Four clubs emerge from tight, tense NYBC quarterfinals
YAPHANK, N.Y. -- The difference between Saturday afternoon and Saturday night at the Baseball Heaven complex was easy to spot and hear.
For most of the day at the National Youth Baseball Championships, pool play wrapped up with lopsided victories -- some meaningless, some confidence-boosting -- paving the way for the quarterfinal single-elimination bracket to begin between the final eight teams.
So as the air began to cool, the tension, focus and cheering only heated up, highlighted by a premiere matchup between Miami's No.-6 seeded MVP Elite and No. 3 Banditos Black from Houston, which finished the night. A loud, four-run first inning for Banditos set the tone early, but last year's semifinalist MVP crawled back to tie it at 4.
In the bottom of the fifth, the Banditos' Tyler Cacciatori, the fifth pitcher head coach Ray DeLeon put on the mound, provided a two-out go-ahead single at-bat and then closed out the game by striking out the side for good measure, ensuring a 5-4 victory to advance the Banditos to the semis.
"He's a competitor," DeLeon said of Cacciatori. "It's the quarterfinals, [and] every game counts."
"I told everyone that we're not eating [at] Whataburger this weekend," DeLeon said, referring to the Texas burger chain. "'Never stop playing.' That's our motto."
Next to the dramatics was a quieter, but no less tight game that saw San Diego Show beat No. 2 seed Team Florida, 4-2.
San Diego will face the Banditos on Sunday at 3 p.m. ET, following a showdown between BPA DeMarini and SGV Hustle at noon ET. Both games will be streamed live on MLB.com.
With the field narrowed, the competition and scores continued to be much closer. SGV Hustle, just as it began the tournament, defeated the VSA Vipers, 6-0, behind another strong pitching performance from Joseph Naranjo, who went five shutout innings. Instead of its usual shortened game, the No. 1 ranked team held a tight two-run lead until Roger Vasquez widened the gap with a three-run homer in the fifth.
It was the ninth time this season SGV Hustle, from Azusa, Calif., had beaten the Vipers, from San Fernando Valley. But as head coach Robert Prieto reiterated, it was the hardest Hustle had to work, after they had taken care of the Indiana Bulldogs earlier in the day. Right next door, another undefeated team in pool play continued its dominance.
BPA DeMarini Elite (San Juan Capistrano, Calif.), the 2013 runners up in the NYBC finals from defeated the Hamden (Conn.) Yard Dogs, 6-2, thanks to a complete game from righty Jack Allen, who worked out of some tight jams late to keep the game intact. Shane Roberson hit a go-ahead two-run homer in the fourth inning, and Allen eventually plated two with a single to pad the lead in the fifth, punching a ticket with SGV for Sunday's first semifinal at noon.
"He's been outstanding," said BPA head coach Jared Sandler of Allen. "We were in the Cooperstown [tournament] and we finished the day before this one started. So we've played 15 games in seven days. ... Four games in the last day. So we're thin on arms and we're just battling trying to take it inning by inning and game by game. A big outing by Jack, [who] stepped up big, closed out both games tonight."
"I felt good," said Allen, who finished out the game with three strikeouts. "We've been doing good these past few tournaments and we've all been hitting good. I'm really excited."
Knowing how and when to use pitchers seems to be the most important tool for coaches to have, especially as these teams potentially prepare for their final two games. It requires looking ahead without taking each game for granted, a difficult balancing act that sees even the tournament's best teams fall over sometimes.
"[The] most important thing is everybody's healthy," said Sandler. "We check with everybody to make sure everybody feels good every inning. We just try to watch pitch counts. It's tough. We played 11 games in Cooperstown in five days."
"It's tough," said DeLeon echoing Sandler. "I've got a good staff. They keep in line with who's pitched. We try to keep them in line."
The condensed schedule of games at NYBC isn't as packed as Cooperstown, but sore arms have become something to keep an eye on as the tournament progresses, like when the Banditos' Aaron Nixon was pulled as a precaution at the beginning of their quarterfinal contest when his arm felt a twitch.
The Banditos ended up using nine pitchers Saturday and will have their work cut out for them Sunday against San Diego. They may have to rely on more offense if they want to return to the finals Monday night for the third time in four years.
"We're the wounded bunch, no question," said DeLeon. "We're fighting guys with machine guns and we've got BB guns right now. But we're lucky. We've got to outhit people to win [Sunday]."