Tournaments | Story | 6/30/2019

The Bandito way

Jack Nelson        
Photo: Conner Bennett (Perfect Game)

HOOVER, Ala. – There is a quote on the Banditos Baseball Club’s website that reads, “If you hit, you don’t sit.” This week in Hoover, the Texas based Banditos Scout Team 14u has taken those words to heart, as they have raked their way to an impressive 4-0 start in the WWBA 14u National Championship.

The Banditos continued their dominance on Sunday, defeating Charlie Culberson Baseball Red, 8-1. It started from the beginning, as Landen Yorek dropped in a double in the top of the first inning to score Conner Bennett. The Banditos would get four more runs in the top of second, and were led by Brady Dever, who drove in two on a sharply hit single. The Banditos bats were productive from top to bottom. Leadoff hitter Tracer Lopez was 1-for-1 with a single and two walks, while the tenth hitter, Hugo Cantu, contributed a single and a run. Charlie Culberson could never catch their breath because of the suffocating offensive onslaught.

The story is not completely about the sticks, however. The Banditos have excellent arms in Hugo Cantu and Sunday’s starter Carson Ellis. Ellis was extremely impressive in his three innings of work, as the young righthander sat in the low 80s while mixing in a sharp slider at 73 mph.

The “Bandito Way,” as coach John DeRulle called it, has been producing results from the program’s inception in 1996. They have helped 313 kids sign a college letter of intent, and 51 alumni have signed a pro contract, including perennial all star Paul Goldschmidt. Even NFL wide receiver Danny Amendola was once a Bandito.

“For 23 years, the Banditos organization has been trying to put young athletes in the best positions to further their place in the game,” said 14u coach John DeRulle. “Our program is strong from top to bottom, as our teams are playing for championships just about every time we tee it up. We strive to be excellent.”

It’s not a shock that the Banditos are excelling in a Perfect Game tournament. They usually show quite well. But what is eye catching is who they have beaten and the manner in which they’ve done it. In their first two pool play games, they outlasted two of the top pitching prospects in the 2023 class in Stars Baseball’s Bryce Eldridge and SWA’s Ethan Robinson. It’s extremely rare to see a kid who hasn’t even entered high school throw upper 80s, but the Bandito hitters have been remarkably unfazed.

“We see a lot of velocity at home,” said DeRulle. “We see the best of the best every time we play, whether it is in pool play or in the playoffs. Our kids are not afraid to attack early in the count, but they’re also a very tough out when they’re down in the count.”

Players Landen Yorek and Conner Bennett said a lot of their success against these top arms is due to the habits they have developed during practice.

“We usually crank up the pitching machine to around 90 mph,” said Landen Yorek. “Honestly, we’re more comfortable against higher velocity because we see it so much.”

“In batting practice, coach is always like 5 five away,” said Bennett. “And he throws hard, too. So we have gotten used to throwing the barrel out there. When you see higher level pitching, you have to make it as basic as you can. Just see the ball and hit the ball.”

Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have created a dynasty in the NFL, and at the core of their operation is what has become known as the “Patriot Way.” Each player knows his job and executes it. There is no room for drama. And players neither rest on their laurels nor look to far into the future. After winning Super Bowl LI, Belichick famously said he was weeks behind the rest of the NFL in preparing for the next year.

In a sense, the Patriot Way is the Bandito Way.

“We tell the kids that the most important game is the next one,” said DeRulle. “We’re not patting ourselves on the back for what happened yesterday, but they’re also not looking too far into the future. That is why I think we are really suited for the pool play format. We treat every game as the most important game, not just the big ones. That’s the Bandito Way.”

While they may be all business on the field, they don’t play tight and tentatively. On deck hitters are laughing and joking around with teammates, and the dugout is full of energy and chatter. They celebrate big plays and pick each other up after mistakes. Many of the boys have been playing together for a few years and display the bond that they have formed through years of traveling and competing together.

“We’re all team players,” said Yorek. “No one is selfish, and we all get along well. I’m really enjoying every day here. Plus the facilities in Hoover are unbelievable. It’s a great environment.”

“We play the best competition,” said Bennett. “But at the same time everyone is having a good time with each other. It’s loose and fun to play. I love the Banditos.”

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