Tournaments | Story | 9/28/2014

Sliding along at WWBA South Q

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

TOMBALL, Texas – Team goals and individual goals are indelibly intertwined at a Perfect Game tournament like the PG WWBA South Qualifier, with the team goals ultimately taking precedent.

The San Antonio and Houston-based South Texas Sliders are here on a mission and after doing just about everything right through their first four games, both the team goals and the individual goals are looking more and more attainable.

“We’ve just played extremely well and we have a really good group here,” South Texas Sliders president and head coach Scott Mayer said Sunday from one of the fields at the Premier Baseball of Texas facility. “We haven’t done 18-year-old teams in the summer a lot lately, so this is sort of a last hurrah here with them, so it’s really kind of a neat deal.”

And for the Sliders’ top prospects like 2015 catcher Jason Sellers from Missouri City, Texas, advancing into the quarterfinals at a high level tournament such as this just means he’ll continue to have an opportunity to face some of the best competition in the region. He is considered a top-550 national prospect in his class and has committed to the University of Texas-San Antonio.

“I know in college I’m going to see (high level) pitchers, and this is like reps for me,” Sellers said Sunday. “I’m understanding the game (better) and teaching the younger players the game, and getting as many reps as I can for the next level. I like going out there and facing the best, just for bragging rights and succeeding; everything is fun about it.”

And that is how team and individual goals can intertwine at the PG WWBA South Qualifier.

The 16-team playoff field came together Sunday morning after the completion of pool-play, with the Austin (Texas) Banditos (3-0-0) and Texas Drillers out of Houston grabbing the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, respectively; they received first-round byes right into Sunday afternoon’s quarterfinal round.

The South Texas Black Sox out of San Antonio and the Sliders received the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds, respectively. Although the teams share the “South Texas” name at the front of their titles they are from separate organizations.

The Sliders earned the No. 4 seed in the playoffs by winning three pool-play games by a combined 30-3 and moved into the quarterfinals with a 6-0 win over the No. 13 Dallas Patriots 17u Red Sunday afternoon.

2015 left-hander Mason Hellums from Corpus Christi, Texas, threw a complete game, three-hit shutout with five strikeouts to collect the win against the Dallas Pats 17u Red. Hellums, a Rice University commit ranked in the top-550 nationally, picked up a save Saturday afternoon when he came into a 3-2 ballgame and struck out all six of the batters he faced.

In the Sliders’ pool-play opener on Friday against the Houston Banditos, 2015 right-hander Kevin Kopps, an Arkansas recruit from Sugar Land, Texas, pitched six innings of three-hit ball without allowing an earned run, striking out 11 and walking one. It seemed to set the tone for the rest of the weekend.

“It’s been fun, playing just kind of relaxed baseball, I guess,” Kopps said Sunday. “We’re not worrying about anything; just having fun playing. When I go out there, pitching is just fun. And with the other players, it’s fun talking to them and (hearing) what they have to say about everything.”

Through four games, five Sliders’ pitchers combined for a 0.54 team ERA and allowed just 12 hits while striking out 36 and walking five in 26 innings.

The bats were active, too, posting a .373 team batting average. No was more active than 2015 outfielder Eddy Gonzalez from Laredo, Texas, who hit .750 (9-for-12) with a triple, a home run, four RBI and four runs scored. Gonzalez is uncommitted and unranked.

Mayer explained that in the past the Sliders organization – which has been around for 12 years – separated players from the San Antonio, Corpus Christi and Houston areas and this past summer this group played on two separate teams. They were brought together for the first time this weekend for the South Qualifier, and all the subsequent tournament teams from this point forward will include prospects from all across South Texas.

“These are just baseball players that love to play the game,” Mayer said. “Sometimes that’s easy to say and sometimes you can just roll out with great (players) and when they get in this setting they’re just going through the motions. We don’t go through the motions, so I think that sometimes that’s what sets us apart.

“We have great arms but we also have guys that are dirt-bag type players who really come to play every game and that helps in a format like this.”

The Sliders don’t participate in fall tournaments as a rule, opting instead to attend camps at various Texas colleges in an attempt to get their players some exposure in front of the right people. They requested and received an invitation to the PG WWBA South Qualifier to further that exposure while also playing for a paid invitation to the PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., Oct. 23-27, a prize that goes to the tournament champion.

“This is kind of the perfect deal because the fall is what it is, but it’s fun to be able to go one event where you kind of have a little something on the line and you kind of play a little differently than you’re used to,” Mayer said. “We certainly came here with (the Jupiter invitation) in mind, like everyone else does, I’m sure. We felt like we had a legitimate shot with the talent we have.”

The Sliders played the last three days without a handful of top 500-ranked prospects that were on their initial roster, including 2016 middle-infielder Jaxon Williams from Rosenberg, Texas, an Arkansas commit ranked 155th nationally. Mayer said that if the team is playing Monday, Williams might be able to join them.

 “We’ve put together a team from all around Texas and it’s going pretty well,” Sellers said. “We’ve got a couple of young guys, a couple of old guys, a couple of experienced guys and we’ve just really hit the ball well and fielded well and pitched well. We’ve worked as a team and we’ve had a lot of fun. … Everybody’s contributing and it’s a family.

“The coaches let us play ball the way we know how to play ball,” he concluded. “We go out there and have fun playing the game we love.”

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