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Florida Burn Wins 2018 Perfect Game WWBA World Championship

Image credit: Florida Burn (Photo by Carlos Collazo)

JUPITER, Fla. — At the 2017 Perfect Game World Wood Bat Association (WWBA) World Championship, Florida Burn Platinum was eliminated in the first round of bracket play. Shortstop and third baseman Joshua Rivera — one of the most talented players on the team as a junior — struggled mightily at the plate and went hitless across four games and 12 plate appearances.

One year later at the 2018 edition of the tournament, those two facts couldn’t be further away in the rearview mirror.

Florida Burn Platinum played twice as many games in the 20th year of the event, winning all eight of their games and outscoring their opponents 25-9, including a 2-0 championship game victory over Canes National — all with Rivera, the co-MVP of the tournament, leading the way.

“Josh is the most talented player on our team, no doubt about it,” said Florida Burn General Manager Mark Guthrie, who pitched 15 years in the major leagues. “He’s physical, but he is competitive. There’s a lot of talented guys who are not winning today. But you have to have that guy to rally around. The kids have to be able to see that. And he makes everyone around him better.”

Hitting in the three-hole and playing shortstop for Florida Burn over the last five days, Rivera hit .438/.545/.625 with a home run, six RBIs and six runs, tacking on four stolen bases in four attempts for good measure. A 6-foot-2, 205-pound infielder, Rivera has some strength currently with plenty of more coming in the future as he continues to develop.

“I’m more of a consistent hitter,” said Rivera, who is committed to Florida. “Power is going to come, but what my dad always tells me (is) homers will come by themselves. So I try to stick with my consistency. Just step in there, stick to my approach, try to barrel anything. Any pitch that’s there I just try to put the barrel on it and stick opposite field mostly. Because I have an inside-out swing, but if it’s an inside pitch I’ll pull the hands onto it.”

Rivera had a quiet championship game, going 0-for-2 at the plate, but it’s hard to envision the team making the championship in the first place without his efforts at the plate, in the field, and—more surprisingly—on the mound.

“(Rivera) pitched the other day and was battling through against the East Cobb ST team,” Guthrie said of the 1.2 relief innings Rivera threw in the second round. “And again, he’s a talented kid, he throws 88-90 mph, but he doesn’t pitch a lot. He came in to shut a game down for us, and (he’s) very emotional in a good way—a competitive emotional. But you have to have that guy. You can have a bunch of gritty guys, but that one leader gets you to the next level.”

Rivera helped elevate Florida Burn to the championship level, but from there, his teammates helped shoulder the load. First baseman William Bartlett—an Arizona commit who also plays high school ball with Rivera at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.—got Florida Burn on the scoreboard in the first inning with a hard-hit, RBI single down the first base line. Bartlett went 1-for-1 with a walk in the championship game and hit .400/.526/.600 with one home run and six RBIs over the course of the tournament, giving the Burn a powerful 3-4 punch in the middle of their lineup.

Bartlett also flashed the leather at first base, snagging a hard line drive that started a double play in the second inning, and in the seventh inning he threw his large, 6-foot-3, 220-pound frame to the left to make a difficult diving catch that prevented an extra-base hit, which could have gotten the Canes back in the game.

Thin on arms, a pair of primary position players toed the rubber in relief for the Burn against one of the deepest lineups in the tournament. Outfielder Cameron Waderman threw 2.1 innings and allowed just two hits, while leadoff hitter Mac Guscette closed out the final 2.1 innings without allowing a hit.

“We were short on pitchers because we don’t really have all of our pitchers with us,” Rivera said. “So we just threw some position guys in and they went out there and did their job. Pounded the strike zone, got the batters guessing at what was coming and we just made all the routine plays and did everything we needed to do situationally.”

Guthrie agreed.

“We had guys pitching at the end who don’t get to pitch a lot,” he said. “But we put our best competitors on the mound and winners win. Those guys are going to compete.”

In addition to his work on the mound, Guscette went 1-for-3 at the plate and had a two-out, RBI single in the sixth inning that gave the Burn a much-needed insurance run to make the score 2-0. Predominantly a catcher, Guscette is a member of the 2020 draft class and, like Rivera, also committed to Florida.

“Mac is a winner,” Guthrie said. “He is an unbelievable catcher. He is probably the most underrated player in his class. Whether he goes to pro ball or to the University of Florida, he’s going to lead his team wherever he goes and we’re fortunate enough to have him for another year.”

For now, though, the Burn are going to celebrate this one. After getting eliminated early in 2017, they managed to put everything together and go a perfect 8-0, winning the biggest travel ball tournament in the country against plenty of teams who were the supposed favorites against them.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” Rivera said, in between taking celebration pictures with his teammates and his new MVP trophy. “As a team we’ve always been ruled the underdog, every tournament we’ve played in. Everybody usually thought it was an easy game against us, but then we started advancing. … It was tough—for both teams. It’s big time. It’s big for our organization.”

It’s certainly a big accomplishment for the Florida Burn, but for Guthrie—who spent several innings of the championship game receiving and passing along encouraging texts from former players—it was about something else.

“You know what, it’s more important for the kids, really, than the program,” Guthrie said.

“I love the memory of it for them, going forward. … When they are juniors in college, hopefully we have another team here one day, they take pride in it and it’s something for them. It’s an experience, hopefully, that they can remember forever.”

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