By Rich Bevensee
He’s barely taller than a baseball bat, and so soft spoken that a fastball popping a catcher’s mitt could drown him out.
Yet there was Tyler Ciasullo, in the raucous aftermath of a championship celebration, quietly and confidently processing what it was like to be the smallest and youngest player on the field and coming through with the game’s biggest hit.
Befitting his size, Ciasullo’s crushing blow was a three-run single which plopped into shallow right field and propelled the Flores Baseball Braves to a come-from-behind, 13-9 victory over the New York Gothams in the Beat the Heat 12U championship game on Sunday evening at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
“I wanted it. I wanted to get the big hit to get the game into our hands,” Ciasulli said. “This means a lot because all my hard work paid off. I just want to show them who I am.”
Also toting big bats in the championship game for the Braves were Jake Small and Brandon Rangel. Both blasted three-run home runs in the first inning to give their team an early 8-0 lead.
Ciasullo, an 11-year-old, last-minute call-up by Braves coach A.J. Flores, stepped into the batter’s box with the bases loaded and two out in the bottom of the fourth inning and his team trailing 9-8. Setting the stage for Ciasullo, Bobby Cross singled with one out and Vin Russo and Luke Askins both walked with two out.
The Braves’ pint-sized right fielder swung at the first pitch from Gothams reliever Cash Millson and his seeing-eye single dropped in between three converging fielders, making for a wild scene as Russo and Askins raced home from second and first, respectively.
“Even more than his hit, I was even more proud of him because he was one of our 11-year olds we brought up for the tournament. He’s not usually even on this team,” Flores said. “He’s an 11-year old playing up against these guys playing hard. He’s a little bit smaller but he came up in a big spot. He’s got the biggest heart out there.”
Ciasullo stole second and advanced to third on a controversial play, which eventually led to two more insurance runs for the Braves. Brandon Rangel ripped a hard grounder up the third base line which Gothams third baseman Armani Rosario stabbed and tagged a sliding Ciasullo, ruled out by the field umpire. After conferring with the home plate umpire, Ciasullo was ruled safe.
Two pitches later Ciasullo scored on a wild pitch, and Rangel scored on a Nate Diaz RBI single.
It was the first tournament championship of the summer for the Braves, making their second appearance at Diamond Nation. In their first visit the Braves bowed to the Diamond Jacks Super 12U in the semifinals of the Spring Invitational, March 20.
“We knew we were good hitters and that we could score,” said Cross, named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. “We all felt like that, that we all had confidence we could make a comeback. Their comeback didn’t bother us. I knew we could hit their pitches and make plays.”
Cross collected 11 hits and hammered a home run to lead the Braves offense over the weekend. He went 2 for 3 with two runs scored in the final.
“This means a lot to me because I worked hard for it,” Cross said. “It’s something I really wanted for a long time and it feels good for it to actually happen.”
“This weekend Bobby came up big time after time,” Flores said. “Tons of RBIs, making plays in the field. He was great for us.”
The Braves’ fourth inning was a dramatic turn of events, considering all the momentum belonged to the Gothams leading up to Ciasulli’s hit.
The Gothams, who fell into an early 8-0 hole, began their comeback by scoring three runs in the top of the third inning, then stormed to a 9-8 lead after surging for six runs in the fourth. The big blast in the fourth came off the bat of leadoff man Chanz Chancey, who drilled a first-pitch, three-run home run to dead center.
Chancey was the last batter Small faced as the Braves starter. The Gothams loaded the bases against reliever Evan Johnson before Jason Salera earned a walk to bring the Gothams within one at 8-7.
Still with only one out in the inning and the bases loaded, Russo relieved Johnson. Russo’s first batter was Jordan Steiger, who bunted the first pitch he saw. The throw home was not in time to get Jordan Huang, who slid across with the tying run.
Oskar Kiln, who opened the Gothams’ fourth by slamming a double to left center, gave his team its first lead on a sacrifice fly to center, which scored Nico Harris.
It came as no surprise to the Braves that the Gothams were able to score runs in bunches, as evidenced by their scoring 39 runs in three pool play games leading into the final.
But the Braves weren’t bowled over by the offensive surge of their opponent, either. The Braves, who scored 38 runs in three pool play games, scored five runs in the bottom of the fourth inning, all with two out.
“For the last month or so these guys have just been on a tear,” Flores said. “I haven’t seen them get down in any game. They’ve been rolling as a team and the chemistry is up in everything they’ve been doing. Up or down they always have the same energy out there.”
The Braves knocked the Gothams on their heels in the first inning when leadoff hitter Evan Johnson scored on a balk and Small smacked an opposite-field, three-run home run to right center field for a 4-0 lead. Four batters later it was Rangel’s turn to go deep, taking a full count pitch over the left field fence for another three-run homer.
Jeremy Irizarry capped the Braves’ eight-run first inning with an RBI double.
The Gothams were making their first championship game appearance in their second trip to Diamond Nation this season. They went 3-1 in pool play in the Memorial Day Blast May 27-30. They showed they could score in bunches back then, too, outgunning opponents, 50-25.