FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Before his Houston Banditos-Black squad had won its playoff quarterfinal game at the 13u PG BCS Finals national championship tournament Tuesday afternoon, head coach Ray DeLeon pulled no punches when asked what his expectations were.
"Anything less than winning this championship is unacceptable," he said. "If we don't win this championship it's wasted time, a wasted trip, wasted money, wasted everything. You set the bar for them and then you make them accountable."
Those are pretty stern words for 13-year-olds, but DeLeon has never been accepting of anything but the highest rung on the ladder. His Banditos-Black squad reached that rung Wednesday afternoon, but had to share it.
The top-seeded Houston Banditos-Black (9-0) and the No. 2 Chain Stealth (9-0) were named co-champions at the 13u PG BCS Finals after light-show type lightning and unrelenting rain forced the cancellation of the remaining innings in their semifinal games being played at the Lee County Sports Complex. The Banditos-Black were leading FTB Sports 55 Elite, 9-1, in the fifth inning and the Chain Stealth were up on the Richmond Braves Nationals, 4-1, in the sixth when the games were called official.
The two were declared co-champs based on the fact that they were leading their semifinal games in the late going and that they were the top-seeded teams still alive in the tournament.
"We've done Elite 32, we've played AABC in Puerto Rico, we've been to Cooperstown, but this event by far is the most fun, the most organized event we've been a part of," Chain Stealth head coach Derick Simon said on Tuesday.
The Stealth turned heads with their play here over the past six days -- at the plate, on the mound and in the field. Based in Warren Robins, Ga., this team was formerly known as the Stealth Bombers back when these players were 8 or 9 years old and is playing under the Chain Baseball umbrella this summer for the first time.
They came into their semifinal game hitting .422 as a team and averaging nearly 10 runs per game. Simon had used nine pitchers over 43 innings and they had combined to give up only 26 hits while posting a team ERA of 1.47.
Through eight games, Tyler Simon (2017, Leesburg, Ga.) hit .591 (13-for-22) with five RBI and 10 runs scored; Malik Spratling (2017, Leesburg, Ga.) .471 (8-for-17) with four doubles, a home run, seven RBI and 13 runs; Leyton Pinckney (2018, Kathleen, Ga.), .471 (8-for-17) with five doubles, 10 RBI and nine runs; and Austin Thompson (2017, Rincon, Ga.) .462 (12-for26) with 13 RBI and eight runs).
Right-hander Hunter Goodwin (2018, Sylvester, Ga.) was the workhorse of the pitching staff, working nine innings over three appearances and giving up no earned runs on two hits.
"This has been a great run," Simon said Tuesday. "We're very excited to be here; our pitching has been phenomenal and everybody is hot with the bats. Our pitching has been strong all year -- it's been consistent and this is the deepest we've been since we put this team together. It has been the backbone of the team the entire year."
After dominating during pool-play, Chain Stealth strolled into the final four in equally impressive fashion. They dropped No. 15 Oklahoma Elite (5-2) in the first round, 12-0, and the No. 10 GCBA Black Sox (4-3-1) were no match in the quarterfinals, 8-1.
"This is just a tough group of boys," Simon said. "They're very resilient and they never give up, no matter if we're down 10 or up 10, they always give 110 percent. They're just a very resilient group of guys."
Two ties during pool-play were the only blemishes on the Richmond Braves' record as they entered the semifinals. They dug in their heels right away in the playoffs, claiming an 11-2 win over the No. 11 Tampa Venom in the first round before surprising the No. 3 SC Crush (7-1) with an 8-0 shutout win in the quarters.
The Banditos-Black got two hits apiece from Michael Cooper (2017, Sugarland, Texas), Drew Minter (2017, League City, Texas), and Hunter Townsend (2018, Carthage, Texas), and Cooper and Minter each drove in two runs while they were building their 9-1 lead over FTB Sports 55 Elite in the semifinals. Thomas Burbank (2017, Beaumont, Texas) worked four strong innings, allowing four hits and striking out four before the game was stopped.
In addition to his handiwork on the mound, Burbank was sensational at the plate over the first eight games, hitting .588 (10-for-17) with two doubles, a home run, 16 RBI and seven runs scored; Alerick Soularie (2017, Houston) hit .524 (11-for-21) with five doubles, two triples, a home run, 13 RBI and nine runs; and Townsend hit .500 (10-for-20) with four doubles, a triple, home run, 10 ribbies and 11 runs.
Hunter Watson (2018, Denison, Texas), one of the team's most promising hitters, pitched seven inning of shutout, two-hit ball while striking out six and walking one.
"This just shows that the program's building; we always reload with great young athletes," DeLeon said Tuesday. "It's good for them to get a taste of this stuff early so when they do get here, (when they're older) they're ready for the grease."
The Banditos-Black road to the semifinals was not without its bumps. They rallied from a four-run seventh inning deficit to beat the No. 16 San Diego Show (4-2-1) in the first round, 7-6. They then dumped the No. 8 St. Pete Saints (6-2) in the quarterfinals, 15-7, after giving up three runs in the top of the first inning.
If only seeding was taken into consideration, FTB Sports 55 Elite was the surprise team of the final four. But considering it brought a 7-1 record into the semis and had eliminated the No. 4 seed Central Florida Gators (5-2) and the No. 5 Houston Banditos (6-2) in the first round and the quarterfinals, FTB Sports 55 Elite proved it deserved to be playing on Wednesday.