Aug. 1, 2014 at 6:36 p.m.
Updated Aug. 1, 2014 at 11:43 p.m.
VICTORIA SOUTHWEST ROSTER
Marco Di Leo
Victoria Southwest MAJOR Division All-Stars
• Section IV champions
• Area I champions
• Second place at Texas East state championship
In only a few months playing baseball for the Victoria Southwest Little League All-Stars, the players have made enough memories to last a lifetime.
Like when the team won the District 27 championship to advance to the Section IV tournament, where it faced Lamar National, a team notorious for winning that tournament and moving on to the state championship.
After defeating Hallettsville to start the tournament, Victoria Southwest fell to Lamar. However, the team bounced back to defeat Hallettsville and then Lamar in back-to-back games.
First baseman Ky Zarate said coming back and "double-dipping" Lamar to win the sectional tournament has been his favorite memory from the season.
"We weren't supposed to beat Lamar; the only people who believed in us were our family, friends and ourselves," Zarate, 13, said.
Affectionately known as the "honey badgers" by friends and family, Victoria Southwest continued to defy the naysayers by advancing to the Texas East state championship at Faulkner Park in Tyler on July 18 to 20.
Victoria Southwest was matched up against Pearland East, Bridge City and Tyler in the double-elimination tournament that would decide Texas East's representative to the regional tournament, which is one step away from the Little League World Series.
Shortstop and pitcher Ashton Grones said that Pearland's team was the hardest they had faced all season.
"They had a great team," he said.
Logan Johnson, second baseman and outfielder, agrees but knew Victoria had a chance. "We're a good team," he said.
After falling to Pearland in the first game, the team of 13 refused to stop there. They kept their tournament hopes alive by first beating Bridge City 18-15 and then Rose City East 11-10 in extra innings.
"My favorite thing has to be when we were behind in games, and all of a sudden, we'd come back and win," said left fielder Dawson Holly. "We never gave up."
By this point in the season, pitcher Ricky Gonzalez said the team was used to being known as the underdogs. When players heard that a tournament opponent said Victoria Southwest didn't deserve to be there, it continued to light a fire.
They ended up beating that team to earn a spot in the Texas East state championship game against Pearland.
Going up against the 2010 World Series Southwest representatives ended up being their biggest challenge of the year, and Victoria Southwest fell in the state game 21-2.
"It was an experience I'll never forget," said catcher Caden Jander. "From the hotel and molding as a team to playing at state, it was a good experience."
Jordan Fillmore, who pitched a number of innings at state, said it was an honor to face the best teams from Texas.
The honey badgers from Victoria finished the season ranked second in Texas East and in the top four major division teams in the state.
Right fielder Braeden Schmidt said that getting a hit in the state tournament was the most exciting part of his baseball career.
"I got a single and made it to first, which was the furthest we had gotten in the state tournament until Ky (Zarate) got his home run," Schmidt said.
A week after the state tournament when everyone returned home, the coaches and parents hosted an end-of-year party at manager Abe Zarate's home.
With a pool in the backyard and a basketball goal set up, the band of 13 couldn't wipe the smiles off their faces as they ran around.
Marco Di Leo, centerfielder and pitcher, said that the team has awesome chemistry.
"Going to state was great; there was a lot of energy in the dugout, and we spent a lot of time together," he said. "They're like my brothers; some teams don't have that."
At 11, Arnold Canales is the youngest player on the team. He said the experience he has had this year with the 12- and 13-year-olds has helped prepare him for next year.
Abe Zarate said he knew he had a special team on his hands a few years ago when many of the boys started playing together.
"The boys applied what we worked on in practice in the games, and the positive results showed. None of this would have been possible without the grace of God, 13 great kids and 13 committed families," Abe Zarate said. "When the boys were 10, I could see there was an opportunity for something really special to happen, and it did."
In the two weeks during the sectional tournament and state championship, Abe Zarate said the boys learned intangibles about the game that can't be coached.
"They'll be able to use that for the rest of their baseball career," he said. "It's the three D's: desire, dedication and determination. This team has so much talent, but we say that work beats talent. They went above and beyond our expectations all year long, and that's all you can ask."
Outfielder Bryce Sitka learned that playing as an individual wasn't going to get him anywhere.
"If you play as an individual and not as a team, you're going to lose," Sitka said. "You have to play together to win."
Darren Slatter will take away many things from the season but one in particular.
"Just knowing that anyone can make it to state," he said.