GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The first 2 1/2 days of the 2013 17u Perfect Game World Series proved to be a struggle for the national power Houston Banditos. After four of the seven pool games were played, the proud Banditos were just 12-for-86 (.140) at the plate with 10 singles, and had scored just two runs.
This is a team that can post a batting order featuring 2013 Perfect Game All-American Stone Garrett (2014, Sugar Land, Texas) and talented batsman Justin Twine (2014, Hemphill, Texas), both top 56-ranked prospects in the 2014 class. Yet through the first four games of this Perfect Game national championship, Garrett and Twine were a combined 2-for-21 (.095) with Garrett collecting both singles.
As bad as the offense was, the Banditos' pitching was just as sensational. Six Banditos' pitchers combined to allow one earned run in 23 1/3 innings (0.30 ERA) on 16 hits with 19 strikeouts and 17 walks. The result: a 1-1-2 record at the elite 16-team tournament; considering their run production, that was pretty darned good.
"We've been struggling offensively, I can tell you that," Banditos head coach Robert DeLeon said Tuesday. "We're not swinging the bats like we're capable of, but I will tell you right now that our pitching has been stellar; our pitching has been outstanding. If we can just manufacture some runs I think we're going to be all right."
DeLeon spoke after the Banditos (who improved to 2-1-2 later Tuesday) avoided yet another tie en route to a somewhat controversial 1-0 victory over Team Northwest in a Tuesday afternoon game at one of the Cleveland Indians' minor league/spring training practice fields at the Goodyear Ballpark Recreation Complex.
A balk call against a Team Northwest pitcher in the top of the seventh inning was officially protested by Team Northwest head coach Mike Brooks; the protest was ultimately upheld and the seventh inning was replayed. The Banditos scored in the top of the seventh on an RBI single from Skyler Valentine (2014, Pearland, Texas) and held on for the 1-0 win. There was close to a 40-minute delay in the game while everything was sorted out.
"There is a phrase that I go by and it states, 'Don't stop playing,' and I think these boys relate and respond to that phrase," DeLeon said after the victory was procured. "Today's game was a classic example of 'Don't stop playing'; they didn't quit the whole game."
It was a wild ending to a game that featured a six-inning no-hitter from Banditos left-hander Nick Kennedy (2015, College Station, Texas) and a just as effective seven-inning five-hitter from Team Northwest lefty Austin McWilliams (2014, Phoenix).
Kennedy, an unranked University of Texas commit, threw only fastballs and curve balls with his fastball sitting 81-84 mph and topping off at 88; McWilliams, unranked and uncommitted, used four pitches with limited velocity and threw 88 in all, 62 for strikes.
"I'm very excited for Nick," DeLeon said. "We're very high on Nick -- he's a hard-throwing lefty and he had very good command of his off-speed pitches which set up his fastball. I'm very proud of Nick; he's been pitching well for us all summer, so I decided to go with him today because I felt confident in his ability."
DeLeon even spoke of the possibility of bringing Kennedy back on Thursday if the Banditos advance to the semifinal round of the tournament.
"At this point, everyone's in relief," he said. "We're going to throw the whole kitchen sink at everybody and see if we can muster some wins but before we think ahead we have to take one game at a time. As far as our pitching is concerned, we have our starting rotation set but everyone else is in relief."
The Banditos opened the tournament tying the Florida Burn, 0-0; followed that up with a 1-1 tie with the AZ Baseball Club-Dodgers; and then got no-hit in a 10-0 loss to the EvoShield Canes. After escaping Team Northwest Tuesday afternoon, they later made it two in a row with a dominant 7-0 win over NorCal Baseball; it was the first time the Banditos got their bats going the entire tournament.
Strong pitching almost always seems to be a deciding factor in tournament like the 17u PG World Series when only the top outfits are invited to attend.
The Banditos totaled eight hits -- only four fewer than they had in their previous four games -- and Twine was 2-for-4 with a run scored and Valentine went 2-for-3 with two RBI in the 7-0 win over NorCal. Right-handers Ricardo Salinas (2014, Houston) and Mark Hammel (2014, Cypress, Texas) combined on a especially nifty five-hit shutout with five strikeouts and four walks.
The Banditos, Team Northwest and NorCal Baseball reside in the wacky, wacky Pool B at the 17u PG World Series. After each of the eight teams in the pool had played four games through early Tuesday afternoon, seven of the 16 games played had ended in a tie score. At that point, the EvoShield Canes and AZ Baseball Club-Dodgers had three of four games end in ties and the Florida Burn led the pool with a 2-0-2 record.
"The ties are not hurting us but they're not helping us either," DeLeon said.
At the end of the day Tuesday, five teams in Pool B had won at least two games and they stood in this order: Florida Burn (3-0-2), EvoShield Canes (2-0-3), Houston Banditos (2-1-2), SGV Arsenal (2-2-1) and Tri-State Arsenal (2-3-0).
Wednesday dawns as the final day of pool-play with all 16 teams having two games remaining at the event. The defending champion South Florida Elite Squad-Louisville Slugger and CCB Elite (both 4-1) are positioned nicely to grab the two final four berths out of Pool A -- they face each other in one of the final games of the night -- while Pool B is still a work in progress. And right there is the mix, despite experiencing a boatload of adversity, sit the Houston Banditos.
"This is a close-knit group," DeLeon said. "These kids have played together for awhile and they believe in one another -- they believe in each other, they play for each other, they know how to play for me, I know how to play for them. Losing is not acceptable and they understand that and they play hard."