FORT MYERS, Fla. – The second of three Super25 Championship games on Sunday took place at jetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Florida, as the Houston Banditos and Tri-State Arsenal battled for the 15u crown.
The 15u Arsenal were in a slump heading into the Super25 tournament, struggling during the Perfect Game World Series last week. “We came down in the Perfect Game World Series, and we got wore out,” Arsenal head coach and former big leaguer Todd Rizzo said. “We had come in with only one loss in the summer, in the WWBA championship game against the Georgia Jackets, and we just couldn’t get it going.”
Things were looking dire for the Arsenal during their first game at the Super25 as well. “We made mistakes early on, and in the middle of the first game of this tournament, it turned around,” Rizzo said. “We actually lost the game, but we were down 10-0, and that’s when it all started to turn. I was basically trying to throw every ounce of energy I had on the field to get them going, and about the fourth inning of that game, we did, we almost won the game, losing 11-9. From that point on, we got back to what we do, we pitch and we play defense.”
The Arsenal carried its momentum from the tournament into the championship. The game was close early on, as the Arsenal were able to chip away and add a couple runs here and there against a tough Banditos staff. The Arsenal only needed a few runs, however, as they were able to ride the pitching performance of their sensational left-hander Jason Groome.
Groome stands at 6‘6” and has an easy low-90s fastball, exhibiting incredibly clean mechanics while spotting his fastball on both sides of the plate. After giving up a leadoff double—that was later erased by a great pickoff throw by catcher Austin Bates—Groome was perfect through the fourth.
“When I was warming up in the bullpen, I felt that my fastball was working, so I knew that was going to be my best pitch, and of course it was,” Groome explained. “Usually my curveball is, I didn’t really have good command of my curveball today though. I threw my changeup a little bit in the game, I got a couple groundballs and a strikeout with it.”
Groome cruised through four innings against the Banditos’ elite offense, making it look easy. However, he ran into trouble in the fifth, walking the first two batters of the inning, his first two walks of the game. “My coach took a visit to the mound and told me that my body was leaking out a little bit, and my arm needed to catch up to my body,” Groome said. “The next pitch, I got a strike and was able to correct myself.”
After correcting himself, Groome made a great play on a sacrifice-bunt attempt to throw out the runner at third, and then settled in to get out of the jam.
Rizzo saw that play as the key moment of the game, as the score was 3-0 at the time and very much still in the balance. “Games turn on one play, and to make that play on the bunt was huge,” Rizzo said. “He makes that play and it turns around the entire game.”
The following inning, the Arsenal offense exploded for six runs, getting big hits from players throughout the lineup. As great as Groome was, he humbly gave his teammates all the credit for the win. “The guys were just hitting today, that’s what really saved us.”
“These guys were on the ball today, the entire lineup was in fantastic form top to bottom,” said Rizzo. It was truly a collective effort on offense, with guys like Tim Miller and Austin Bates leading the charge, banging singles and doubles in the gap all tournament long.
Groome was the biggest star of the day for the Arsenal, as he was able to show off his natural talent while gutting it out for his teammates. “The kid is a warrior, nothing phases him, nothing bothers him, he’s a competitor,” Rizzo said. “He’s going to make a lot of money at the next level, there are no two ways about it. He’s a great kid, every time he comes out nothing bothers him, it’s amazing. I joke with people all the time, I say, ‘if you were to put a big league uniform on him and put him out on the field, and if he could handle the pressure, he gets big league hitters out right now.’ When I talk with people, a lot of my guys who are scouts in professional organizations now or college coaches, they just roll their eyes and can’t believe he’s that good, but he is incredible. He’s a once-in-a-lifetime pitcher, like Mike Trout and guys like that who come along just once in awhile, he’s just incredible. The kid is unbelievable.”
After the offensive explosion and continued excellence of Groome, Arsenal was able to hold on for a 9-1 victory and secure the Super25 National Championship.
On his experience at the Super25 series, Rizzo said, “it was phenomenal, it was a great experience. I’ve been away from home for about three weeks, and this makes it great. It’s a great tournament, this is the kind of baseball I want my guys to play every day. The cream rises to the top, and when you’re playing against great players, wither you fold, or you step up, and these guys stepped up, they were incredible. The Houston Banditos are a fantastic organization, it does wonders for us to be able to come in and beat them. There’s no way I expected to win 9-1. The kids just gained momentum, and they kept coming and never stopped.”
Tri-State Arsenal’s 15u victory was the organization’s second championship of the day, as the 14u squad was able to capture the championship in the early morning game. The two wins put the Arsenal in great position for the Organization of the Year award, and deservedly so after their performance in the Super25 series.