Catanzarite, arms steer DJacks Super 14U to championship

By DN WRITING STAFF | March 19, 2024

By Rich Bevensee

The Diamond Jacks Super 14U squad could not have looked more prepared for the opening weekend of baseball season, boasting of all the ingredients coaches love to see on the field.

Matthew Filiaci and Nick McCabe combined to surrender two runs on three hits. Owen Rivenbark swatted three doubles and was one of six different players with at least one RBI in the championship game. 

And then there was Luca Catanzarite, whom coach Travis Anderson defined as the heartbeat of the team. High praise from a serious baseball man. 

In the 14U Spring Invitational championship game, leadoff man Catanzarite singled, doubled and scored twice, provided sound defense at shortstop and led the Diamond Jacks to a 10-2 victory over Manalapan-based Sportika on Sunday afternoon at Diamond Nation in Flemington. 

“Luca played some great short, stole some bases and he’s just a heartbeat at the top of the order,” Anderson said. “He bashed a couple grounds-rule doubles, had some big hits when we needed them, and once he gets to second he’s a kid who can score from second from just your routine single. You can’t count his contributions.”

Catanzarite, named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, was pleasantly surprised to hear Anderson call him the heartbeat of the team.

“I think that he means I get this team going and I’m a leader,” Catanzarite said. “I think it’s true because I’ve been here for a long time and people are inspired by me. Hearing him say that gives me motivation. When he tells people that, I have to show it.”

Anderson said it was hard to miss Catanzarite during the long winter months of workouts, putting in the time and leading by example . 

“I think I played well this weekend coming off winter training,” Catanzarite said. “Now we’re on the big field so I put in a lot of time in the weight room, working on hitting with coach Walt (Cleary), fielding with coach Josh (Ake), and all our coaches for keeping after me this winter.”

Filiaci set the tone for the championship with a tremendous outing over the first three innings. He yielded an earned run on two hits and one walk and struck out six. The only run he gave up was a wind-blown shot by Austin Wright in the top of the first which curled into the right fielder corner for an opposite-field home run.

McCabe came on in the fourth and gave up an unearned run on two errors. He wiggled out of a bases-loaded jam with a pair of infield pop-ups. In two innings he allowed one hit and two walks and struck out one.

Luca Catanzarite of the Diamond Jacks Super 14U squad was named tournament MVP.

“Matt was really aggressive on strike one and put them on their heels early,” said Anderson. “He threw the ball exceptionally well. McCabe created his own mess but he got out of it as well. I’m really pleased with the pitching, especially being the first weekend.”

After Sportika’s solo homer, the Diamond Jacks tied the game in the bottom half of the first when Catanzarite ripped a grounds rule double and scored on Filiaci’s RBI fielder’s choice. They took the lead in the second when Anthony Whelan singled up the middle to drive in a run.

The Diamond Jacks broke out the heavy lumber in the third inning, scoring five runs on six hits. In consecutive at bats, Filiaci singled home a run, Rivenbark and Gavin Ross had RBI doubles, and Owen Ehrenkranz singled in another run to make it 7-1.

Sportika scratched out a run in the fourth when Andrew Todaro scored on an infield error.

Rivenbark highlighted a three-run fourth for the Diamond Jacks with his third double of the game, a long shot which first appeared to be headed over the left field fence before wind gusts blew it sideways into left center. That blast drove in McCabe. Connor Bresler and Ross also drove in a run. 

Rivenbark, like Catanzarite, said he was a gym rat this winter and worked on his baseball skills and his strength.

“One thing in practice, I used squish balls and worked on staying on plane, keeping my hands above the ball,” Rivenbark said. “I also did one hand stuff which really helped me. It makes me feel more confident and easy at the plate now. I started hitting the weight room to get faster and I’ve gotten a lot bigger. I’ve definitely come a long way from last year. 

“With all the training I was excited to see what I could do. The winter seemed to go by pretty fast and then once it got to two weeks, each day felt like a week.”

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