Q&A: TB SoCal Owner Benny Bonilla Talks Quarterfinals Berth, History at Champs AZ

When it comes to the National Team Championships in Arizona, perhaps no team has a more illustrious history than TB SoCal.

Since the inception of Champs AZ back in 2012, the California-based organization has medaled more times than any other team, winning a total of five golds and one bronze combined across all age groups. Most recently, it won two gold medals at the same event for the second different time last year, with both the 14U and 17U versions of the squad taking home the top prize in their respective tournaments.

Simply put, TB SoCal has been a mainstay in the later portions of the playoff bracket at Champs AZ for a while now, and this year has proven to be no exception to that rule. In the ongoing 15U tournament, the team found itself as the top ranked seed after a dominant showing in pool play where it went 4-0 and outscored its opponents by a combined total of 42-7. It carried this momentum into bracket play on Thursday morning as well, rallying from behind to survive a scare against 32nd ranked GBG Inland Empire before coming alive and dispatching of the San Diego Show in a 12-2 drubbing that punched its ticket to the quarterfinals.

This showing has put TB SoCal just three wins away from yet another gold medal, a position that team owner and coach Benny Bonilla has become all too familiar with. Bonilla was in the dugout for both of the team's victories on Thursday, and after taking care of business in the round of 16, he spoke with USA Baseball about his group's performance in the tournament to date and its history at Champs AZ:

Q: You guys came into today as the No. 1 seed in the bracket, and you were able to win both of your games today to advance to the quarterfinals. What did you think of your team’s performances in both of those games?

A: Game one this morning, we kinda got punched in the face, but the kids fought back and grinded it out. Part of being here last year and winning is that a lot of these kids have been through it. They don’t hit the panic button, they’re just trying to play the game the right way.

Q: Like you said, you guys were trailing deep into the first game, but you managed to come back and then roll it over into a good win in the next one. How do you think you guys were able to respond like that?

A: In the second game, they just came out relaxed and went back to what we were doing early on. We got that first one out of the way where you’re the No. 1 seed and everyone’s trying to beat you and giving you their best. Offensively, our group is very good, and when they get going together, it’s hard to keep up with them.

Q: Your pitching has been very good throughout the tournament, only giving up more than three runs in one game. Why do you think those guys have been able to be so effective so far?

A: I’ll live with our pitching and defense. We’re pretty solid out there, and we have a bunch of kids that just go and compete. No one’s Nolan Ryan, but they all just do what they’re supposed to do.

Q: You guys have historically had a lot of success in this tournament going back to when it started, and you were able to win the 14U tournament last year. How do you think that experience has helped prepare you for this year at 15U?

A: I think program wide now, kids come in and have the mindset like they’re trying to keep up with the past generations. They’re going to come out here and put on a good show and compete to the end. I think we do stuff the right way. We deal with the kids we come with, and we’ve been successful many times at this event by having quality depth and the kids making the right plays at the right time.

Q: You guys are into tomorrow, and you have some big games coming up. How do you think you guys stack up, and what do you think you need to do in order to get to where you guys want to go?

A: We need to throw strikes and play defense. If we do those two things, offensively I think we’ll be right there at the end. It’s the game of baseball too, so the ball’s got to bounce our way, but I know that these kids believe that we’re going to win. It comes down to execution and putting pressure on other teams. We get MBA Navy next and they’re going to be well prepared also, so we’re looking forward to it.