EMERSON, Ga. – This weekend at the South Texas Super25 Regional, the Houston Banditos, a powerhouse program in the state, took care of business in the 15u and 16u age groups. However, at the 17u level, they could not get past the Tomball Thunder, who came away as the 17u regional champions despite being a lesser-known team by many.
Both the 15u and 16u Banditos teams overwhelmed their competition, a feat very impressive considering the depth of talent in the region. Neither of the two teams lost a game throughout the tournament. The 15u Banditos won every game by at least four runs, while the 16u squad destroyed their competition, capping off their title run with a 13-1 victory.
The Tomball Thunder are the biggest story of the weekend, however, as they are a perfect example of why the Super25 series is so great. The 17u South Texas Regional was composed of some of the most talented teams in the country, and the Thunder came in as a widely unknown group of ballplayers that their competition won’t soon forget.
The Thunder differ from the rest of their competition in that they are not a major baseball academy, but instead they just have one team of guys who have been together for a long time. Instead of picking talent from across the region in an attempt to compose an All Star team, all but four of the players on the team play at Tomball High School. As a result, they’ve become tighter as a group while they’ve grown together as ballplayers.
They went 7-0-0 in the South Texas Regional while playing against powerful baseball academies like the Banditos. In fact, the Thunder beat the Banditos twice over the weekend, once in the earlier stages of the tournament and again in the championship game. Those two losses were the only two losses the Banditos suffered between all the age groups.
The Thunder’s dominance may come as a surprise to many, but not to them. They went 28-1-1 last summer while playing in showcase tournaments, and haven’t lost a tournament in over two years. They have played high-level baseball for a long time; they just haven’t done it on a big stage. Now in the Super25 series, they are no longer an unknown entity, and should start getting the praise and attention they deserve.
Even with the elite competition they would face, Thunder Coach Gary Weems said, “we expected to do well. We have elite pitchers, five arms that are all legitimate, and we’ve done well in the past.” Still, Weems knew that winning the regional would be tough: “on the other side of the coin, the field this weekend was about as stout a field as we have faced in a long time. Anytime you play teams like the Banditos and the [Texas] Drillers all in one weekend, you’re playing some pretty good baseball.”
David Leal, Nathan Crowe, and Mathew Wells led the charge on the mound for the Thunder. Leal is a big lefty standing at 6’3” and 205 pounds while Crowe and Wells both pound the zone while coming from the right side. All three should be receiving increasing amounts of interest from college programs the more the team succeeds in tournaments like the Super25.
The Thunder got a surprise pitching performance from their catcher, Nick Ludwig, who started in the championship game against the powerful Banditos. According to Weems, Ludwig “threw more innings on Sunday than he probably threw his whole life.”
Despite the lack of experience, Ludwig shined in the title game, throwing anywhere from 84 to 85 with his fastball. Weems described his outing: “He understandably gave up a few runs against a very good Banditos team, but overall he did very well.” Considering both Ludwig’s background as a pitcher and the Bandito’s stout lineup, the Thunder couldn’t have asked for a better performance, as they ended up winning the game 6-5.
Ludwig also did well in the role he was more comfortable in as a key part of the lineup. In the championship game, he had two at-bats in which he worked long pitch counts and ended up coming through with key hits.
The Thunder had to do all the little things flawlessly in order to win the tournament, and did so successfully, as they were able to come from behind in many of their games. Coach Weems described his defense as “stellar,” anchored by their middle infield of Nick Mikolajchak and Cody Weems, who handled every ball hit their way.
Coach Weems also credited Mikolajchak and Weems for their role as a part of the lineup, as, “both were able to take the extra base, drop the bunts. They were both on base quite often, so it kept us turning over our lineup pretty quickly on a lot of teams.”
While many may have viewed the Thunder as underdogs coming into the weekend, it’s obvious now that they belong in the Super25 National Championship. The Banditos will be well represented in the Super25 Nationals as well with their 15u and 16u teams, while the 17u Banditos will be a favorite to win the South Super Regionals.