Brayden Martin, a Florida State commit, singled and drove in a run for Cadets Showcase Baseball.
By Rich Bevensee
High school baseball teams rarely compete together year round. St. John’s in Washington, D.C., is the rare exception, and judging by the high level at which the squad performs, it’s clear that cohesion is a major factor in their success.
Playing in the summer and fall as Cadets Showcase Baseball, the Cadets are tearing through the competition while relying on each other for motivation. A prime example of this chemistry was on display Saturday when the Cadets scored 22 runs while sweeping a doubleheader at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
“A team that can play together, that’s more of a family, will be more accountable to the others,” senior pitcher Ben Thomason said. “When you’re on the field with your boys that you’ve been with the entire year, you’re more inclined to help them out. You’re a closer family.”
In the first game of that twinbill, Thomason pitched three innings of one-hit ball, seven players had RBIs and the Cadets roared to a 12-5 victory over South Jersey-based Pro Skills in ‘The Nation’s’ Super 17 Fall Invitational.
The Cadets followed up later that evening with a 10-1 win over Northeast Pride ‘23 Scout. The Cadets will aim for a weekend sweep when they face the Rockland Pirates on Sunday.
The top eight teams from the 17-18U Wood Bat Championship (Sept. 9-11) and the Fall Invitational advance to the Columbus Day Showdown, Monday, Oct. 10.
Against Pro Skills, Andrew Powers (2-for-2, triple) led the Cadets with three RBI and Andy Francis (2-for\-2) and Brady Ruiz-Weiss (2-for-2, triple) both drove in two runs.
All 11 Cadet batters reached base safely once and eight scored at least once in support of Thomason and reliever Colin Byrnes (the lone Cadet on the roster who does not attend St. John’s; he’s a senior at Georgetown Prep).
“As a group they play really well together,” said Cadets Showcase coach Jon Sidlia, a varsity assistant coach at St. John’s. “They enjoy each other, they’re an intelligent group and they pay attention to detail. They take the mantra, ‘We Are Family’ to the next level.”
“It comes down to knowing your guys,” said Cadets senior shortstop Brayden Martin, a 5-10, 165-pound Florida State commit. “We practice every day, we lift together. You get to the spring and you just know your guys. It’s definitely a thing a lot of people don’t do, but we like staying together. We think it helps us as a team.”
Thomason was highly efficient in his three innings of work, allowing just two unearned runs on one hit and one walk with four strikeouts. After allowing two of the first three Pro Skills batters to reach, Thomason spun his fastball, curveball and slider effectively enough to retire eight of the next 10 batters he faced.
“I would start the at bat with a slider and keep hitters off balance, then go fastball curveball and from that point forward you own that at bat,” Thomason said. “You just have to attack the first pitch.”
Sidila said Thomason made a crucial correction with his posture to rebound from a pair of so-so outings.
“When you try to throw a ball really hard you tend to pull your head up and I was letting my arm leak out,” the 6-3, 195-pound right-hander said. “Your head controls everything. If you’re pulling your head out, you’re gonna be pulling your arm out and everything’s gonna be terrible.
“The adjustment was getting my head closer to my left shoulder. Today I felt I did a little better at that. I attacked the zone more competitively. When you have better posture, it’s easier. The fastball comes out harder, the curveball has more depth, more bite, and the slider is a little more firm.”
Byrnes pitched the final three innings for the Cadets and allowed three runs (two earned) on three hits and struck out four.
Unlike Martin, Thomason still is seeking a suitor for his pitching talent. He said he’s looking at Ivy League schools as well as Georgetown for next fall.
“I’m just hoping to get into a good school,” Thomason said.
Unlike Thomason, Martin has enjoyed the advantage of having already made his college commitment. He gave his verbal to Florida State in the middle of his sophomore season, and added that he felt a weight was lifted at that point.
“It’s tough for Ben because he feels like he has to do well,” Martin said. “For me it’s definitely a little bit of a lift off your shoulders. You still want to do well for the school you’re representing and the school you’re committed to. It helps a little bit to know where you’re headed, but I still try to do what I have to get done.”
Clinging to a 3-2 lead after the first inning, the Cadets scored the next 10 runs thanks in part to five extra base hits. In the third inning, Martin had an RBI single, and when he got hung up between first and second, Colin Gibbs broke for home and scored for a 5-2 lead.
The Cadets tacked on three more runs in the fourth inning. Mitchell Smallwood was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, and both Ethan Myung and Nick Hippchin both chipped in an RBI groundout.
In the fifth, the Cadets sent Pro Skills teetering on the verge of a mercy rule ending when Francis had a two-run single, Ruiz-Weiss belted an RBI triple and Powers added a run-scoring single for a 12-2 lead.
The Cadets were one out away from ending the game thanks to the 10-run mercy rule when the Pro Skills bats woke up in the bottom of the fourth. Leadoff man Nicholas Merunka (Delran) cranked a two-run, grounds rule double and Grant Hunter (Lenape) drove in one more run with another grounds rule double.
For Pro Skills, Matt Kahn (Lenape) allowed eight runs over three innings on five hits and five walks with three strikeouts. Anthony Sciubba (Gloucester Catholic) pitched two innings and gave up four runs on three hits and one walk with one strikeout. Mike Tuterice (Rancocas Valley) pitched a scoreless sixth inning.
Later on Saturday, Pro Skills tied with the Rockland Pirates 3-3. Pro Skills was to face Northeast Pride ‘23 Scout on Sunday.