GOODYEAR, Ariz.—The smart money was on the EvoShield Canes to repeat their 2013 title at the Perfect Game 17U World Series.
With a star-studded roster and arguably the most talented and deepest pitching staff of any squad in the 20-team tournament, held July 19-23, the Fredericksburg, Va.-based traveling team was the team to beat in the tournament, now in its third year. The Canes were also starting righthander Ashe Russell (Indianapolis), who had impressed scouts on Day One of the event with his lively 91-94 mph fastball and breaking ball.
But the Houston Banditos weren't interested in following that script for the seven-inning contest that lasted nearly three hours as temperatures approached the 110-degree mark. After falling behind 3-1 in the first inning, the Bandito offense came to life with a five-run third inning, chasing Russell from the game en route to a resounding 10-4 win.
"We live and die with the phrase on this team, 'Don't stop playing,'" said Houston coach Robert DeLeon. "We knew we were going to have our hands full. But you never know in this game. It's a funny game. We were down 3-1 and these kids just kept plugging away."
The Banditos’ championship run was even more impressive considering the overall caliber of talent in the event. A total of seven first-round draft picks in the 2014 draft participated in the first two years of the tournament.
Banditos starting pitcher Alfredo Villarreal (Brownsville, Texas), who had flown in from Texas the night before to give the Banditos a fresh arm, settled down after a shaky first inning to hold the opposition scoreless through the next five innings.
Villarreal figured that he needed more than just his 90 mph fastball after the first inning.
"In the next few innings I was trying to get my offspeed (pitches) in for strikes," Villarreal said, "and after that it worked out for me. I was set after that first inning, and I just went good on my fastball."
The Banditos used a balanced attack at the plate, pounding out 12 hits off three Canes pitchers. Catcher Garrett Wolforth's two-run triple was the key hit in the third inning, tying the game at three and paving the way for three more Houston runs before the final out was recorded. The Dallas Baptist commit knew that he was facing a tough pitcher in Russell, but remembered that the Canes starter had thrown him a pair of heaters in his previous at-bat.
"I figured I was going to get two (fastballs) in my second at-bat," Wolforth said. "I saw it and it just kind of kept carrying on me. As soon as I saw it land and hit the yellow on the wall, I was, 'OK, this is actually for real … I just hit Ashe Russell.' I had to wait for it to land for it to sink in. It felt really good."
Wolforth singled later in the game, driving in a third run to lead the Banditos in RBIs. Joe Davis went 3-for-5, while Kody Clemens and tournament MVP Conner Capel each added a pair of hits.
Every team at the tournament had a devoted group of parents following and supporting their kids, but one Houston Bandito dad—former major league pitcher Roger Clemens—also provides a wealth of baseball knowledge to his son's team. Clemens, the father of Houston shortstop Kody, a Texas commit, arrived on Monday to attend all of the remaining Bandito games. While pitching coach Shane Reynolds (the former big league pitcher) handles the logistics on the field, Clemens provides invaluable support from the sidelines.
"Usually during the games he doesn't sit in the dugout, he sits there (on the sidelines) and watches us," Kody Clemens said about his father. "If he sees a flaw he'll come down and tell us immediately."
The senior Clemens sees a different role for himself in support of the team.
"They ask me to help out," Clemens said. "But when I visit with kids, it goes beyond baseball. It's a little more of how their mind works and staying strong."
Other Players Of Note
One of the more impressive 2015 draft prospects in the tournament was Nick Shumpert, a shortstop from Lone Tree, Colo., and the son of former major league infielder Terry Shumpert. Shumpert was called by one scout, "a tool shed." The righthanded hitter, who homered on Day Three of the tournament, possesses plus bat speed, consistently made solid hard contact at the plate and showed good range in the field.
While Shumpert oozes tools, EvoShield Canes shortstop L.T. Tolbert (Piedmont, S.C.) is more of a steady type with good actions on the field and nice bat-to-ball skills at the plate. He went 10-for-22 during the tournament while also drawing five walks.
The best display of raw power came from the bat of Chandler Baseball World outfielder Greg Pickett (Aurora, Colo.), who blasted a 450-foot home run on Day Four.
NorCal righthander Matthew McGarry (Portola Valley, Calif.) recorded the top mound velocity of the week, with the Vanderbilt commit hitting 95, one mph shy of last year's record set by Dodgers 2014 first-round pick Grant Holmes. Coincidentally, Holmes, who currently is playing for the Dodgers' Arizona League team, attended several days of this year's tournament.
Another standout in the tournament was EvoShield Canes outfielder/first baseman Desmond Lindsay (Bradenton, Fla.), who drew raves from scouts for his strong physique, impressive bat speed and power potential. The righthanded hitter batted 11-for-21 with a double and a pair of triples.
Shumpert and Pickett were among the 16 players participating in the 17U World Series who were named to the rosters for the upcoming Perfect Game All-American classic, scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 10 at Petco Park in San Diego.