Tournaments | Story | 10/21/2017

Banditos bring it at Jupiter

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

JUPITER, Fla. – After sitting through a day-long rain delay that played havoc with the entire weekend’s schedule at the Perfect Game WWBA World Championship, Ray DeLeon was finally able to send his Banditos Scout Team out on a field at the Roger Dean Stadium MLB spring training complex late Friday afternoon.

DeLeon, the founder/owner/field manager of the Houston-based Banditos organization, has two squads at the PG WWBA World this week, the Banditos Scout Team and the Banditos Black. A veteran of numerous Jupiter battles through the years, DeLeon simply shrugged-off the long delay and fully expected his players to do the same.

“They know going in that we may play all hours of the day or night, and probably play five inning ballgames at some point, but that’s what we’re trying to avoid,” he said. “Other than that, this is what it is; it’s that time of year. Everybody knows this is what it’s all about and you’ve got to be ready to tee-it up just the way it is.”

The Banditos ST were ready to tee-it up when the time finally came, coming back from a 2-0 deficit after a half-inning of play to run away from Baseball U in a decisive 7-2 win.

No. 40-ranked 2019 right-hander Sanson Faltine III (Texas commit) threw a complete-game five-hitter which included six straight shutout innings after the two-run first; he struck-out seven and walked one. Westley Schields, Anthony Volpe and Preston Hoffart all doubled; Schields drove in three runs, Volpe two and Hoffart scored twice. It was a nice start.

“We’ve played in a lot of these high-level tournaments and we’ve come out on top in a lot of them,” Volpe said. “We’re pretty much experienced in this environment and that should play to our advantage this week.”

The Banditos Scout Team’s 20-man roster has 15 spots occupied by NCAA Division I recruits, seven from the class of 2018 and eight 2019s. Sixteen of the prospects are Texans, so it’s no surprise that the colleges of choice are Texas, Texas A&M, Houston, Rice and Sam Houston State. But there are also schools like Vanderbilt, Miami, Louisiana State and Virginia in the mix.

Sixteen of the prospects are ranked in the top-500 nationally in their respective class. The top 2018s are PG All-American third baseman Hunter Watson (No. 51, Texas A&M) and shortstop/right-hander Derrick Cherry (No. 242, Houston).

A lot more firepower comes from the 2019 class with the likes of right-hander Matthew Thompson (No. 7, Texas A&M), Faltine (No. 40, Texas), left-hander Yordani Carmona (No. 46, Miami), the shortstop Volpe (No. 72, Vanderbilt) and right-hander Jack Kochanowicz (No. 95, Virginia).

“We’re young but I think we’re exciting,” DeLeon said. “On any given day anybody can win out here so we’re happy just to be where we’re at. … But there are so many great players out here, it’s unreal.”

Watson didn’t play in Friday’s opener because he is also a football player at Pottsboro (Texas) High School, but was expected to join the Banditos on Saturday. DeLeon told PG that football kept at least a half-dozen of his top prospects home this weekend because the program has a lot of high-end, two-sport athletes. DeLeon has no choice but to accept his team’s fate.

“I deal with that every year and I’m sure I’m not the only one,” he said with a knowing smile. “Football is killing me right now. I live in Texas, man, and it’s the football capital of the world, but it is what it is. We understand that, and we want our kids to play two sports. … It’s tough for them to come out and do both on a weekend and we understand it.”

Of course, the guys that are wearing the Banditos Scout Team or Banditos Black uniforms this weekend couldn’t wait to get over to Florida’s central Atlantic Coast.

“This is an opportunity of a lifetime to come down here, especially with Ray (DeLeon) and the Banditos,” Volpe said. “It’s really a winning culture and we came down here with one goal, and that’s to win. Everyone on the team knows that anything short of that would be a failure, more-or-less.

“It’s a lot of fun, and Coach Ray definitely knows how to get the best out of you,” he added. “Playing for him is a lot of fun and winning is a lot of fun, too, and we’ve done a lot of that.”

Without several of the key contributors from the summer on this roster – guys like PG All-Americans Jordan Groshans and Jonathan Childress, Mason Englert and Hunter Townsend – DeLeon called this a little bit of a different team than he’s used to having.

This group might have to play a little bit more small ball and concentrate on moving runners over but, DeLeon said, “We’re happy to be here … and we’re just excited for the challenge.” He then added: “I love our guys and the guys that aren’t here, they’re a part of our team, as well. I’m sure they’re back at home hoping we win; we’re a big family.”

Volpe has embraced his role as one of the leaders among the underclassmen on this team. He knows that he and, especially, the 2019 pitchers – the right-handers Thompson, Faltine III and Kochanowicz, and the lefty Carmona – are going to have play over-sized roles if the Banditos ST is going to be successful.

He attributes his standing as a top prospect to the hard work he’s put in while playing with the Banditos at several premier PG WWBA tournaments like this one, the granddaddy of them all. It comes down to playing against the strongest competition in the country and then letting that competition push him to the next level. And, to be sure, he is quick to defer to the Banditos Scout Team’s seniors.

“They have one more year of baseball experience than I do, and with their summer experiences they’ve played in a lot more of these big scouting events; they’ve taught me a lot,” he said.

This might be a good place in this essay to offer the reminder that there is a second Banditos team – the Black – competing here this weekend and it, too, is stocked with impressive underclass talent, mostly from the class of 2020.

Right-hander/corner infielders Victor Mederos (No. 3, Miami) and Albert Hernandez (No. 23, Miami), and catcher/first baseman Carlos Perez (No. 24, Miami), shortstop Ryan Targac (No. 123, Texas A&M) and middle-infielder MC Sagaro (No. 326, Miami) are the top 2020s on a roster made up of 10 top Texas preps to go with nine of their counterparts from Florida.

The Black opened play on Friday with a 3-1 loss to the Cangelosi Sparks, but DeLeon believes they will soon start performing beyond their years while also enjoying a valuable experience they won’t get anywhere else.

“They’re going to compete, too,” DeLeon was quick to add. “We’ve got enough guys (on that roster) to make a run there but winning their pool is going to be tough. They’re young but we’re not going to lay down. This atmosphere is for everybody to get a piece of the action.

“You want your players to enjoy this and you want the scouts to enjoy your new players and there are a lot of college guys here looking at the uncommitted kids. … I really think it’s a win-win for everybody."

The Banditos Scout Team moved to 2-0 in pool-play when it escaped Miami PG Columbia Blue, 1-0, in first time-slot action Saturday morning. Volpe led off the bottom of the sixth with a walk and came around to score the game’s only run on a two-out, RBI double from Kyle Froemke (’18 top-500, Oregon).

Kochanowicz was dominant in 6 2/3 innings of work, shutting out the PG Columbia Blue on two hits while striking out eight and walking three; his fastball touched 91 mph. Carmona needed only two pitches to get the game’s last out.

Volpe believes the success the Banditos enjoy is a byproduct of the togetherness the team plays with – all the players know each other well and they know what they need to do to win. It also comes from the fact that the players take the time to listen to the message DeLeon is always pounding home.

“He just tells us to play hard, and by doing that you’ll be representing the Banditos in a positive light,” Volpe said. “You have to play hard and hustle and represent everyone back home on and off the field.”

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