CARTERSVILLE, Ga. – Most of the best-tasting recipes for success at 13-and-under tournaments call for a dash of great pitching, a sprinkle of outstanding defense and copious heaping helpings of offensive output. It’s the nature of the beast as the young teenagers first become acclimated to playing on regulations fields with a 60-foot, 6-inch distance from the pitching rubber to home plate and 90-foot base paths all the way around.
While both the Texas-based Academy Select Sun Devils (Plano) and the Banditos Elite (Tomball) followed that recipe to perfection, the Sun Devils must have improvised a tad by adding a couple more cups of gunpowder to their bats, and out-slugged the Banditos on their way to the title at the 13u Perfect Game World Series.
The No. 3-seeded Sun Devils (6-1-0) counted five extra-base hits among the 17 safeties they pounded out, and blasted the No. 1 Banditos (6-1-0), 16-6 in six innings, in the championship game played Friday afternoon on Field 14 at Perfect Game Park South-LakePoint.
The 13u PG World Series boasted an 18-team field that featured most of the top 13u teams in the country. The teams were grouped into three, six-team pools and only the three pool champions and one at-large entry advanced to Friday morning’s semifinals, a format that leaves very little room for error.
That’s why there was definitely some concern among the Academy Select faithful when the Sun Devils kicked-off pool-play on Tuesday with a 10-2 loss to the Michigan-based Motor City Hit Dogs. But instead of putting their tails between their legs, these Devils danced their way to six straight wins and the championship.
“I’ve come here in years past with my older teams, so I know how tough it is (to win here),” 13u Sun Devils head coach Linty Ingram said after the trophy presentation. “We got hammered that first game by the team from Detroit, and I just told them that we need to start playing one game at a time, get that one out of the way and we’ve got to start swinging the bats.
“We got ambushed by (Motor City) and we’ve got good hitting and pitching, so I just talked to them about staying engaged every pitch. And then our bats came to life our last three games; they were swinging it.”
“Swinging it” doesn’t quite do the Sun Devils’ performance in the championship game justice, with nine of the 11 batters Ingram sent to the plate collecting at least one hit, and the two that didn’t hit got on base in other ways and scored runs.
Karson Krowka was 3-for-4 with a triple, two RBI and three runs scored; Jonathan Huff was 3-for-4 with a double and two runs; Austin Russell singled three times, drove in two runs and scored two; Branson Owen was 2-for-3 with a home run, two RBI and two runs; Nathaniel Price doubled twice, drove in two and scored two; Dakota Britt singled and drove in a pair.
Huff also started the game on the mound and worked 4 1/3 innings, giving up five earned runs on eight hits with one strikeout and two walks; that dash of adequate pitching the recipe called for was all the Sun Devils required. The Banditos Elite’s Isaac Pacheo led his team’s eight-hit attack with a home run, a double, two RBI and two runs; Parker Welch doubled and singled, drove in two runs and scored a run.
After starting play with the loss to the Hit Dogs, the Devils got past the San Diego Show, the EC Sox Elite and the Indiana Outlaws by a combined score of 22-12. And then, something clicked. They totaled 43 runs in consecutive victories over Team Elite 13u (pool-play), the Elite Squad (semifinals) and the Banditos (championship) to claim the PG national championship.
The Sun Devils ended up scoring 67 runs in their seven games and hit .421 as a team; they counted four home runs, seven triples and 16 doubles among their 72 hits.
Huff, a 5-foot-4, 132-pount 2020 shortstop and right-handed pitcher from Plano, finished 11-for-18 (.611) at the plate, with two triples, four doubles, five walks, two hit-by-pitches, six RBI, nine runs scored and three stolen bases. He had also made a pitching appearance earlier in the tournament and while his numbers from the mound were far from stellar, it says a lot about what a war-horse he is. He was named the Most Valuable Player.
Owens played in just three games but hit two home runs, drove in five runs and scored six; Zach Rike hit a home run, a triple and three doubles, and had five RBI and nine runs scored; Russell hit a home run and doubled three times, with nine RBI and eight runs; Price delivered two triples and three doubles, and drove in eight and scored six.
“This team has hit all summer,” Ingram said. “(The Hit Dogs’ pitcher) did a good job and they just beat us fair and square, but we came back and put enough runs on the board in a couple of tight games; then they really started hitting.”
The Banditos Elite were pretty good at the plate all week themselves, earning the No. 1 seed after outscoring their five pool opponents by a combined 61-12. They hit .414 as a team, with nine home runs, 13 triples and 18 doubles standing out prominently among their 65 hits.
Tyler Collins counted two home runs, a triple and two doubles among his team-high 11 hits and Bennett Hanks homered twice to go with three doubles and accounted for 10 RBI and eight runs; Shane Stafford had a pair of long balls, drove in seven and scored nine.
The Banditos Elite’s Justin Verduggo, a 2021 right-hander from Long Beach, Calif., made two pitching appearances and went 2-0, working 7 1/3 innings and allowing only one unearned run (0.00 ERA) while scattering nine hits without striking out anyone and walking two. He was the event’s Most Valuable Pitcher.
“They’re just good players,” Ingram said of his Texas neighbors. “The Houston Banditos or the MVP Banditos or whatever they call themselves, they’re just all good players. I didn’t think it was a safe lead when it was (16-5) going into the last inning (of the championship game). Trust me, I’ve seen them swing it and I know the heart they’ve got.”
The all-Texas championship game was set-up after a pair of semifinal games played Friday morning, also on Field 14 at PG Park South, where the Sun Devils smoked the No. 2 Elite Squad (4-1-1) out of Florida, 12-0, and the Banditos got past the No. 4 San Diego Show (4-2-0) out of Southern California.
“We’ve always considered (ourselves one of those top-tier teams, and we know it don’t come easy,” Ingram concluded. “They’ve been in some big tournaments and they’ve done well in some big some big tournaments, but it’s a big honor to be here.
“Being in that group of 18 teams that (Perfect Game) invited, I’m honored and I’m ecstatic about the way these guys played. They get it; they understand what’s going on.”