By Rich Bevensee
For all the wild and unpredictable plays which occurred through the latter half of the 15U Fall Harvest championship game, nothing could have prepared Brandon Weller for what happened in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Weller, who earlier in the game scored on a dropped throw at the plate, found himself in another predicament when he broke for second base on an apparent fielder’s choice while the game clock ticked through its final minute of a tie game.
An easy out turned into an errant throw to second, allowing Weller to break for third while the ball rolled into center field. Another misfire back to the infield sailed into the third base dugout, and Weller set off a wild celebration with his 90-foot jog home representing the go-ahead run.
It was a jaunt around the bases the 3Up3Down crew will be talking about for a long time. The Reading, Pennsylvania-based club survived an error in the top of the sixth which allowed the tying run to score, and rode Weller’s frenzied run to a 5-3 victory over the Elkridge Hurricanes and the Fall Harvest championship on Sunday night at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
“When the ball was hit I was like, I gotta’ get there, get down, no interference,” said Weller, a freshman at Exeter Township Senior High in Reiffton, Pa. “The ball sailed over his head, I didn’t go down and I kept running. Then I was seeing the ball come to third and it went over my head again and into the dugout. Absolutely crazy.”
“We always tell them to always be aggressive and take the extra base every time,” 3Up3Down coach Raymond Marmolejos said. “When the ball went into the outfield, Brandon knew what to do. When it went into the dugout, it was over.”
It was Gavin Gross’ one-out grounder which everyone thought would be a fielder’s choice – and possibly an inning-ending double play – and Weller’s run made the score 4-3. With seconds remaining on the 1-hour, 50-minute game clock, the next batter, Gabe Seidel, rocked an RBI triple for the final run of the contest.
“We’re a bunch of fighters,” Marmolejos said. “We’re warriors and we never give up.”
“I think we learned we can fight back,” said 3Up3Down reliever Evan Glucksnis. “We put all the trust in our players. We’re not about one man winning it all. We collaborated and won the game.”
It was a heart-breaking finish for the Hurricanes, a club team from Howard County, Maryland, just 10 miles south of Baltimore. It was their third runner-up finish of the fall.
“It’s a tough loss,” Elkridge coach Scott Brown said. “It just didn’t go our way, and we did not execute some of the plays we should have.”
The Hurricanes squandered an opportunity to tie the game in the fifth inning, only to be given a second chance in the sixth when they were down to their final out. Isaac Blinkoff hit an ordinary ground ball which snuck through on a fielding error and Blake Kolarek scored from third to make it a 3-3 game.
Elkridge, which survived a seventh-inning scare from Diamond Jacks Gold 15U in the semifinals to win 5-3, were not able to stem another late-inning tide in the championship game.
“At that point (in the sixth) we were trying to not let a run score, especially with the time limit coming up,” Elkridge coach Scott Brown said. “We wanted to keep the game where it was and try to go into extras and give ourselves another chance. We had a chance for a double play where, hopefully, we can end the inning, and it’s an unfortunate error. The ball just didn’t bounce our way.”
Elkridge took leads of 1-0 and 2-1 before 3Up3Down grabbed a 3-2 lead in the fourth. Weller stroked a game-tying RBI double to score Aiden Inclendon from first. Weller later scored the go-ahead run on a Seidel fielder’s choice, when a great throw from Elkridge shortstop Ben Brown couldn’t be handled at the plate.
That play was the first taste of drama in the final. The roller-coaster portion really began in the top of the fifth, when Glucksnis, a sophomore at Gov. Mifflin in Shillington, Pa., had come on to relieve Cole Neiswender, and Elkridge got runners on second and third with no out.
“I was kind of shaking in my shoes but I put my trust in my teammates and we came out on top,” Glucksnis said.
With the infield in, Glucksnis got a groundout for the first out. Zach Perlin then earned a walk to load the bases.
A failed suicide squeeze bunt attempt resulted in Mike Schiano getting tagged out easily at home for the second out. Glucksnis got a strikeout to end the danger.
“On the suicide bunt, I threw the strike, saw he missed it and then I see a kid running in from third, and I’m yelling, ‘Tyler (Nau) you gotta tag him.’ Once he put that tag down all the pressure was gone.”
Glucksnis got a strikeout for the final out and squashed Elkridge’s scoring threat.
“We’ve been through this position before and we’ve gotten out of it, so previous experience helped us out,” Marmolejos said. “It’s something that we practice.”
Brown said he didn’t hesitate to call for a suicide squeeze in spite of the fact that the top of his order was batting.
“We do a lot of suicide squeeze plays,” Brown said. “We don’t have a ton of big hitters, we don’t hit the ball over the fence every time, so we play a lot of small ball. It’s something we’re accustomed to. In that instance hopefully we get a run across and catch them off guard. We figured we’d try and we just didn’t execute it well. That’s the way it goes sometimes.”
For 3Up3Down, Weller finished 2-for-3 with a double, an RBI and two runs scored. Seidel went 2-for-3 with a triple.
Pitching and defense were key to the team’s march to the title, allowing just four runs in three games en route to the championship game.
In the final, Neiswender pitched four innings and allowed four runs on four hits and five walks with three strikeouts. Glucksnis pitched two innings and yielded an unearned run on no hits and two walks with three strikeouts.
For the Hurricanes, who also allowed four runs in three pool play games, Ben Brown pitched three innings and gave up one unearned run on three hits and no walks with two whiffs. Zach Perlin pitched the final three frames and allowed four runs (two earned) on five hits and one walk with three strikeouts.
Isaac Blinkoff drove in two runs for Elkridge, one on a sacrifice fly and the second on a third-inning single which gave the Hurricanes their final lead of the game at 2-1. Kolarek scored three times.
Brown said he could see it on his players’ faces that they were frustrated with yet another runner-up finish, but that it’s only a matter of time before they enjoy a breakthrough.
“They have a lot of chemistry, they constantly work on the little things and they believe in themselves,” Brown said. “They have to believe they can do it. We were right there, but it’s the way the game goes. Take the wins with the losses and realize this loss isn’t the end of us, and maybe next time it will turn into a championship.”