Big first inning, Gustafson lethal close guide Double Major Black 12U

By DN WRITING STAFF | May 19, 2024

By Rich Bevensee

Cole Gustafson likes the feeling of walking to the mound with the game in his hands, and he welcomes the challenge. 

So when 12U Double Major Black coach Carlos Ruiz handed him the ball in the fourth inning, Gustafson knew what was at stake.

The Technique Tigers Baseball Academy had reclaimed momentum and climbed back into the game with a four-run rally. Enter Gustafson, who promptly shut down the Tigers over the final four frames.

Gustafson’s work allowed Double Major’s seven-run burst in the first inning to hold up as the deciding rally in a 9-4 pool play triumph at the 12U Spring Fever tournament on Saturday morning at Diamond Nation in Flemington. 

“I understand the job I need to do,” Gustafson said. “I need to throw strikes, strike kids out and get weak contact to let my defense make plays. I like when I pitch in those situations because it puts me on the spot and I can prove I can do the job.”

Joseph Sarrubbo pitched the first inning and Jake Zereconski pitched two innings before handing over the controls to Gustafson, who pitched four scoreless innings and struck out four while allowing four hits and no walks. 

“Cole picked us up when momentum started to shift a little bit for the other team,” Ruiz said. “He came in and shut it down for us.”

Gustafson got a big lift from center fielder Mateo Matusz in the fifth inning. Matusz tracked down a single by Logan Eliot and fired to second to nail Eliot trying to stretch his base hit into a double, and he made a nice running catch of a fly ball by the next batter, Morgan Ritter. 

Double Major improved to 7-1 after beating Tucci Elite, 10-0, in its second pool play game of the day. This tough squad from South Plainfield wraps up pool play against Morris County Cubs White on Sunday at 4:30 p.m.

Double Major 12U is making its first appearance at ‘The Nation’ in six weeks. It won the Battle At The Turf 12U title on March 24 and went 2-1 in pool play at the April Fool’s tournament April 5-7. 

Double Major has the look of an experienced 12U squad in mid-May, and that may come from an abundance of exposure to nationally-ranked competition on the Perfect Game circuit, according to Ruiz. 

“I think our schedule is sharpening us up for these tournaments here (at Diamond Nation), and you know the talent that comes through here, it’s always a gauntlet,” Ruiz said. “This team has improved a lot since we started. They’re maturing. Some days they act like 8-year olds. Some days they act like 30-year olds. We’re grooming them to become good men and good baseball players.”

Gustafson said he used a heavy dose of his two-seam fastball to complement his four-seam, curve and changeup.

“My pitching is getting a lot better,” Gustafson said. “I have this quick pitch slide step which messes up their timing, and I also have really good breaking balls. When I’m ahead I throw a slider which starts middle and cuts away.”

Double Major surged for two runs in the top of the first inning on Sarrubbo’s high chopper up the middle. 

In the top of the second, Double Major rallied for five runs and a 7-0 lead on two hits, two walks and two errors. Zereconski picked up an RBI on an infield error, leadoff man Gabriel Garcia had an RBI groundout and Mason Vindaman added an RBI single. 

The Tigers, from Trumbull, Connecticut, came alive in the bottom of the second with four runs on four hits, including a monstrous two-run blast off the bat of Jackson Bullock, who cleared the tallest trees beyond the 237-foot fence in center field. Grayson Sanchez singled in a run and Mason Slywka drove in another run with an infield single that struck Zereconski.

That was all the noise the Tigers would make. While Gustafson was quieting hitters over the final three innings, Double Major scored to make it 8-4 in the fourth on a Zereconski RBI double, and scored once more in the fifth when Vindaman doubled, stole third and took home on a throwing error.

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