Youthful MVP Banditos reign in Underclass
FORT MYERS, Fla. – The roster Miami-based MVP Banditos’ general manager Mike Sagaro brought to this weekend’s Perfect Game WWBA East Labor Day Classic (Underclass) tournament is filled with Florida prospects that are just beginning their freshman year in high school. The PG WWBA ELDC Underclass is generally designed for teams with loads of sophomores and juniors.
But when your head coach for this tournament is retired 19-year major league veteran Raul Ibanez and one of his assistants is retired nine-year MLB veteran Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez – and both have sons playing on the team with the same name – nothing MVP achieves should surprise anyone.
The Banditos – forced to play a first-round playoff game because they weren’t seeded in the brackets’ top-four – used seven hits to score single runs in each of the first and third innings and four in the sixth, and outlasted Weston, Fla.-based South Florida Baseball, 6-2, in the championship game played on Field 6 at the jetBlue Player Development Complex. MVP finished the weekend 6-0-0 while South Florida, which did receive a top-four seed, bowed out at 4-1-0.
“What Mike (Sagaro) and El Duque have done with these players is really exceptional,” Ibanez said after the team accepted its championship trophy. “They’re prepared to play, the attitude; just a bunch of great kids. We have great players and a great team, but more importantly they’re really great kids that are very respectful and listen and want to get better.
“They were unfazed by their opponents – their size and their age – and nobody really talked about it,” he said. “I was really impressed with that.”
High school freshman (class of 2020) Abner Benitez was 2-for-3 with a double, three RBI and a run scored, and 2020 Samuel Infante went 2-for-3 with an RBI and two runs to lead the Banditos’ seven-hit attack in the championship game.
Infante, a 6-foot, 155-pound middle-infielder from Hialeah, Fla., batted 9-for-15 (.600) with a pair of doubles, two RBI, six runs scored and three stolen bases in MVP’s six wins and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
The Banditos’ 2020 right-hander Albert Hernandez (no relation to Orlando) worked six innings and gave up two earned runs on two hits with 12 strikeouts and three walks. He took a no-hitter into the sixth but one of the two hits he gave-up in the frame was a two-run single off the bat of SFB’s Emmanuel Rodriguez.
Hernandez, a 5-foot-11, 170-pound U. of Miami commit from Davie, Fla., was named the Most Valuable Pitcher. He also stood out at Sunday night's PG Select Baseball Festival played at jetBlue Park.
“They make adjustments fast – you say something to them and they adjust quickly,” Ibanez said of the young players he coached this weekend. “They want to learn, and that’s the most important thing. They want to learn, they want to get better and they’re appreciative of the instruction that El Duque has given them and that I’ve given them and (the other coaches) have given them.
“These are kids that really want to play baseball, they love to play baseball and they want to get better,” he concluded. “They want to achieve their highest goals and they want to get to the next level. What I’ve found very impressive about this group is that they’re very open and hungry for knowledge; they want to learn.”
2016 WWBA East Labor Day Classic (Underclass) champions: MVP Banditos
2016 WWBA East Labor Day Classic (Underclass) runner-up: South Florida Baseball
2016 WWBA East Labor Day Classic (Underclass) MVP: Samuel Infante
2016 WWBA East Labor Day Classic (Underclass) MV-Pitcher: Albert Hernandez
TBSA Patriots gain upper-hand at Upperclass
FORT MYERS, Fla. – Two days ago, in the hours before the Clearwater, Fla.-based Total Baseball Sports Academy (TBSA) Patriots played their first of two games Saturday at the PG WWBA East Labor Day Classic (Upperclass) tournament, head coach Robert Rodriguez delivered a message to his team.
“We had a couple of players missing, and pitchers missing, as well,” Rodriguez related Monday. “I told the boys before the tournament started, I said, ‘Hey, we’re going to war and we’re going with what we’ve got. That’s the way I’ve always been and you guys know that.’
“I’m a firm believer that you keep the team chemistry (viable) that way and I’m a firm believer that it shows the boys, hey, ‘He believes in us. Let’s go ahead and hold the fort down for him.’”
Rodriguez’s boys not only held the fort down, they raised a championship flag high over the stockade.
The Patriots (5-0-0) plated four runs on seven hits – a single run in the first and three more in the fourth – and received a second strong start from 2017 right-hander Cody Lisenby, and got past the Charlotte Chrush out of Punta Gorda, Fla., 4-2, in the championship game played Monday on Field 5 at the jetBlue Player Development Complex.
“I’m extremely proud of all the boys because we came to this tournament already short-handed as it was,” Rodriguez said.
Ivan Rodriguez tripled, had an RBI and scored a run; Jose Hernandez singled, drove in two runs and scored another; and Reese Miles singled and drove in a run for the Pats in the championship game. The Chrush’s Dustin Thomas had two of his team’s five hits; the Chrush scored both of their runs with two outs in the bottom of the seventh on the strength of a single, three walks and a fielding error.
Lisenby, a 6-foot-2, 172-pound uncommitted prospect from St. Petersburg, Fla., threw five innings of three-hit, shutout ball at the Chrush, striking out two and walking one. It was his second start at the tournament and he ended up 2-0 after throwing nine, five-hit, shutout innings with three strikeouts and just the one walk; he was named the Most Valuable Pitcher.
