By Sean Reilly
Tyler Ballard had a difficult pitching assignment on Sunday afternoon, but the Bakes Brewers right-hander was ready.
The Monmouth County-based Brewers were facing the Diamond Assassins from South Jersey in the final of the Diamond Nation 10U Father’s Day Classic.
The two sides are among the best 10U teams who compete at ‘The Nation.’ In fact, both had already won tournament championships earlier this spring.
In the case of Ballard, he was encountering a Diamond Assassins lineup that had scored at least 12 runs in its three prior games on the weekend, and 44 total. Additionally, it had scored in double figures in three of four contests while winning the King of The Diamond Tournament in April.
Ballard, however, shut them down. He pitched a four-inning two-hitter, with five strikeouts and two walks, as Bakes Brewers won the championship with a 10-0 victory in Flemington.
“It feels really good,” he said. “If I ever got angry out there, I would just take a deep breath and squeeze my right fist really hard so that all the energy would come out.”
Ballard also went 2-for-2 as the No. 3 hitter in the lineup. He singled and scored in a four-run bottom of the first, and doubled and scored in a six-run third inning as Bakes Brewers completed a 4-0 weekend with a 43-4 run differential.
Lucas Litton, Michael Lutkiewicz and Joseph Pollio also went 2-for-2 for Bakes Brewers, who also won several 9U events in their first year competing at Diamond Nation in 2022.
After Ballard pitched a 1-2-3 top of the first, the first two Bakes Brewers were retired in the bottom of the inning.
Ballard then singled to right field, and took second on an errant throw back to the infield. Litton then hit an RBI double to the gap in left-center field. Brady Kuhmann was up next, and he battled to earn an important full-count walk.
Lutkiewicz was then in an 0-2 hole before walloping a triple to right-center for a 3-0 lead. After Maddox Sterenczak was hit by a pitch, Pollio hit a first-pitch base hit to left field to score Lutkiewicz.
The Diamond Assassins, who did not advance a baserunner beyond first base, got singles from Colton Farquhar in the second inning and Max Bingham in the third.
Ballard was up first for Bakes Brewers in the bottom of the third, and he hit a first-pitch double to left center. He moved to third on a wild pitch, and scored as Litton once again doubled, this time off the base of the fence in right-center.
Kuhmann followed by lining a hit over the head of the shortstop that moved Litton to third. Kuhmann took second on a throw.
Lutkiewicz then hit a grounder that deflected off the pitcher and traveled toward shortstop, scoring a run for his game-high third RBI.
“My first hit, I fouled off a few pitches and then I found a pitch that I liked and drove it to right field,” he said. “The other one, I was able to hit it off the pitcher.”
Lutkiewicz advanced to second on a passed ball that put runners on second and third for Sterenczak. But both scored a wild pitch that increased the lead to 8-0.
Sterenczak walked on a full count, and Pollio singled him to second. Landon Shanklin flied out to right field, with Sterenczak crossing to third. Owen Varna had an RBI ground out to score the ninth run, and an error on a ball hit by Nate Waitzel scored the 10th.
Waitzel and Shanklin were named the 10U tournament’s co-MVPs for their overall play on the weekend.
“Our first game was a little rough, but then our last few games we played really well,” Lutkiewicz said. “We’re usually like this anywhere we play, but it’s fun playing here. The turf fields are nice, there are a lot of fields and the snack shack is nice.”
Above all was the feeling of coming through at the plate to support a teammate like Ballard.
“He pitched amazing, and he does it every single time,” Lutkiewicz said. “He rakes, too.”