HOUSTON -- The Houston Banditos Black brought real star power to last year's Perfect Game WWBA South Qualifier. They're back with even more fire power this year.
The 5th PG WWBA South Qualifier is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 15 through Monday, Sept. 17 at Baseball USA and seven other venues around the Houston metropolitan area. The tournament's champion receives an expense-paid invitation to next month's prestigious PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla.
In its short four-year history -- the first two South Qualifiers were held in 2004 and '05, the two most recent in 2010 and '11 -- the PG WWBA South Qualifier has already provided an important stage for prospects looking for an opportunity to play professionally. Forty-nine alumni have been drafted in the first 10 rounds of the MLB amateur draft in just the last two years.
Four alumni of the 2011 event were first round selections in June's draft: Gavin Cecchini (Mets), Courtney Hawkins (White Sox), Ty Hensley (Yankees) and Stryker Trahan (Diamondbacks). Tyler Gonzales (Blue Jays) was a first round compensation pick.
Cecchini, Hensley and Trahan all played with the Texas Sun Devils last September. Hawkins was with the Banditos Black and Gonzales with the Action Baseball Club.
This year's South Qualifier field consists of 40 teams, with 38 from Texas, one from Louisiana and one from Ontario, Canada. They'll be vying for that coveted championship and the lucrative reward that accompanies it.
The Banditos Black earned that reward a year ago when they beat the Dallas Patriots-Valdez in the South Qualifier championship game at the University of Texas' Disch-Falk Field in Austin. They did it with the help of 2011 Perfect Game All-Americans Courtney Hawkins and C.J. Hinojosa (Hinojosa was the tournament MVP) and a supporting cast of 16 teammates that had joined them in making NCAA Division I commitments.
This year's Banditos Black roster is even more impressive, with at least 20 prospects from the classes of 2013 and 2014 who have already made D-I commitments. That's from a 25-man roster that includes uncommitted 2014s Stone Garrett (Sugarland, Texas) and Justin Twine (Hemphill, Texas). Garrett, an outfielder, is ranked No. 10 nationally in his class and shortstop Twine is ranked No. 24.
There are four 2012 Perfect Game All-Americans on the Banditos Black roster: outfielder Nick Banks (2013, Tomball, Texas), a Texas A&M recruit; right-hander/first baseman Kacy Clemens (2013, Houston), Texas; right-hander Casey Shane (2013, Burleson, Texas), Texas A&M; and right-hander Kohl Stewart (2013, Tomball, Texas), Texas A&M.
Stewart's availability for the tournament is uncertain because he is the middle of his senior football season at Tomball High School. A top national football recruit that is also ranked as the No. 4 national baseball prospect by Perfect Game, he has accepted a football scholarship offer from A&M.
Another top right-hander on the Banditos' roster is Bryce Welborn (2013, The Woodlands, Texas), who in July was named the Most Valuable Pitcher at the PG WWBA 2013 Grads or 17u National Championship in Marietta, Ga., after the Banditos won that national title.
The Banditos Black have enjoyed a successful 2012 season to date. In addition to the championship at the PG WWBA 17u National Championship, they also finished as runner-up at the 16u Perfect Game World Series in Marietta in late July, and Twine was named the elite tournament's MVP. Another team carrying the Houston Banditos name finished third at the 14u Perfect Game World Series.
The South Qualifier championship trophy won't be handed to the Banditos Black, of course. The Dallas Patriots will field a team looking to improve on their runner-up finish from a year ago, and the Texas Sun Devils and Action Baseball Club -- both semifinalist in 2011 -- are back again.
The Sun Devils will miss their three first-round picks from a year ago, of course, but still look strong. Right-hander Casey Meisner (2013, Cypress, Texas) has committed to Texas Tech and first baseman Bryce Jordon (2014, Lake Charles, La.) has committed to LSU.
The Houston Heat, the organization that won the first two South Qualifiers in 2005 and '06, also has a strong team entered with four 2013 D-I recruits on their roster. The most prominent is third baseman and 2012 Perfect Game All-American Cavan Biggio (2013, Houston), the son of future hall-of-famer Craig Biggio and a Virginia recruit.