Charlotte’s Kevin Conway, a 5-foot-10, 150-pound 2017 catcher/right-handed pitcher and a Florida Gulf Coast University commit from Port Charlotte, Fla., finished the tournament 5-for-11 (.455) with three walks, five RBI, five runs scored and an OPS of 1.055, and was named the Most Valuable Player.
Over the course of the three days at this event, Rodriguez said he witnessed a lot of team-building that should bode well as the team heads into its fall season. As the wins piled up, the team chemistry became even stronger and it was that camaraderie that led to the championship -- no one put too much pressure on himself.
The Pats won their two pool-play games by a combined score of 11-4 and their two playoff games leading up to Monday’s championship by a combined 7-4. Nothing dominant at all, only what was required to carry some momentum into the title tilt.
“When we played our third game (Sunday morning) we just clicked,” Rodriguez said. “Saturday we had great chemistry against good competition – we did our job as a team – but then on Sunday you could just feel a vibe.”
This is the start of the fall season for the Patriots, who enjoyed a fair amount of success during play over the summer. “I wanted to build on what we did this summer with another Perfect Game tournament once again,” Rodriguez said. “It was a phenomenal job on the boys’ side: I give them all the credit and I give them all the glory. With God behind them, it’s fun to watch them play.”
2016 WWBA East Labor Day Classic (Upperclass) champions: TBSA Patriots
2016 WWBA East Labor Day Classic (Upperclass) runner-up: Charlotte Chrush
2016 WWBA East Labor Day Classic (Upperclass) MVP: Kevin Conway
2016 WWBA East Labor Day Classic (Upperclass) MV-Pitcher: Cody Lisenby
Stealth 2020 pitches its way to Freshman title
FORT MYERS, Fla. – Only 12 teams played for the championship at this year’s PG WWBA East Labor Day Classic (Freshman) tournament and an argument could certainly be made that the two best among that dynamic dozen advanced to Monday’s championship game.
So when the Florida Stealth 2020 from Delray Beach, Fla., matched up against the Elite Squad 14u Black out of Pembroke Pines, Fla., it was a meeting between the event’s top-two seeds and, really, both were going to go home winners.
But the scoreboard had to determine a victor, and when the day was done it was the Stealth 2020 (5-0-0) that emerged with the 3-0 victory over the 14u Black (4-1-0) on Field 3 at the jetBlue Player Development Complex.
The Stealth 2020 somehow managed to score their three runs despite producing only two hits; the ES 14u Black were shutout on four hits. So it was pitching that hogged the spotlight and no one was better on this early afternoon than the Stealth’s Stanley Demartinis.
A 2020 right-hander from Boca Raton, Fla., Demartinis threw seven innings of four-hit, shutout ball, striking out seven and walking four. It was another gem in a series of gems Stealth 2020 head coach Joe Sharkey received this weekend, coming on the heels of a complete-game, two-hit shutout provided by 2020 right-hander William Dahns from West Palm Beach, Fla. Dahns was named the Most Valuable Pitcher.
“We kind of came in here knowing we were going to be short on pitchers … and just the fact that we were able to get through our (pool-play) games just using three arms was really big for us,” Sharkey said after the championship game. “We were able to hold off on some of our regular arms and use them later on in the playoffs and it worked really well.”
An incomplete roster was provided by the Elite Squad coaches but, according to GameChanger, a couple of guys with the last names of Smith and Gonzalez – yes, we’re running with it – didn’t allow an earned run on two hits over seven innings of work while striking out nine and walking two. The Stealth 2020 hit .333 as a team over its five games, not quite the production Sharkey had hoped for.
“We were able to capitalize on other team’s mistakes, we were able to keep the momentum on our side and use every inch and every ounce of energy that we had and put up as many runs as we could,” he said, acknowledging his team resiliency.
A couple of guys who did hit for the Stealth were 2020 play-anywhere-guy Joe Lojewski from West Palm Beach, Fla., and 2020 third baseman/outfielder Ryan Bruno from Wellington, Fla. Lojewski went 6-for-11 (.545) with four doubles, five RBI and six runs; Bruno finished 7-for-9 (.778) with a double, two RBI and five runs.
The Most Valuable Player Award votes went Lojewski’s way, the second time he was so honored. He was also the MVP at the 14u PG BCS Finals held here in Fort Myers in July when many of these same Stealth players were on the team that won that Perfect Game national championship with a 9-0 record. That Stealth 14u Red team outscored its nine opponents by a combined 81-4 in its run to the title.
“This group has been special all summer,” Sharkey said. “After the BCS they really realized the talent that they had and the fact that they now had a bullseye on their back and they’re going to live up to it. They have expectations that we hold for them and the expectations they hold for themselves are really high; so far they’ve lived up to it. It’s been fun to coach these guys.”
2016 WWBA East Labor Day Classic (Freshman) champions: Florida Stealth 2020
2016 WWBA East Labor Day Classic (Freshman) runner-up: Elite Squad 14u Black
2016 WWBA East Labor Day Classic (Freshman) MVP: Jacob Lojewski
2016 WWBA East Labor Day Classic (Freshman) MV-Pitcher: William Dahns