By Bob Behre
While a four-run top of the fourth inning put the Morris County Cubs in the driver’s seat, it would be a pair of manufactured tack-on runs that would steer the Cubs to Diamond Nation’s High School Fall League championship on Thursday in Flemington.
The Cubs fended off a relentless pursuer in Hustle Baseball Academy 16U to secure a 10-8 victory and the Fall League championship on an unseasonably warm evening at Diamond Nation.
Hustle Baseball Academy scored a run in the bottom of the seventh to draw within 10-8 and had runners on the corners with one out. Reliever Brian Bienus, however, wriggled out of the jam when he induced a fly ball to right field and caught the next batter looking at a fastball on the inside corner to end the game.
“It was nice to come out on top,” said Cubs coach Todd Burdette. “We played well enough at the right time to win the tournament.”
The Cubs had entered the postseason as the No. 7 seed in the 12-team playoff and ran the table. The Cubs were able to extend that run by surviving a 10-7 semifinal over the In The Zone Knights via the International Tiebreaker. A dropped fly ball with two outs opened the floodgates to a four-run top of the eighth inning that sent the Cubs to the championship game.
Hustle Baseball also reached the final with a monumental final at bat in the semifinals. The Fairfield-based program faced a 3-1 hole entering the top of the seventh against the top-seeded NJ Jays American. Hustle Baseball erased that deficit with a four-run outburst then reliever Joe Gagliano struck out the side in order in the bottom of the inning to secure a 5-3 victory.
The Cubs received numerous contributions from a deep lineup in the championship game. Pat Coyne, the team’s No. 3 hitter was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Coyne had a single, double, drew two walks, scored three runs and drove in a run in the final. “He pitched a three-hitter and came up with so many big hits in big spots,” said Burdette. Pat’s been with us since he was 11 years-old. It’s been fun to see him mature as a player.”
Peter Gallo, the Cubs clean-up hitter, drove in four runs in the championship game with a pair of doubles and a sac fly and he also drew a walk and scored a run. Gallo ripped a two-run double in the top of the first inning to give the Cubs a 2-0 lead. His two-out, RBI double capped the four-run fourth that extended the Cubs’ lead to 8-3.
Ethan Young’s two-run double in the third had given the Cubs the lead for good at 4-3.
Sac flies by Ryan Struble in the fifth and Gallo in the sixth proved critical because Hustle Baseball refused to go quietly. Hustle Baseball struck for two runs in the fifth and two more runs in the sixth to creep back into the game at 10-7. Joe Rivera delivered the first run in the fifth with a double and Evan Provato followed with an RBI triple. Danny Holmes singled home run in the sixth and Jordan Quiles scored on a wild pitch for Hustle Baseball.
Provato triggered Hustle Baseball’s rally in the bottom of the seventh with a one-out single through the left side. Gagliano followed with a single to center field before Max Kamper singled to right field. Provato stopped at third momentarily, but continued home when the ball was mishandled in right. Gagliano advanced to third base on the play.
But Bienus, who had entered with two outs and a runner on third in the fifth, got out of further trouble. Bienus permitted three runs, two of which were earned, on five hits, struck out four and walked two for an adventurous win out of the pen. Struble started for the Cubs and allowed five runs, two of which were earned, on six hits over 5.2 innings. He struck out one and walked four.
“We put ourselves in some tough situations, but our guys don’t give up,” said Burdette. “They just keep battling back.”
Hustle Baseball had been stifled over the first six innings of the semifinal by Jays righthander Ryan Godown. But Godown, perhaps tiring, ran into trouble in the top of the seventh. Godown entered the seventh having permitted just one run on four hits, while striking out six and walking none in an extremely tidy effort that featured a biting curveball.
When Gagliano led off the seventh with a double to left-center field and Kamper followed with a single, it was a prelude to a big inning that enable Hustle Baseball to reach the championship game.
Righthanders Rylan DeSalvo and Gagliano combined to limit the Jays to three runs on seven hits while striking out 13 and walking one. Gagliano entered in the sixth and allowed just a single while striking out five.