Chris McConnell and Vincent Ruggiero combined on a three-hitter and the RCBC Marucci Nationals bats delivered timely hits on the way to a 10-3 victory over Jersey Shore Elite and the 11U Halloween Mash championship on Sunday at Diamond Nation.
A big six-run third inning by RCBC broke the game open as the Nationals seemed to get contributions from everyone in a lineup that sent 10 batters to the plate during the rally.
Ruggiero closed out RCBC’s seventh championship of the year with two spotless innings in relief of McConnell just before Nico Marco’s two-out RBI single in the bottom of the fifth simultaneously forged the final margin and drained the final seconds of the hour and 50-minute time limit.
“We got a lot better during the season and really played together,” said Joseph Bonura, RCBC’s terrific shortstop who was named the 11U tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Bonura played outstanding defense the whole tournament and delivered from the leadoff spot in the Nationals’ batting order. He also hammered his first home run of the season.
“I hit the home run to left field,” said Bonura of his blast in a 16-1 victory over NJ Millers earlier in the day on Sunday. “It was a 1-1 count and I got a curveball. It was a no-doubter.” Bonura had come close to hitting a home run a weekend early when he drilled a shot off the left field wall in a Perfect Game event.
Bonura drew two walks and stole two bases in his first two at bats in the final and scored both times. He also lined out hard to center field in his other at bat. Christopher DeAnglis, the Nationals’ No. 5 hitter, doubled twice, to center field and to left field, drove in a run and scored a run.
McConnell had a rocky start, walking the first two Jersey Shore batters in the top of the first inning, but did settle down after that. An error and a sac fly by Joey Malfettano brought two runs in to stake Jersey Shore to the early advantage, but RCBC responded immediately to that challenge.
Bonura, Frank Sblendorio and Michael Garland started the bottom of the first by drawing consecutive walks. Bonura scored on a wild pitch and Garland came home with the tying run on Brendan Swanson’s fielder’s choice grounder to the right side. Malfettano relieved early for Jersey Shore and settled things down with two scoreless innings.
Then Hennessy scored to give Jersey Shore Elite a 3-2 lead in the third. He led off with a single, stole second, moved to third on Maddox LaPietra’s infield hit and scored on Hunter Schneiker’s RBI groundout. Now down a run, RCBC responded once again.
Bonura drew a leadoff walk, stole second and moved to third on Sblendorio’s hard single to left field. Sblendorio stole second and both runners scored on Garland’s single to left. DeAnglis delivered a one-out double to center to score Garland and push the lead to 5-3. Ruggiero reached on an error that brought DeAngelis home and Ruggiero scored on Marco’s fielder’s choice bouncer to shortstop.
Ahead 8-3, RCBC coach Marc Yaverbaum went to his pen and a fresh Ruggiero, who simply retired all six batters he faced. He struck out two in the fourth inning and one in the fifth. The starter McConnell was effective, as well, permitting three runs, just one of which was earned, on three hits over three innings. He had no strikeouts and two of his three walks were to the game’s first two batters.
The Nationals extended the lead to 10-3 with two runs in the bottom of the fifth. More importantly, it used up what remained of the time limit to prevent Jersey Shore Elite from getting a final at bat in the top of the sixth.
Swanson’s one-out single and DeAngelis double set up RCBC with two runners in scoring position in the fifth. Swanson scored on the back end of a double steal with one out and Hennessy, in his third inning of relief, nearly got out of it and beat the clock. Marco, however, delivered a two-out, full count single that scored DeAngelis and drained the time limit.
“These kids have risen to our challenge,” said Yaverbaum. “We’ve played top competition all summer and fall. We’ve won twice here, two PG events, at Ripken. Our core had been together since they were seven years old. They play together. Tonight was a little cold but they battled. That shows a lot about them.”
RCBC (4-0) outscored its Halloween Mash opponents 50-5. Jersey Shore Elite (3-1) held a 30-21 runs advantage on their opponents.