By Joe Hofmann
The Bucks County General Red 14U baseball team was supposed to have this past weekend off.
They took off, all right – all the way to a shocking School’s Out 14U championship at Diamond Nation on Sunday night. Shocking, because the Generals were up against it, as the saying goes.
Last Thursday, Diamond Nation suddenly had a hole to fill in the 14U field, so it gave the Generals a call.
Only one problem: Generals players were already booked. Give teenagers a baseball-free weekend, and they’ll know what to do with it.
But, one by one, the Generals’ players began rearranging their weekend plans.
The initial plans were out. Baseball would take centerstage, once again.
Before long, so would the Generals, who captured a 3-2 victory over Rising Rebels 2027 to win the tournament in shocking fashion.
Winning pitcher Jake Blum was supposed to go to a Phillies game and then go out to a party. Teammate Brycen Burke? He was gonna’ go spend time with his grandfather.
Everyone had their weekends booked but nine players canceled their plans in order to make room for baseball. A tournament was there for the taking, and coach Dalton Moore’s team took it in dominant fashion at times, outscoring the opposition 40-14.
Equally surprising was that it was Bucks County’s first tournament crown of 2023. Its highest finish was making it to the semifinals of a tournament at Diamond Nation in early June, but that is it.
“The boys were hyped,” Moore said. “Winning at Diamond Nation is prestigious. We couldn’t get the guys to stop celebrating on the field. We still had to shake hands.
“Nobody expected us to come in there with just nine players and win the whole thing,” Burke said. “We put our all into it and tried our hardest.”
The right-handed Blum, all 5-foot-6 inches, 135 pounds of him, went the distance, fanning eight, walking just two and scattering five hits.
Not bad for a middle infielder who is not called on to pitch all that much.
“I feel like I can pinpoint my spots and I use my curveball pretty well,” he said. “I like shortstop and second base. I do like playing everywhere a lot. I love pitching, too. It’s like a chess game. I’m smaller and cannot blow it by anyone. I have to out-think the hitter.”
When the game reached the later innings, Bucks County could feel the tournament title vibe in its dugout. And it was spreading quickly.
“We were really fired up,” Burke said. “We were energetic the whole time in both games (Sunday). Everyone did their job, especially Jake Blum. He was shoving. He is such a big part of our team. He does everything he can to help us. He is one of my favorite teammates.”
“For some reason we had an extra spark,” Blum said. “We went out there and balled out.”
Blum doesn’t pitch all that much but he knows what he is doing when he gets the ball.
Jake Blum of the BC Generals was named the 14U School’s Out MVP.
“Jake is a little guy and he doesn’t throw too hard,” Moore added. “It was an absolute gem by him. He is a shortstop and a utility guy and a fantastic kid. He is always in the right place at the right time.”
The right place was on the mound for Bucks, which swept its five games to win the tournament. They did most of it with nine players. Two additional players were able to make it to Sunday, when the team also beat Dodgers Nation behind starter Sean Kivlin, 10-4.
“We were supposed to be off this weekend but Diamond Nation called,” Moore said. “We had nine guys for most of the tournament.”
As of last Thursday afternoon, Moore had planned to give his club the weekend off. He tries to give the players one weekend off a month in order for them to get caught up with their families.
But when Diamond Nation called, he figured he’d ask around. He group-texted the players and their parents and by 2:30 p.m. on Thursday afternoon, nine players were on board. Bucks County was now in the tournament.
“I’m a Phillies fan but it was pretty easy,” Blum said. “The tournament was way more important to me than a Phillies game.”
Bud Murphy knocked in two runs to highlight the Generals’ attack in the title game.
The team had many stars throughout the weekend.
“Diamond Nation tournaments are always big and it’s fun playing here,” Blum said. “We were excited to play. It was a grind, but a lot of fun.”
In the opener Friday, Bucks blasted Wladyka White, 12-2. Noah Kephart went the distance, pitching five innings, allowing one earned run, and fanning six. Joe Bonko, who celebrated his 15th birthday Sunday, was 3-for-4 with three RBI.
In the next game, Bucks Red beat Bucks County Black, 12-5. Bonko pitched five innings, fanned two, and didn’t allow an earned run. Kivlin had two hits and two RBI. Burke had two hits and three RBI.
On Saturday, Bucks beat Locked in Baseball, 3-1, behind Bobby Jerez’s seven-inning, complete-game gem.
All told, Moore needed only five pitchers throughout the entire tournament. All five starters went the distance, which is a testament to the offseason throwing work Moore and pitching coach Patrick Devlin put their players through.
“There are no secrets,” Moore said. “We do a bunch of winter camps. They get the proper amount of throwing in. Before the spring season starts, we have pitching camps. It’s not just pitching but throwing, long toss. They are then ready for the season. Lots of kids like to pitch, but not throw.”
And once the pitchers are on the hill, they know what to do. It is instilled in every one of them.
“Our philosophy is to attack every batter,” Moore said. “We do not try to work around anyone. We like to go middle-middle with our stuff and let it fly.”
Next up for Generals: The USABL Tournament in Toms River. And then Lasorda Legacy in Long Island in two weeks.
Bucks County is now a team to watch in any tournament. Winning School’s Out seems to have put a hop in everyone’s step.
“I feel like (winning School’s Out) will be beneficial,” Blum said. “We’ll have way more confidence now. Baseball is a game of confidence.”