Billimoria, Iwanyk grit out 3-2 9ers Baseball victory

By DN WRITING STAFF | May 12, 2024

Darren King of Stamford takes a cut in the fourth inning.

By Rich Bevensee

There were a handful of players who deserved credit for having an immediate and direct effect on helping 9ers Baseball win a close ballgame. Charlie Iwanyk just happened to be the one under the white hot spotlight, standing on the mound with the ball in his hand at the end of the game.

Stamford Travel of Connecticut trailed by two heading into the bottom of the seventh inning but got the tying runs on base with one out. 9ers lefty Dylan Billimoria pitched a two-hitter to that point, and Iwanyk came in to preserve his teammate’s effort. 

After causing his coaches to have mild heart palpitations by allowing a run-scoring single, Iwanyk induced a fielder’s choice force-out for the final out to preserve a dramatic 3-2 victory for the 9ers in a 13U Mother’s Day Classic pool play contest on Saturday afternoon at Diamond Nation in Flemington.

“I feel like I’ve been through a lot of nerve-racking situations – Little League, school, even the 9ers, so I feel like I’ve been through a lot,” Iwanyk said. “I was able to breathe and calm myself down so it felt normal at this point. I felt nervous first stepping on the mound, and once I got settled I felt good.”

The 9ers led 3-1 when Iwanyk entered with two on and one out in the seventh, and Matt Coppola greeted him with a sharp RBI single to left to bring Stamford within a run. And that potential tying run, pinch-runner Darren King, was standing at third base.

With runners at second and third, Iwanyk got a strikeout looking for the second out, and a force out at third to enable the 9ers to sneak away with a victory.

“He likes to give us heart attacks,” 9ers coach Nick Belka said of Iwanyk. “He was struggling early and falling behind with that single to get the tying run to third base, but he was able to lock it in. He trusted all the hard work he put in this winter.”

Billimoria enjoyed his best outing of the spring to put the 9ers in position to win in the seventh inning. The crafty lefty used a smart combination of his fastball, curve and changeup to limit Stamford to two hits and one walk through six innings. He also struck out four.

After Billimoria walked the first two batters he faced in the seventh, Belka knew it was time for Iwanyk.

“We’ve got a gauge on his tempo and when he starts to run out of gas,” Belka said. “He put us in the best position possible to win the game, so we had faith in Charlie to lock it down.”

Billimoria said he had more control of his pitches this particular outing because of a technical tip from his pitching coach. Whatever changes he made, Billimoria kept Stamford quiet throughout. 

After allowing an unearned run in the top of the first inning, Billimoria allowed just three more baserunners, and at one point retired seven straight heading into the seventh.

The 9ers’ Tyler Morton races to first with Stamford’s Jake Thielen on the bag.

“My pitching coach said I needed to stick my glove out ahead of my toe,” Billimoria said. “This was definitely my best outing because I had more control and I made less pitches per inning because I threw more strikes. I was getting ahead of more hitters. After the first inning, I knew I felt good because I was throwing strikes and pounding the zone.”

The teams traded single runs in the first inning. The 9ers scored when Tom Slobiski hit an opposite-field single to right to plate Sam Kuiken. Stamford tied the game in the bottom half when leadoff hitter Paul Nanos reached on an error and later scored on a Coppola groundout. 

In the top of the fourth the 9ers seized a 2-1 edge when Kuiken walked, stole second, and was off and running on contact when Stamford committed a fielding error on an Iwanyk grounder on the right side, allowing Kuiken to score easily. 

“We try to stress being as aggressive as we can on the basepaths, especially at the 13U level,” Belka said. “Mistakes are bound to happen, and we take pride in teaching kids that if you get out being aggressive you’re never going to be yelled at. We don’t want them to be tentative on the basepaths.”

“I really just picked up my coach, got a big lead and let my speed take over,” Kuiken said. 

Kuiken had an even bigger impact on this game in the sixth, lofting a fly ball into center which allowed Jack Rutkowski to tag up from third for a very important insurance run. 

“I was only thinking about making contact with the ball, putting the ball in play and getting the run in,” Kuiken said.

Darren King was solid on the hill through five innings for Stamford, allowing two runs, one earned, on six hits and two walks with three strikeouts. Coppola pitched two innings in relief and allowed one run on one hit and three walks with one strikeout. 

The 9ers improved to 2-0 with the win and will face Complete Game Academy on Sunday at 8 a.m. to finish pool play. Earlier Saturday the 9ers beat Double Major Gold, 8-7.

Stamford fell to 0-2 with the loss to the 9ers and will wrap up pool play against Double Major Gold on Sunday at 8 a.m. Earlier Saturday Stamford lost to Complete Game, 10-6.

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