Ray De Leon, coach of the Banditos, had expressed confidence early in the day that his team would be able to come back on short notice. And then they proved it with their resounding win.
"These kids are 12 years old, man. They're not like us," said De Leon after his first win. "It's a real game to them. We're the ones that are taking it too serious. It won't faze them at all."
The tourney, held at Gameday Fields, brought together the best teams that four sanctioning bodies had to offer in the 12-and-under division.
Those four groups -- the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), the National Amateur Baseball Federation (NABF), Super Series Baseball of America and the United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA) -- come together at the NYBC to crown one national champion in the age group.
The Banditos and TC Nationals Force -- both out of Houston -- both qualified out of Pool A, and Pool B also yielded a pair of interesting teams. The SY Titans, representing Santa Ynez, Calif., went 2-0 to take Pool B, and the Arkansas-based EM Majors secured a slot by going 1-1 in their first two games.
"This is an awesome venue, an awesome place," said Brett Huskey, coach of the EM Majors. "It's run very well and they've got a lot set up for the kids. Who wouldn't want to come play here?"
The Majors won their first game by 10 runs, but then lost a tight one to the Titans and had to wait to find out whether they'd advance. For Huskey, it was a day of mixed results and mixed emotions.
"We had one big win and then this one, we just didn't really show up," said Huskey after his team's loss. "That's the thing you get with 12-year-olds. It's flip a coin sometimes with the effort. That's the thing we're disappointed with. We're never disappointed when we get beat. It's OK to get beat and it's OK to lose, but whenever you don't give the effort or step up and try, that's the thing that gets you."
The day had several compelling games, but perhaps the most competitive one came early in the day.
The LIDS Indiana Bulls trailed by a 6-3 score to Team MVP when the sixth inning began, but Stephen Hazlett delivered his second home run to tie the game and send it to extra innings.
Both teams traded runs in the eighth inning, and Indiana sealed a win in the bottom of the ninth inning. For manager Michael Helton, that win was a bit of a turnabout against Miami-based Team MVP.
"We played these guys a year ago down in East Cobb [Ga.] in the same kind of a game. They got us by one run in the bottom, and I guess we paid them back this year," said Helton. "They are one heck of a team. We knew we were in for a battle when we got this draw. It's neat to see 12-year-olds play that tough a ballgame. We fought back two or three times. I was proud of the boys."
Team MVP had the last laugh, though, by beating Lamorinda later in the day and qualifying for the quarterfinals. Those two teams will have a rematch at 1 p.m., a game that will be streamed on MLB.com. The Banditos and BPA DeMarini will also play a streamed game at 5 p.m.
The other quarterfinal matchups will feature the SY Titans versus the TC Nationals at 3:30 and the EM Majors pitted against Diamond MVP at 8 p.m. The stakes are sudden death, and a victory will place the teams in Sunday's semifinals. The first round was for fun, but the quarterfinals are for keeps.
"We're trying to get everyone in the ballgame," said De Leon of managing his roster. "When you've got 15 or 16 guys, getting everyone in the ballgame is hard, but the parents and the youth are starting to understand how older baseball is. At the older levels of select baseball, there's 18 or 20 kids on a roster. These kids are getting to understand their roles. And it's all about having a role."
TC Nationals Force 5, Ohio Prospects 0
Izayah Quezada put together a dominant performance for the Houston-based TC Nationals Force, pitching into the sixth inning and allowing just one hit. Quezada struck out 11 batters. Josiah Castro, the winner of Thursday's Home Run Derby, delivered two hits and scored a run in the victory.
EM Majors 15, Connecticut Capitals 5
Kam Ron Hunt led the EM Majors to a mercy-rule win in their first game with a 4-for-4 performance that included an inside-the-park home run and five RBIs. Hunt scored four times. Two other players -- Jackson Huskey and Ollie Reddick -- scored multiple times and drove in three runs each.
