JUPITER, Fla.--No one would be surprised to hear that the two teams playing in the championship game of the 2017 World Wood Bat Association (WWBA) World Championship were represented by FTB and the Canes.
Routinely carrying some of the top talent into Jupiter, Fla., for the biggest amateur tournament in the country, both FTB and the Canes carried some of the highest-ranked prospects in the 2018 MLB Draft Class. Throughout the weekend leading up to Monday’s championship, the FTB/SF Giants Scout Team and the Canes National team had their games attended by a pantheon of golf-cart-perched scouts.
But the Canes team representing the organization in the championship game wasn’t the National team--the organization’s A team, which rostered five top 50 prep draft prospects--but the C team, Canes Prospects.
And after a nine-inning 8-7 victory over FTB and the top-ranked prospect at the event, Nander De Sedas, it was Canes Prospects standing as the final team. A team made up almost entirely of underclassmen.
“It feels different,” said Canes catcher C.J. Rodriguez, a 2019 Vanderbilt commit responsible for the winning run after leading off the top of the ninth with a double. “We're used to watching the older guys win everything, and this year they didn't get it done. So we had to step in for them.
“We said, 'We're here. Might as well just win it.'”
Much easier said, than done.
The Canes endured a brutal, grinding schedule where they played three games on Sunday, starting at 8 a.m., and another three starting Monday morning, culminating in the championship victory. Monday included two extra-inning games. First in the semi-final round when it took 11 innings to take down the AZ D-Backs Scout Team, 3-1, and immediately thereafter in the 9-inning matchup with FTB.
Rodriguez caught each inning of the extra-long games.
“I'm really tired,” he said. “I really just want to go home and lay in my bed. But it's exciting to end the fall with the championship.”
Rodriguez wasn’t the only one who endured a long final 48 hours in Jupiter, though. Florida righthander Dylan Delucia--one of the few players on Canes Prospects who has yet to commit--was already back home in New Smyrna Beach, Fla., more than two hours north of Roger Dean Stadium.
After pitching once earlier in the tournament, Delucia had turned in his jersey, thanked coach Mike Petty and said his goodbye to all of his teammates. He assumed he was done in Jupiter for the year. But he got a call late Sunday night.
“(Coach Petty) called me up at 2:00 in the morning,” Delucia said. “And he says, 'Dylan, how fast can you get here?' I said I can get there in two hours if you need it. So me and my mom zoomed down here, got here first game. (We) made a comeback, (won in the quarterfinals) and then got to (the semi-finals) and he said you've got the ball.
Delucia took the ball and shoved.
He threw 7.2 innings against a talented AZ D-backs Scout Team, striking out eight batters and walking one while allowing just one unearned run on 99 pitches before handing the ball to 2019 righthander Tyler Nesbitt. Nesbitt tossed 3.1 shutout innings before the Canes wound up winning in the eleventh inning.
“We were going in today and we knew that we had six kids who could pitch,” coach Mike Petty said. “Jack Jasiak threw a complete game the first game and then the next game went 11 innings, but we only had to throw two guys. Delucia threw 99 pitches in eight innings. And then Nesbitt came in and shut the door.”
Both the Canes and FTB were down to their final arms in the championship game, and both teams had to resort to pitching players whose futures are solidly in the batter’s box, not on the mound. Without Delucia’s effort in the semi-finals, the Canes might have had to go to position players earlier, and the first place trophy might never have been there’s to claim.
Because of that, Delucia was named the World Championship’s Most Valuable Pitcher.
“Ninety-nine pitches is a lot,” Delucia said. “I don't usually do that. But it was one of those things where you felt it and you have to keep going . . . Friday was a rough day, (I started) off really bad. Walking the first batter, beaming the second, walking the third. So coming back, bouncing back to this was a really good outing.
“It was absolutely amazing. I've never been here, never played in a tournament like this. Truly a blessing to win this.”
Petty echoed those comments shortly after a few sleep deprived, yet animated Canes players showered him with a Gatorade cooler full of cold, ice water.
“It's great. It's awesome,” he said. “I think, obviously the kids are amazing, and we're going to be very strong next year with the older group, I mean that speaks for itself. It's just our organization. Our General Manager, Dan Gitzen, he probably works 80 hours a week, working his tail off, getting players. And then obviously my brother (Jeff Petty) owns it. It's incredible what he's built, to have players with heart like this and attitude like this.
“There were tons of kids here who were obviously prospects. Like you saw, we were playing last night, and there was nothing on us all week. Because we're younger. But not everyone can have heart, and we get to choose that. And these guys have that.”