Whiz Kids pitcher Zach Canterino tags Iron Nine’s Quinn Weber at home in the second inning.
By Rich Bevensee
It took a little while for Max Johnson and the Iron Nine 13U ballclub to get the offense cranked up Friday afternoon, but once the machine got humming it was tough to stop.
Johnson led an offense in which seven players in the 11-man lineup had a base hit, all but one reached base at least once, and seven players scored at least once. That’s a lot of balance for any opponent to handle.
Johnson tripled, singled, reached on an error and scored twice and Logan Bohn pitched a four-hitter over six innings to pace Iron Nine to an 8-3 pool play victory over the Whiz Kids of Conshohocken, Pa., in the Independence Weekend Firecracker at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
The best part for Iron Nine, a South Jersey-based club, was that their return to form served as a nice bounce back from a 3-1 loss to Ascent Athlete earlier in the day.
“I think it was just us seeing the ball better in the second game,” Johnson said. “In the first game we were coming off camps earlier in the day and we were probably just tired and had low energy and didn’t see the ball well. In the second game we had a little bit more energy so we were seeing the ball more.”
Iron Nine will complete pool play with a doubleheader on Saturday, with games against Complete Game of PA Red at 8 a.m., and Uncommon 2028 Black at 10 a.m.
The Whiz Kids (1-1), who were coming off a 6-1 victory over BBA 13U Eagles earlier in the day, have two games remaining. They will face the FBA Jays on Saturday at 10 a.m. and Complete Game of PA Red on Sunday at 10 a.m.
The Whiz Kids were trucking along with a 1-0 lead when the Iron Nine offense came alive in the bottom of the fourth inning with a four-run burst.
“When we decide to be aggressive, things come around, and we’ve got a couple physical guys who can put the ball in play and good things happen,” Iron Nine coach Max Reyes said. “This was huge for us to bounce back from scoring one run. We’re typically the type of team that takes a little bit to get going offensively. Defensively we’re pretty solid, and pitching, we have a lot of arms, so it comes down to how aggressive we can be with our bats.”
Johnson, a leadoff hitter with arguably the most pop on the team, began the frame with a sharp single to center, Jack Endico was hit by a pitch, and the next four hitters drove in a run.
Connor DiStefano and Quinn Weber had RBI singles, Trip Hegarty had a sacrifice fly, and Vincent DeCock plated a run with a groundout for a 4-1 Iron Nine lead.
One inning later, Iron Nine struck for three more runs to build a 7-1 lead. Miles Jimenez scored on an outfield error, Endico stroked an RBI single, and DiStefano drove in another run with a groundout.
Maddox Mingucci knocked in the final run for Iron Nine with an RBI double down the left field line in the sixth.
Bohn was appreciative of the large cushion.
“Last game we didn’t hit well but this game we really did,” Bohn said. “It makes you feel comfortable in situations and you can pitch freely.”
Of the four or five hardest hit balls by Iron Nine, three came off the bat of Johnson, who towers over his teammates and whose power would fit well in the middle of the order, as well, for most teams. But Reyes loves his presence at the top of the order.
“He’s electric,” Reyes said. “He’s a good baserunner, hits the ball hard, hustles every time and works the count very well.” And batting first gets him more at bats.
“I think I bat leadoff because I get on base a lot,” Johnson said. “I have good plate discipline and I can locate balls or strikes, so I either hit the ball hard and well or I walk. I get on base a lot and my guys behind me get a lot of hits and they can power me in.”
The benefactor of all this offense was Bohn, who was brilliant in simply keeping the ball away from the middle of the plate. He surrendered four hits and two walks and struck out three.
Max Johnson leads off third after singling in the fourth inning. Johnson also tripled and scored twice.
“I threw mostly fastball and curveball, and didn’t throw my slider,” Bohn said. “I think I was able to keep them off base because I threw mostly on the outside and inside and I didn’t throw it down the middle.”
“He’s a stud,” Reyes said. “Maybe one or two solid hits off him, and apart from that everything was pretty soft. And he’s the type of guy who can break off a 3-2 curve ball against their No. 4 hitter and bases loaded. That’s huge. It’s big league pitches that help him out a lot.”
Jimenez pitched the seventh for Iron Nine and allowed two runs on one hit and four walks before retiring the final Whiz Kid with the bases loaded.
Another huge factor in Iron Nine’s bounce back win was the defense of Endico at shortstop. In the third, he retreated to shallow left to snag a fading liner off the bat of Mike Kearney. He made a leaping catch deep in the hole to rob Zach Canterino of a base hit in the fourth. In the fifth, he threw a frozen rope to first to nab Zach Delay by a step. And in the sixth he began a picture-perfect 6-4-3 double play.
Canterino pitched well through three innings (no runs on two hits) for the Whiz Kids before facing the Iron Nine batting order for the second time. Dom Bruno pitched the fifth inning and Owen Butler handled the sixth.
The Whiz Kids claimed a 1-0 lead in the top of the third inning on a Will Newbert RBI single. They added two more runs in the seventh when Ryan Vallone and Alex Lieb earned bases-loaded walks.