Caden Lozito of the Garden State Ducks eyes a pitch from the Muggeo Cardinals in 14U World Series.
By Joe Hofmann
What’s sweeter, an inside-the-park home run or a missile that takes about two seconds to fly over the fence?
The Garden State Ducks were so good Thursday afternoon that they had a chance to debate the issue. The 14U team based out of Fairfield (Essex County) happened to hit one of each within a four-batter stretch during a six-run uprising in a 15-2 victory over the Muggeo Cardinals in a pool play game at the 14U Diamond Nation World Series.
Winning coach Pete DeCilla watched Xavier Diaz hit a ball into the right-center field gap and fly around the bases for an inside-the-parker.
A short time later, lefty-swinging Liam Onofry launched a bomb over the right field fence.
So, which one is it, coach?
“The bomb – every time,” DeCilla said. “To get around on that … Liam really drove the baseball.”
The Ducks spent an afternoon hitting the ball all over the place as they headed to the 14U World Series playoffs on Friday. The Ducks were 4-0 in pool play – with a killer lineup their No. 1 calling card. It would prove out, as well, as the Ducks went on to win the 14U Red Bracket World Series championship in dominating fashion.
The Ducks defeated Show New England, 8–0, in their first round playoff game before cruising past Prodigy Hitmen, 16-2, in the championship game. Along the way, the 6-0 Ducks outscored their tournament opponents 63-8.
“We’re solid one through 10,” DeCilla said. “We have a lot of power, a lot of pop.”
DeCilla admittedly didn’t want to sound too overconfident. But assistant coach James Panzarino, standing in the dugout nearby, couldn’t contain himself.
“We think we are one of the best hitting teams in the state,” Panzarino said. “We have that ‘next guy’ mentality.”
They sure did against Muggeo. One Ducks batter hit the ball hard and then the next one did … and the next.
The team went down 1-2-3 in the top of the first, but woke from its mini slumber and scored two in the second, and then piled it on in the third (six runs) and fourth (seven). They accumulated a whopping 19 hits.
Diaz led off the second with a base hit and came around on J.J. Drennan’s double. Joe Pignatelli singled home Drennan. Pat Van Note and Romeo Cabrera each reached on an infield hit but the Ducks left them stranded.
They more than made up for it in the next two innings.
With one out, Matt Tafuri doubled and scored on Jake Dolan’s base hit. Akil Penkala singled before Diaz hit his inside-the-park drive to the wall.
“I didn’t really feel it when I hit it,” Diaz said. “I went with my usual approach. I just try and hit everything hard up the middle. If I do that, good things will happen.”
Drennan singled and, two batters later, Onofry went deep to make it 7-0.
In the fourth, Diaz (3 for 3, 5 RBIs, 3 runs scored) doubled in two and Drennan singled in two more before Onofry doubled in yet another.
While the Ducks’ hitting was overwhelming, their pitching was good enough.
In the first two innings, the Seton Hall Prep-bound Drennan allowed two runs on two hits. He struck out two in the first to work his way out of trouble but then walked two straight batters (Muggeo’s Anthony Bernandez and Matthew Del with the bases loaded, scoring Max Lee and Joseph Yun).
But in the third, the Delbarton-bound Tafuri struck out two in a scoreless inning before Caden Lozito (West Essex) pitched a scoreless fourth to end the game.
The Ducks hitting was the storyline. With the 14U World Series playoffs on tap on Friday, that’s what made the Ducks such a threat to win the championship.
“Sometimes, it just takes awhile to get things going,” Diaz said. “We had 15 runs, 19 hits. So far, no one has been able to shut us down. We hit with a lot of confidence. We know what we have to do and we go out and do it.”