LIDS Indiana Bulls 8, Team MVP 7
Hazlett delivered two home runs for the Bulls, and one of them was a dramatic three-run shot to tie the game in the bottom of the sixth inning. Both teams traded runs in the eighth, and the Bulls emerged victorious on a fly ball that dropped between two colliding defenders in the ninth. Jake Holland homered for Miami-based Team MVP but later took the loss in a late-inning relief stint.
Diamond Stealth 11, Diamond MVP 7
The Stealth, based out of Connecticut, won the battle of the Diamonds in a seesaw game. Trailing by two runs in the fifth inning, the Stealth used a suicide squeeze and a throwing error to push ahead. Christopher Rodriguez scored the tying run and doubled home two insurance runs in the sixth. Thirteen errors were made in this game, five by the Stealth and eight by California-based Diamond MVP.
SY Titans 4, EM Majors 2
The EM Majors won by mercy rule in their first game, but found a little tougher terrain against the Titans, who hail from Santa Ynez, Calif. The Majors scored twice in the first inning but had just two hits all game. The Titans trailed 2-1 going into the fifth inning and scored three times to take the lead. Isaac Coffey homered in the victory, and Ethan Castro Cloyd scored once and drove in a run.
Houston Banditos Black 13, TC Nationals Force 7
The Banditos beat their Houston compatriots handily in the opening round and never led by less than five runs after the second inning. Jose Gonzalez Jr. homered in the victory, and Greyson Kash went 3-for-4 with two RBIs. The TC Nationals Force got three RBIs from first baseman Josiah Castro and finished the first day of the tournament with a 1-1 record and a -1 run differential.
BPA DeMarini 9, Diamond Stealth 5
This game was knotted at 5-5 heading into the fifth inning, but DeMarini pulled away with a four-run rally. Kolton Freeman, who had tripled earlier in the game, sent the go-ahead run home on a bunt single. Alex Smith delivered a two-run single later in the inning to provide some insurance. Nicholas Payero doubled and homered in the loss for the Stealth, who finished the first round with a 1-1 record.
Lamorinda Spartans 5, LIDS Indiana Bulls 2
Israel Quintana tripled twice and pitched two scoreless innings to take the win for Lamorinda, but the game wasn't without drama. The Bulls, who had made a three-run rally in the sixth inning of their first game, weren't able to reprise the feat in the nightcap. Hazlett, who homered twice in Indiana's extra-inning victory over Team MVP, pitched a complete game in the loss to Lamorinda.
Houston Banditos Black 18, Ohio Prospects 0
The two-time defending champions came out swinging and advanced to the quarterfinals with a one-sided victory over Ohio. Four Bandito pitchers combined to allow just three hits. Jeb Glover was charged with 14 hits and eight earned runs in the loss. Eleven different players scored for the Banditos, and Hagen Barcello had three RBIs. Ohio made four errors in the loss.
SY Titans 7, Connecticut Capitals 6
The Capitals took control with a six-run third inning, but the Titans methodically worked their way back into the game and took a lead for good in the top of the sixth inning. Catcher Brooks Lee came home with the winning run. Gavin Haimowitz went 3-for-4 in the victory. Tyler Fote doubled home two runs for the Capitals, and reliever Michael Ferrett took the loss after allowing a run in the sixth.
Team MVP 7, Lamorinda Spartans 3
Team MVP staked its claim for the quarterfinals with a seven-run burst in the third inning of their second game. Seven different players scored, and Eric Volpi delivered a three-run double. Angel Tiburcio pitched three scoreless innings in relief and struck out six of the 11 batters he faced. Lamorinda netted just four hits, and reliever Nicholas Lopez was charged with seven earned runs in the loss.
Diamond MVP 10, BPA DeMarini 0
Diamond MVP rebounded from its difficult loss to the Stealth and immediately seized control of the nightcap. Moises Guzman drilled a two-run homer for Diamond MVP in the first inning, and Davis Heller tripled in a run in the second inning. Despite the loss, BPA DeMarini qualified for the next round.