JUPITER, Fla. — Last year, Florida Burn wasn’t expected to win Perfect Game’s WWBA World Championship. The team entered the 2018 tournament with low expectations from most people outside of the organization.
They answered by winning every game they played and beating one of the perceived favorites—Canes National—in the championship game.
So, naturally, they would be given more credit a year later, right?
Not the case.
“Coming in, we were the underdogs again,” Florida Florida Burn 2020 Platinum catcher Mac Guscette said. “We were the ‘dark horse’ as they called us. We won the tournament last year and went undefeated as well. We weren’t supposed to win a game. I think that really fired us up last year and again this year. It was the same thing.”
After the 2018 team won eight straight games and outscored its opponents 25-9, the 2019 version of the club followed the same script. The Burn went 3-0 in group play before storming through the bracket and winning back-to-back WWBA World Championships, topping the Dirtbags, 11-2, in the championship game.
“They’re great. That’s a big group of kids and they can swing it,” Florida Burn general manager Mark Guthrie said about the Dirtbags. “But when you get this late in tournaments anything can happen. This game could have easily gone the other way. Kids get tired and play five games in two days. We always preach to our guys, ‘You have to get off to a good start.’ If you can take the wind out of the other team’s sails early it really helps.
“And shoot, their guy hits a leadoff home run so that wasn’t going to happen.”
In the top of the first inning, Dirtbags leadoff hitter and center fielder Jake DeLeo—who posted a 1.132 OPS after going 10-for-24 with seven walks during the tournament—got his team on the board with a long home run to left field.
But the Burn answered back immediately in the bottom of the frame thanks to an RBI double off the left-field wall from Guscette to even things at 1-1. Shortly thereafter, Guscette would score from third base to give the Burn a 2-1 lead that they later expanded to an 11-1 lead with a game-breaking nine-run effort in the bottom of the third.
For his efforts in the championship game and throughout the entire tournament—both offensively and handling the pitching staff behind the plate—Guscette was named the tournament MVP.
The Florida commit went 10-for-22 (.455) with three doubles, two walks, six runs and five RBIs this year, after also being a member of the championship-winning 2018 Burn team.
“I feel like I came back as a leader,” Guscette said. “(The semifinal) game, it was just like our championship game last year, we were tied 1-1 and then we just stayed up the whole game and knew something was going to happen.”
Burn second baseman Vince Smith played the hero in that semifinal matchup against Padres Scout Team/ECB, hitting a walk-off home run to left field in the bottom of the ninth inning to break a 1-1, extra-inning tie and push the Burn to the final.
“I’ve just been thinking really small lately,” Guscette said. “Just trying to hit the ball hard. I just felt so into the game this weekend—and even all summer and fall. I don’t know, I like having these teammates behind me. They always pick me up.”
The Burn outscored opponents 43-10 and pitched two shutouts during the tournament. The most runs a team would put up against their pitching staff was three runs—by Team Citius National 2020 during the Burn’s third group play game, a 7-3 win—and the the pitching staff managed all that success despite pitching with fastballs in the low 80s for the majority of the tournament.
“Our pitchers, they aren’t the hardest throwers, but they just hit their spots,” Guscette said. “They know how to pitch, they know how to throw everything for a strike and they just know how to control the game. This shows that you don’t have to throw hard to win.”
Four different Florida Burn pitchers threw at least seven innings without allowing an earned run. Righthander Daniel Vassallo threw 8.2 innings with 10 strikeouts and no walks; righthander Jacob Faulkner threw 8.1 innings and struck out six batters; lefthander Sam Drumheller threw eight innings and struck out eight batters; and righthander Trace Goforth threw seven innings with six strikeouts.
The Burn have also showed—in back-to-back years now—that you don’t need to have the most star-studded roster to win the most prestigious trophy in travel ball. For them, it’s all about the familiarity of the roster. Playing with a group of players that you are comfortable with and that you’ve played with for years.
“All of us are so close, we all play high school ball together or against each other, and I just feel like whenever someone went down then that person behind them would pick them up,” Guscette said. “We’d be in the dugout the entire time cheering them on.
“I think that’s good because I like knowing everyone, especially my pitchers. Knowing what I can do to calm them down and even everyone, just being able to talk to everyone and calm them down or pick them up when they need it.”
Perhaps other teams will start to follow that model to try and replicate their success. Because regardless of the expectations put on them from others, success is the only thing that Florida Burn has known the last two years in Jupiter.
“Man, to tell you the truth, it’s even more amazing to come here and win 16 games in a row,” Guthrie said. “I don’t know if that’s happened before.
“I’m just really happy for them, man. You watched last year’s team do it and they were excited about it. A lot of these guys were here last year. And it’s a great moment for them. Hopefully something they remember for the rest of their lives and see each other later on and can reminisce over that. It’s a really cool thing for these guys and I’m really happy for them.”