By VINNIE PORTELL
Fresh off repeating as high school state champions, some members of the Venice High baseball team took their talents to the national stage last week.
Representing their home state, team Florida went 4-0 in the first-ever High School Baseball National Championship, beating out California, 8-1, in the title game in Houston — beating out the seven other states in the competition.
“The whole premise of it was that there’s enough showcases out there,” Venice coach Craig Faulkner said. “We wanted to bring a team that was gonna win the thing.”
But as is the case with Venice baseball, the National Championship tournament was about more than just showing off or winning a trophy.
“For Team Florida, we’ve all played with or against each other, so we all knew each other,” Guscette said. “We had really good chemistry.”
Several members of Team Florida also happened to be players for the Florida Burn — a travel ball league that the best talent in southwest Florida plays in.
While Florida coaches Greg Olsen (Calvary Christian) and Craig Faulkner had their pick of some of the most talented players in the country, their approach was to select “team players” who would do whatever it took to win games such as laying down a bunt in a big spot — something Florida tried often.
The three Indians chosen to participate — Mac Guscette, Michael Robertson and Jacob Faulkner — all played significant roles in winning the title.
Both Guscette (catcher) and Robertson (right fielder) had hits in the championship, and Faulkner threw 4 1/3 innings of no-hit baseball.
Guscette also threw out three runners attempting to steal a base, killing several rallies for Team California.
The championship game was broadcast on ESPNU, and each of the three games leading up to it was shown on ESPN+. Being on national television was a first for all the Indians, and one they took the time to savor.
“That was really cool being able to watch the game afterwards,” Jacob Faulkner said of his first time playing on TV. “My dad has an ESPN+ account, so I was able to log on and watch it. It’s like a whole ‘nother game playing it and then going back and watching it. It was such a cool experience.”
Jacob Faulkner had plenty of reasons to smile as he watched the game back later that night.
With the game tied at 1-1 in the top of the fourth inning, Faulkner came in to relieve starting pitcher Camden Minacci with Guscette behind the plate.
The two quickly went to work, with Guscette ending the inning by throwing out a runner and Faulkner returning to the mound to silence Team California through the eighth inning of the nine-inning game. When he was eventually pulled, Florida held an 8-1 lead.
“That’s not something I’m really used to,” Faulkner said of pitching multiple innings. “With the TV on you, having to be more focused and going longer than I usually do, it was a lot of pressure. But it was also a lot of fun. I had really good teammates who were really supportive. There was a lot of positive energy going into it.”
The standout performance is already paying off for the right-handed sidearm pitcher, as he’s begun to receive interest from schools since his championship performance.
While Guscette and Robertson are already committed to the University of Florida, Faulkner has yet to make his decision.
“It’s been really effecting my life so far actually,” Faulkner said of his success in the title game. “Just this week and the week before, I’ve had quite a few colleges contacting me. It’s really exciting.”
With the National Championship behind them, the Indians will return their focus to playing for the Florida Burn throughout the summer.
In fact, they flew out to Georgia to compete in another tournament immediately after winning the title last week in Texas.
The grind truly never stops for the players at Venice High, but they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I just wanted to bring the championship home to the state of Florida,” Guscette said. “Since it was the first one ever, we all wanted to be the first champions of this new event.
“It’s just crazy. You do it for the brothers you’re with. I mean yeah, it’s cool for yourself, too. But you make lifelong memories with the kids you’re with and lifelong friendships with the brothers you played with. I think that’s more important than winning.”