By Will Harrigan
The final of Sunday’s 2022 Slugfest in the 16U bracket played out mostly like a well-paced baseball game.
The Diamond Jacks Super 16U went tit-for-tat with Baseball U PA Tellip for most of the game, as quickly-played half innings went by the wayside in good time.
Luckily for the local boys, a five-spot in the first inning before the game got in a groove proved to be the difference.
Capitalizing on the early offensive output, the Diamond Jacks notched a 5-2 victory to win the 16U Slugfest title at Diamond Nation. The DJacks ran roughshod in their 5-0 tournament, pummeling opponents by a 43-6 margin. Baseball U Tellip finished 4-1 after a very strong tournament of its own.
Will Mahala – a sophomore at Seton Hall Prep – garnered MVP honors for Travis Anderson’s squad. Mahala went 4-for-6 with two HRs and a triple in the Diamond Jacks’ three Sunday games alone.
“We put barrels on the ball all weekend, and made it easier for our pitchers,” Mahala said. “There’s a few new guys and we’re still gelling, so to win a tournament is great.”
Hunterdon Central product Soren Gregor got the big rally started in the first for the Diamond Jacks, drawing a leadoff walk, and Mahala drew a free pass two batters later to put two men on.
Gregor came around to score on a wild pitch on the fourth ball of Denora’s at bat to put the Diamond Jacks on the board. Denora would add a hard hit double later on in the game.
Later in the inning, Immaculata teammates Justin Labrador and Jaydin Capindica also walked with the bases loaded to plate two more runs.
Blake Echternacht’s single to score Labrador and Jayden Rosado was remarkably the first hit of the inning, and yet it gave the DJacks a commanding 5-0 edge.
“I think we did a good job of taking advantage of their pitching issues,” said Anderson. “It shows plate discipline, and Blake was able to come through with a big two out hit to kind of break it open at that point.”
Meanwhile, turning the ball over to Gregor on the mound meant the DJacks did plenty enough on offense to win.
Gregor fanned seven Baseball U batters while surrendering just two runs in five innings of work. Liam Coyle and Henry Ayers each came on to toss an inning of relief to seal the deal for the champions.
“Soren was outstanding,” said Anderson. “Every at bat was 0-1 and he seemed to constantly get ahead on every count. I’m really happy with how he threw.”
James Bottger’s RBI single in the fourth got Baseball U on the board, scoring Max Forgione, who had also singled to leadoff the frame.
In the fifth, Max Urbas launched a double into the right-center field gap to score Jake Aftewicz and cut the deficit to 5-2.
But the aforementioned three hits were all Baseball U would muster on DJacks pitching all evening.