By Rich Bevensee
All the moms out there, listen up. Mason Arenas is about to steal your hearts.
Arenas had just received the game ball for pitching a whale of a game for EEP Bandits 9U Blue in the championship game of the Mother’s Day Classic at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
He promptly gave credit to his teammates for backing him up with steady defense, and predicted that the tournament title will yield bigger things on the horizon for his team.
He was still cradling the game ball, presented to him by Bandits coach Berto Pineda, and was asked what the honor meant to him.
Unprompted by any adult, Arenas said, “Getting the game ball means a lot to me because I wanted it for the mothers.”
Happy Mother’s Day, indeed.
After allowing the first four batters he faced to score, Arenas got tough as nails, permitting two runs on three hits over the next four innings. He earned the decision as the top-seeded Bandits claimed their first tournament title of the spring with a 14-6, four-inning victory over Delmarva Aces 9U Upstate on Sunday afternoon at ‘The Nation.’
“I think this is gonna be good for us,” Arenas said. “I think this is gonna help us win a lot of ball games.”
The Brooklyn-based Bandits closed out their weekend 4-0 and outscored the opposition 57-23, reaching double figures in every contest. They beat the Aces, 16-8, and North Jersey Diamondbacks 9U Select, 16-6, in pool play on Saturday, then knocked out the Connecticut Bearcats, 11-3, in the semifinals.
“We just play baseball, man. We’re out here to have fun,” Pineda said. “All that hard work we put in before the season shows up on the field. With 9-year-olds, you have to put it in their heads, put it in their heads, put it in their heads until they get it, and you have to understand that they’re going to make mistakes on the field. But they have to play baseball and have fun. The reward is seeing them develop and look at what we’ve put behind us.”
The Bandits’ Grayson Honoret, who singled twice, walked, drove in a run and scored once in the final, earned Most Valuable Player honors. He also got the win on the mound in the first matchup with the Aces on Saturday.
“Grayson had a tough start to the season but this weekend he really picked it up,” Pineda said.
“Hitting took me almost a year to get it right,” Honoret said. “The hardest thing was working on my back foot, because that’s where the power comes from. To me, the MVP means I have done so good the past two years I’ve been with the team and I hope I can carry that on.”
The Bandits, after spotting the Aces four runs in the top of the first, scored 14 runs on 11 hits. The biggest shots came from Liam Cordero, who tripled, and Aiden Leon who doubled.
Honoret had the biggest hit of all in the final. His RBI single in the bottom of the third inning – a liner to left field which scored Nabil Abuhamda from second base – capped a three-run rally and gave the Bandits a 6-5 lead they would not relinquish.
“We’re a really good hitting team,” Honoret said. “It’s because we all practice very hard and most of us have a hitting coach.”
As mentioned before, Arenas was greeted rudely by the second-seeded Aces, whose first four batters scored. Cameron Ray singled, Cayden White drove him in with a triple, Sebastian Biber had an RBI fielder’s choice, Eli Rogers walked and eventually scored on a wild pitch, and Shawn Pinand drove in run No. 4 with a groundout.
When the rowdy cheers from the Aces bench grew louder, Arenas said he used their enthusiasm as motivation.
“I focus a lot and only think about the batter and me,” Arenas said. “Usually I use their cheering to my advantage and cheer on myself.”
And sure enough, Arenas was a bulldog from that point, allowing just two more runs on three hits over the final four innings.
Arenas’ teammates thanked him for his focus with three separate flurries of runs.
The Bandits cut their deficit to 4-3 in the bottom of the first inning. Joey Troman and Liam Cordero scored on wild pitches, and courtesy runner Christian DeCaro (running for Arenas) scored on a passed ball.
Rogers added a run for the Aces in the top of the third with an RBI single to make it a 5-3 game.
In the bottom of the inning, Abuhamda singled in a run, stole second, and then took third and home on a throwing error. Aiden Leon stroked a grounds rule double, and Honoret delivered his go-ahead RBI single for a 6-5 Bandits lead
The Bandits supplied more offensive fireworks in the fourth inning. Sebastian Velasco had a run-scoring sacrifice fly, Arenas and Princeton Ortiz added RBI singles, and Ortiz scored on a passed ball to bring the Bandits into double figures and a 10-6 lead.
The Bandits continued their offensive show of force when Abuhamda walked and eventually stole home, Leon scored on a passed ball, and Troman capped it all with a two-run single through the middle.
The Aces, out of Berlin, Maryland, managed to tack on one more run before succumbing to the Bandits, as White singled, stole second and scored on a fielding error on Rogers’ ground ball.