shared time behind the dish and designated hitter. Morris, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound Maryland commit, hit .368/.429/.474 with two doubles. Taylor, a 6-foot-1, 210-pound South Carolina commit, hit .350/.440/.450 with four walks against one strikeout. Chase Pinder, the brother of Oakland Athletics 2013 second-rounder Chad, hit .318/.423/.318 with more walks (three) than strikeouts (two). Pinder, who attends Poquoson (Va.) High, is a 6-foot, 165-pound righthanded-hitting shortstop/outfielder committed to Clemson.
This was the Canes’ second championship at a Perfect Game event this year, after winning the PG World Series in Goodyear, Ariz., in July. EvoShield finished second in the inaugural Metropolitan Baseball Classic in New York over Labor Day weekend.
Unlike some teams that are brought together for Jupiter, the Canes’ core has remained largely the same throughout the year.
“They have probably played 100 games together this year and this is a very tight-knit group,” Petty said. “We will bring in a pitcher or two but you have to have that strong nucleus of position players.”
All 22 of the Canes players boast commitments to Division I programs.
The Florida Burn, made up exclusively of players from the Sunshine State, had a strong balance of run scoring and run prevention to advance to the championship game. Catcher Michael Rivera, an offensive star for Team USA committed to Florida, from Venice (Fla.) High hit four doubles and five walks against one walk, finishing with a .286/.423/.476 line. Shortstop Dalton Guthrie, who also attends Venice and is committed to Florida, compiled a .333/.381/.333 line and Lee, a High Point commit, had a strong showing, with a .375/.429/.500 line.
Righthander Austin Bergner (West Orange, Windermere, Fla.) is an exciting 2016 arm that touched 92 with a projectable body.
Although he was not a part of the championship squad, Reds Scout Team catcher Evan Skoug won the tournament’s most valuable player award by hitting .636/.800/1.000 with a double and a home run. The lefthanded-hitting Texas Christian commit from Libertyville (Ill.) High had eight walks against one strikeout. Skoug is a physical beast with a powerful lower half, sloped shoulders and strength throughout his large frame at 5-foot-11, 200 pounds. He is a hard-nosed, high-intensity player with above-average raw power.