EMERSON, Ga. – The weather has been quite spotty at this year’s 15u WWBA National Championship as there have been a number of lightening delays that have disrupted games over the course of the last few days. Many starting pitchers have had their day cut short due to a delay, and many teams have found themselves cooling down too much during the delay, leading to mistakes on the field.
It’s hard to go in and out of game mode as a player, and when you have delays it is easy to lose focus. With all the goofing around that goes on during these delays you can see why, but there are some teams who have yet to miss a beat despite the troublesome on and off lightning taking place at the LakePoint complex in Emerson this week.
One of those teams that have yet to miss a beat are the historically successful Houston Banditos Black.
There are just a few undefeated teams left in this tournament, as pool play is coming to a close and the races are tightening up for a much desired spot in the playoffs. Being one of those undefeated teams, the Houston Banditos plan to strive for excellence and finish pool play undefeated. They are well on their way to accomplishing that feat, and by the looks of their pool, an undefeated record might be the only way to advance.
The East Cobb Athletics and eXposure Baseball are both 3-1, and even have more runs scored than the Banditos. Therefore, a win against the Staten Island Orioles Prospects on Monday was imperative.
Prior to Monday the Banditos had only scored 15 runs through their three wins, which is slightly average for an elite team like them. However, it doesn’t really matter how many runs they score, as long as they keep winning. With the phenomenal pitching that they have had, only allowing two runs so far, it’s pretty obvious why they have been able to be so successful with just average run scoring. They are a team that can hit almost any pitcher, but in this tournament they have been big on moving runners over and manufacturing their own runs, rather than going for the power numbers.
Their philosophy seems to be working, and their offensive output against the Orioles today was undeniable proof.
At first glance, this Houston Banditos Black squad looks like they’re playing in the wrong age bracket. The players on this team have tremendous size for being only 15-years old, as they tower over most of the competition. In this game, the Orioles would have to play mistake free baseball to have a chance against this talented group, but they started giving away free bases right from the start.
The Banditos immediately jumped on the board with a pair of base hits and a walk. They scored two of their runs in the first by way of a sacrifice fly and added a grounder that knocked in another, showing that they are selfless group who is not afraid to give away at-bats for the good of the team. The Banditos also do a great job of positive encouragement, as they are constantly picking anyone up who trots back to the dugout with high fives and congratulations.
After that first inning the game was plagued with a dreaded rain delay, which caused a little bit of gap in the action. The Banditos were not phased one bit. Once play resumed in the second inning, they were able to put another run on the board, but in the third inning is where they would tear this game open.
Their bats finally seemed to be coming into their own and they started to be a little bit more aggressive at the plate. They started it off with a clean base hit, but even though they were just beginning to heat up their patience did not falter. The Banditos had no aspirations of helping the Orioles’ pitcher out, and loaded the bases with a pair of walks. The bases loaded situation set up a huge two-run double by Drew Minter. A wild pitch and another sacrifice scored a couple of more runs, making the score 8-0.
At this point, it looked as if the Banditos had this game in the bag, and with how spot-on their pitching has been, that eight run lead was more than enough. They would cruise through the rest of the game and finish with a victory by a score of 11-0 after five innings of play.
This Banditos’ roster is loaded with talent, and already has two big commitments on their team; Jordan Groshans to the University of Texas, and Alerick Soularie to Houston. Plenty of other plays on this squad will be fielding offers over the next year or so, including shortstop Hunter Watson.
So far this tournament, Watson has been struggling, but his coach, Ray Deleon, is confident he will come around eventually. Watson is the second-ranked player in the 2018 class and is known for his huge power from the left side, his fantastic size and projection, and his sound fundamentals at shortstop. Watson has experienced a lot of success at PG events, making two All-Tournament teams over the last two summers and being a part of a winning Banditos squad that won the 14u PG World Series last year.
Watson has a lot of work to do before he is truly polished, but he is well on his way to being one of the next great hitting prospects.
“Coach Deleon and my parents have done so much for me to get to where I’m at,” said a grateful Watson. “My whole familiy, and God, have made me the player I am, and I am so blessed to have this kind of athletic ability. I started working with Coach Deleon when I was 12, and he’s gotten me to a point where I thought I never could have reached.
“I know that I still have a lot to improve on, and defensively I’d like to get better. I’d also like to get quicker and faster. Hitting wise, I want to be able to hit the off-speed better; there is always room for improvement. As far as this tournament goes, I think the way that we play as a team and our camaraderie will take us a long way. We’re just here as a team, playing for each other.”
Head Coach Ray Deleon, and founder of the Banditos program, was absolutely beaming when asked about Watson, and is very impressed with Watson not only as a player, but as a young man.
“Watson is one of our quiet leaders. He’s a dual sport athlete, playing quarterback at his high school,” said a lighthearteded Deleon of his star player. “So far this tournament he has faced pretty much all lefties, so he’s getting the raw end of the deal, but he’s going to keep battling.
“He’s got phenomenal tools; he runs well, hits for power, hits for average, he fields well. He’s a great kid, he just needs to continue to improve. He’s a big lefty hitter, and those are hard to find. He’s definitely a kid that you want your daughter to date. As a dad, you hit the lottery when you get a kid like Hunter to date your daughter.”
Even though this team has a lot of talent, Coach Deleon feels that their success has little to do with the caliber of players they have. He can attribute their success thus far in this tournament to how long this team has been playing together.
“This team has stayed together since they were 10-years old, and we’re lucky that their skill level is still at par to continue their success,” Deleon added. “If you notice, 90 percent of the teams that win out here are teams that have been together for a while, and that’s how great teams win. These kids are battle tested, and have been through ups and downs together, and they compete.”
Even though they are leading their pool Coach Deleon doesn’t want his players to get too comfortable. Being around PG events since its formation, Coach Deleon knows a thing or two about what it takes to win these tournaments, and he is well aware that once you get to the playoffs, it’s anyone’s game.
Even winning your pool is a challenging feat, regardless of the talent you have, and Deleon feels that they are going to need lady luck on their side if they want to win this year’s WWBA 15u National Championship.
“This game is all luck, and I don’t care what anyone tells you,” Deleon said of what it takes to win in the playoffs. “There is not one great team here, and anybody can beat anybody in the playoffs. We still have two more games ahead of us, but anyone can win at any given time, and with the popularity of the new complex and Perfect Game, there are teams coming from everywhere. Our philosophy is that if you hit, you don’t sit, and I think that goes for all levels. It’s just so hard to win, and I’ve been doing this now for 17 years, and the talent keeps getting better.
“Teams that are stacked don’t win anymore, it’s the teams that stick together. They find ways to win. The key for us to win is just meeting the standards that our program sets, and doing whatever it takes to win. I think we’ll come out of our pool, and once we do, it’s a whole new ball game. The key of winning these games is to gamble. To win these tournaments, and I don’t care what anybody says, you have to be lucky and you have to gamble.”