Close shave but Bucks County Generals nail down 9U Spring Fever title

By DN WRITING STAFF | May 19, 2024

By Rich Bevensee

The odds were against the 9U Bucks County Generals before they even took the field for the Spring Fever championship game.

The Generals and their coach, Bill Burke, were burdened with the mental weight of having lost three times already this spring in a tournament championship final. Also, they were missing two of their best players due to commitments with another organization. 

Somehow the Generals managed to leave those issues on the backburner while focusing on their fourth opportunity to claim a title. And it was Mateo Cundari and C.J. Dutkiewicz who allowed the Generals to wipe away all of those failed championship memories and make a deep run to the title. 

Cundari hammered a three-run home run in the first inning and Dutkiewicz made it stand up with four marvelous innings pitched as the third-seeded Generals upended the top-seeded Hamilton A’s, 4-2, for the 9U Spring Fever title on Sunday afternoon at Diamond Nation in Flemington. 

“This feels amazing because it’s great winning a championship after losing a lot and today was the day we had to go out and do that,” Dutkiewicz said. 

“I love this group,” Burke said. “They never quit, they do everything I ask them and they work their butts off, despite some tough Sundays when we haven’t had our best players. Well, we finally pulled it off without our best guys and my kids got it done. It was definitely worth the wait.”

Cundari, named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, paid Dutkiewicz and relief pitcher Max Kincus a huge compliment when asked to explain the difference between the three prior finals losses and Sunday’s triumph.

“Our pitchers were throwing strikes,” Cundari said. “This is my first championship. I was sad (about the three losses) but I was still happy we made it to the championship. Today we won because we shut them down and only let them score two runs.”

Allowing the A’s just two runs was probably the biggest reason why the Generals finally reached the brass ring. The Hamilton-based ballclub scored 34 runs in three games prior to the final, including a 14-6 win over Tucci Elite in the semifinals. 

On the other side of the complex, the Generals needed a big comeback to defeat Mid-Atlantic Canes Gold, 14-11, in the other semi. The Generals, who lost to the Canes, 16-5, in a pool play game on Saturday, fell behind 7-0 in the semi after three innings before mounting a comeback. In that contest Generals catcher Grayson Meyers homered and pitched three strong innings of relief, and Cundari had two hits and made a nice running catch in center.

In the final, Dutkiewicz pitched out of a couple jams while making Cundari’s homer stand up. The A’s had two on and one out in the third inning and Dutkiewicz escaped with a strikeout and fielder’s choice.

In the fourth, the A’s had runners on first and second with none out, and Dutkiewicz navigated out of that jam by inducing two groundouts and allowing just one run on a fielder’s choice.

“He is actually my part-time practice player that I had to bring on to the team because I would be missing kids,” Burke said. “This is only the third Sunday he’s played for me. If there was an MVP for one game it was going to be C.J.

“But we couldn’t have gotten here without Mateo’s home run and his fabulous catches in center field,” Burke said. “He hustles all the time. Sometimes I have to tell him twice but for the most part he gives me everything he’s got and he tries as hard as he can and that’s all I can ask.”

The triumph was especially satisfying for Burke, who admitted the inability of his team to finish the job on Sundays was weighing on him. 

“I was feeling that pressure, and it was showing to some of the kids and parents and I had to remember why I’m doing this,” said Burke, who’s in his third year guiding the 9U team. “It’s not for the wins but to develop young players. As soon as I realized that, as a group we turned the corner and played better baseball.”

Burke said the three earlier failed attempts to clinch a title were partially due to the fact that he has felt hamstrung by player availability issues.

Regardless of who was or was not in the Generals dugout on Sunday, Burke had the right mix of players to reach the finish line. 

The Generals went right to work in the top of the first inning, as Meyers singled to left, D.J. Doyle reached on a fielder’s choice, and Cundari blistered a shot to right center and easily beat the throw home for an inside-the-park, three-run homer. 

“That was really exciting,” Cundari said. “I liked everyone screaming, and scoring the run.”

The Generals made it 4-0 when Andrew Davidson walked, took third on a Jeff Rider grounds rule double and scored on an error following a Grant Goldman ground ball. 

The score remained that way with Dutkiewicz navigating in and out of trouble through four innings. The A’s finally scratched Dutkiewicz for a run in the fourth when Mateo Garza-Rice hit a chopper in front of the plate which allowed Brayden Stibiol to score from third when the throw went to first. 

For the game, Dutkiewicz allowed one run on three hits and two walks and he struck out two.

“I wasn’t that nervous because I knew my team was on my side and they would help me out,” said Dutkiewicz, who mixed in an occasional changeup and curveball with his four-seam fastball. “I felt good today. My throwing wasn’t wild at all and I had control of the ball and I could throw it down and my catcher was really good as well. Both pitchers were throwing really well today and our players were making great plays.”

Kincus came on in the fifth for the Generals and allowed just a single run in his two innings of work, but his effort was not without late game drama.

Hunter Thornton and Brandon Quinn singled for the A’s in the bottom of the sixth and that brought the tying run to the plate with one out. Kincus induced a groundout for the second out before Nolan Amato singled up the middle to bring the A’s within two runs.

Now with the tying runs in scoring position with two out, Nick Cowell hit a Kincus fastball to the hole on the left side but Davidson, the Generals’ shortstop, made a diving catch of the line drive to end the game. 

The A’s entered the final 18-3-2 and with two titles in their back pocket. They won a St. Patrick’s tournament at Sportika in Jackson, and a Cinco de Mayo tournament at Adventure Sports.

Before this weekend, the Generals made finals appearances at Diamond Nation (losing to the Morris County Cubs in the King Of The Diamond final April 14), in a Cal Ripken baseball event and in a USABL weekend tournament.

The Generals may have earned their first title of the spring, but the championship also meant a loss of sorts. Burke promised his players he’d shave his beard with a victory. 

“I made a bet with the kids earlier in the season because we came so close – we were a couple players short or a couple defensive plays away from winning one – I told the kids if we win one of our last two tournaments I would shave my beard,” Burke said. “Because I’m kind of a big guy, the kids are 9 and little afraid of me, so to soften it up for them I offered to shave my beard. 

“The kids do not get to do it, because I know some of them would go for my eyebrows or my head so they’re not getting a razor anywhere near me. My wife will be very happy because she doesn’t like it either. She wants it gone.”

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