By Bob Behre
The Diamond Jacks Super 16U squad put a quick end to what had begun as an entertaining championship game in the 16U Grand Slam tournament on Sunday night at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
Chris Maldonado and Rocko Brzezniak each drove in two runs and Luke Crawford tripled home another run and scored in a six-run bottom of the fourth inning that turned a 2-0 lead into an 8-0 bulge over the Lehigh Valley Baseball Academy Prospects. Matt Smoke then closed out the eight-run mercy rule victory by striking out the side in order in the top of the fifth.
Maldonado had limited Lehigh Valley to three hits over the first four innings, striking out five and walking one with a tantalizing mix of off-speed stuff.
“My changeup was my putout pitch,” said Maldonado, who also got Lehigh Valley batters swinging and missing at his curveball. “I had confidence in my fastball and my changeup was there.”
Maldonado (2-for-3, 2 runs, 2 RBI) triggered the Diamond Jacks’ two-run rally in the bottom of the first with a one-out double to left field. Alex Duffey followed with a clutch two-out single to right field. Nick Czarnecki then drew a walk and Matt Miceli delivered another clutch two-out single to score Duffey from second and boost the lead to 2-0.
Lehigh Valley (4-1) had its opportunities but Maldonado stranded two runners in both the second and third innings. Ryan Cawley reached on an infield single with two outs in the second and Nick Lees drew a walk off Maldonado, but the Seton Hall Prep freshman induced a fly ball to right field to end the threat. Brzezniak made a nice sliding catch on the short fly to keep at least one run off the board.
Maldonado struck out the first two batters in the third but Spencer Charon beat out a dribbler down the first base line and Connor Rex singled to left as Lehigh Valley threatened again. But Maldonado got the next batter swinging at third strike curveball to extinguish the rally.
Czarnecki led off the fourth with Super 16U clinging to a 2-0 lead and reached on an infield error before promptly stealing second base. Crawford came up with one out and shot a laser into right-center field for an RBI triple and a 3-0 lead. Matt Potok then hit a bouncer between the mound and home plate and Crawford made a nice fade-away slide to beat the catcher back to the plate.
Ricky Erbeck then reached on a throwing error and Dominick Carlucci walked to load the bases. Maldonado stepped in and lined a single to right field to score two runs and boost the lead to 6-0. Brzezniak followed with a long single to left-center field that scored Carlucci from third. When the relay throw came into first attempting to catch Brzezniak retreating to the bag, Maldonado kept charging around third base to score all the way from first base for an 8-0 lead.
“I was just trying to put the barrel on the ball and help out my teammates,” said Maldonado about his two-run single.
Diamond Jacks Super 16U coach Travis Anderson has been impressed with his team’s development.
“We’ve been more aggressive all around,” said Anderson. “Our approach has been better. We’re taking the fight to the pitcher. We did a good job putting pressure on teams this weekend. We’re going first-to-third a lot, taking that extra base. When we get going we do a lot of things right.”
The Diamond Jacks Super 16U (5-0) didn’t do much wrong during a Grand Slam tournament in which they outscored their opponents 32-3. They did have to survive a 2-1 nailbiter over Wladyka Baseball in the final game of pool play. Lehigh Valley outscored its opponents 31-25.
The Diamond Jacks Super 14U defeated Beast Black, 13-1, in the 14U Grand Slam championship game. Ryan Jaros of Super 14U was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. The Diamond Jacks (4-0) outscored their opponents 63-12 while Beast Black (3-1-1) was outscored by its opponents 33-31.
The Virginia-based Stars Baseball outlasted the Diamond Jacks Super 13U squad, 17-16, in a wild 13U Grand Slam championship game. Connor Lyle of Stars Baseball was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Stars Baseball (3-0) outscored its opponents 39-18 while the Diamond Jacks (2-1-1) held a 36-24 runs advantage on their opponents.
Stars Black cruised to a 12-2 victory over Monmouth Liberty Baseball Club in the 12U Grand Slam championship game. Michael Carlacci of Stars Black was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Stars Black (3-0) outscored its tournament opponents in dominating fashion, 42-2, while Monmouth Liberty (3-1) held a 32-29 runs advantage on its opponents.
The NJ Renegades coasted to a 12-2 victory over Upstate Baseball 11U in the Grand Slam championship game. The Renegades (4-0) outscored their tournament opponents 50-16 while the Upstate Battlers (2-2) were outscored by their opponents 36-26.