Centercourt catcher Chris Babkowski tags out Aces’ Hunter Runser at end of double play.
By Bob Behre
Good baseball looks quite familiar whether it’s in the south, west, east or Central Jersey or Western New York, for that matter.
Two clubs raised on baseball geographically eight or so hours apart, looked quite similar in makeup and follow through on Wednesday at Diamond Nation.
Aces Baseball from Western New York – no, not the West Side of NYC – and the Centercourt Makos from New Jersey’s Mercer and Burlington counties, put forth an attractive ball game in the 18U Diamond Nation World Series.
Righthander Jase Burdon tossed a gem and contributed at the plate as Aces Baseball edged Centercourt, 3-1, in a briskly paced game that had no issues completing seven innings under the hour and 50-minute time limit.
Burdon limited Centercourt to one run on three hits over 5.2 innings, struck out four and walked two in an extremely tidy effort. He also triggered his team’s two-run rally in the fourth with a leadoff single when Aces Baseball nudged ahead of Centercourt, 2-1.
Burdon scored on Dustin Hendrix’s one-out double down the left field line and Hendrix scored later on Lucas Gilbert’s two-out infield single.
Optical illusion. Yes, Jase Burdon did not get hit with a pitch here. He merely drew a walk in the sixth.
Burdon’s only real trouble occurred in the top of the first inning when he walked speedy leadoff batter Mike Kulyk and Sean Heffernan followed with a pretty bunt single to the left side. Kulyk raced all the way to third as the throw to first was late. Before he could get a single out, Burdon balked in Kulyk from third and his team was quickly down, 1-0.
But Burdon was rock solid from there. He retired the next three batters in order, stranded two Centercourt runners in the second inning before embarking on a run of retiring 12 straight batters.
“It was mostly spotting my curveball,” said Burdon, a resident of Ontario, Canada. “I was able to locate my fastball early and that helped make my curveball effective.”
Burdon started his run with the last out of the second but truly hit another gear in the third inning.
“I think I was a little nervous in the first inning on the big stage here,” said Burdon.
He did not allow another baserunner until two were out in the sixth inning and Jordan Barclay looped a rainbow into shallow right-center field for a single. After Burdon threw a first-pitch ball to leadoff batter Kulyk, and Barclay stole second on the pitch, Aces’ coach Joel Lux came out and got his starter and replaced him with righty Alex Rumtola.
“I was originally supposed to go just four innings,” said Burdon, “but I was cruising so coach gave me the fifth.” After his third straight 1-2-3 inning, Lux gave Burdon the ball again for the sixth, and he got two quick outs.
“I was feeling a little fatigued at that point,” said Burdon, confirming his coach’s instincts.
Rumtola didn’t have it easy protecting what was still a 2-1 lead. He threw three straight balls to walk leadoff batter Kulyk and both runners quickly pulled off a double steal, putting the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position. Catcher Zach Genkinger’s throw to third actually beat Barclay to the bag, but he somehow avoided the tag.
Rumtola, however, got out of it by inducing a fly out to center field by Heffernan.
Burdon started a rally for an important insurance run when he drew a leadoff walk in the bottom of the sixth. He took second on a wild pitch with Hunter Runser at the plate before Runser also drew a walk. Centercourt reliever Bobby Betler showcased some nice heaters, but his consternation about the two runners aboard showed when he balked on consecutive pitches to send Burden home from second and Runser from first to third.
Runser simply did not come to a complete stop in the stretch in base cases.
The 3-1 lead loomed quite large but didn’t get any larger thanks to a terrific play by Centercourt right fielder Kulyk. Kulyk chased down a foul pop near the netting, squared and fired to the plate to easily get Runser trying to score from third for a pretty double play. Betler got the next batter to ground out to first to end the inning.
Centercourt’s No. 3 hitter, Andrew Madison led off the top of the seventh and reached on a throwing error. It was the Aces first error of a finely played defensive game. Down two runs, Madison broke for second and Genkinger caught him trying to steal for the first out. Rumtola made quick work of the Makos from there.
Burdon, coming off a 3-for-3 effort in his previous 18U DN World Series game, was 1-for-1 and drew two walks in his three trips to the plate.
“I’ve been feeling good at the plate,” said Burdon of his hitting approach. “I’m looking to hit fastballs hard up the middle and the off-speed stuff the other way.”
Lux points out a grittiness to Burdon’s at bats.
“Jase never strikes out,” said Lux. And, coincidentally, all he does is throw strikes when he’s on the mound. “He spots that curveball on the outside corner. He’s not easy to hit.”
Centercourt Makos’ Jack Hughes doesn’t seem to like this pitch from Aces Baseball’s Alex Rumtola.
Aces Baseball is now 2-0 in the 18U DN World Series and has two games remaining in the tournament. It faces CK Cardinals National at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday and Out Of The Park Cyclones at 8 a.m. on Friday. Both games are on Field 1. Centercourt (0-2) encounters the Flemington Baseball Academy Jays at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday and North Jersey Eagles at 8 a.m. on Friday.
“We throw strikes and play good defense,” said Lux. “We’ve won a couple tournaments, so we don’t plan on changing things.”
NOTES: Kulyk’s catch and throw in the right field foul territory may have been the highlight reel play of the game but it wasn’t the only impressive defensive play by Centercourt.
Centercourt catcher Chris Babkowski made a nice high grab of a foul pop by Hendrix in the first inning right before it hit the netting behind home plate. …
Centercourt third baseman Dan Dryzga made a terrific play on a high chopper by Aidan Ruettimann to end the fourth inning and strand two runners. Dryzga charged in and made an outstanding scoop on a short hop and quickly fired to first to get Ruettimann. …
Ethan Ernst went 1-for-3 with a single for Aces Baseball. Kyle Stoner of Centercourt went 1-for-2 with a single in two trips to the plate.