By Bob Behre


Liam Cleary delivered a clutch two-out, two-run single in a six-run first inning

and closed out the Diamond Jacks Super 17 Underclass’ 12-3 victory over the Jersey Boyz with four innings of relief in the Super 17 Fall Invitational Wood Bat tournament at Diamond Nation last night in Flemington, N.J.

Super 17 Underclass won the Gold Bracket, the Bronx Bombers Underclass won the Green Bracket and All-Out Scout Team prevailed in the Red Bracket. The Bombers edged the East Coast Sand Hogs 17U, 3-1, and All-Out defeated All-Star Baseball 17U Blue, 7-4.

Cleary and Peter Ciuffreda delivered the big hits in the bottom of the first for Super 17 Underclass in the middle of a rally ignited by five walks. Cleary lined a single through the middle to score the first two runs of the rally and, after K.C. Hunt drew a walk to re-load the bases, Ciuffreda followed with a triple to right field that cleared the bases. Nick Diaz capped the rally with an RBI single to center field.

“I was just looking to score some runs for us,” said Cleary, a junior at Hopewell Valley High School. So was Ciuffreda, a junior at Hunterdon Central, who dropped a sinking liner into medium right field then kept charging all the way to third base when the ball bounded over the right fielder’s head.

Jersey Boyz, a powerhouse program based in North Jersey, had struck for a run in the top of the first inning off starter Hunt, a junior at Ramapo High. Thomas Gannaway doubled to right with one out and reached third after Hunt walked the next two batters. Elian Guzman then hit into a forceout at second base but Gannaway scored when Guzman beat the throw to first base.

Cleary entered in the second inning and struck out the first two batters of the inning. He then issued a walk to No. 9 hitter Danny Wilkinson on a 3-2 pitch. Jersey Boyz leadoff batter Wilson Nunez made Cleary pay immediately for that error when he jumped on a first pitch fastball and drove it over the left field fence for a two-run home run. That shaved the Super 17 Underclass lead to 6-3 and it appeared a slugfest was in the offing.

It certainly appeared so when Gannaway followed Nunez’s home run with a triple down the right field line. Cleary, however, struck out Aurelio Licata to end the threat and would allow just two base runners the rest of the way. Making matters worse for the Jersey Boyz, the Super 17 Underclass squad kept scoring.

“I just had to get over it,” said Cleary about Nunez’s home run. “I was just working the fastball and curveball.”

Cleary, working quickly and efficiently on the mound, would allow two runs on two hits over four innings, striking out eight and walking two.

Super 17 Underclass tacked on an unearned run in the bottom of the second to extend its lead to 7-3. Shiv Patel, the Super 17 first baseman, led off and reached on an error, moved to second on a walk, to third on a fielder’s choice grounder and scored on a throwing error. Patel, a junior at J.P. Stevens, was named the Gold Bracket tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

Dante Bozzuti’s leadoff double in the third triggered a four-run Super 17 rally that boosted the lead to 11-3. Vin Mele capped that outburst with an RBI double to right-center field.  Hunt delivered the other run in the inning with a sac fly to left field.

Hunt’s sac fly was actually a laser toward the left field wall on which left fielder Edwin Mendez made an outstanding running catch.

Jack Eichler (Seton Hall Prep) scored Super 17’s final run in the fourth. He drew a leadoff walk, stole second and came around on a pair of wild pitches.

Jersey Boyz pitchers, in atypical fashion, issued 10 walks in the game.