Creativity delivers runs and victory for Wladyka National 16U

By DN WRITING STAFF | June 11, 2023

Ethan Fantel of Tri-State Arsenal 2025 Marucci is greeted by Travis Jenkins (27) and Ryan Stoddard (7) after belting a two-run HR.

By Rich Bevensee

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that an up-and-coming ballplayer understands how to conduct himself in the batter’s box if he’s under the tutelage of Brian Chapman.

Chapman, a two-time state championship coach who just concluded his 13th season at Millburn High School, has another prized student in Keigo Fujita, who on Friday evening displayed just how much he has learned from the respected coach.

Fujita, coming off a solid sophomore high school campaign, demonstrated clutch two-strike hitting by driving in a pair of runs as Wladyka Baseball National won their first pool play game of the Super 16 Invitational Powered by Victus with an 8-6, five-inning victory over Tri-State Arsenal 2025 Marucci on Friday evening at Diamond Nation in Flemington. 

Fujita’s first at bat produced Wladyka’s first run on a sacrifice fly, and his second at bat gave Wladyka a 3-1 lead on an RBI groundout. He also singled in his final at bat. 

“For me the mentality is the same whether it’s high school ball or club,” Fujita said. “My main goal is to win so I’m trying to push the runner over, especially with less than two outs. For me, both RBI came with two strikes. Chapman is huge on putting your feet on the chalk and being tough with two. We do a lot of drills – man on third, less than two out, two strikes – and that’s really helpful.”

Of Wladyka’s eight runs, only one came via a base hit, thanks to Matt Sabatella, a rising junior at Emerson Boro. 

Two Wladyka runs came on bases-loaded walks. Sabatella had a sac fly and both he and Enzo Gurijala (Millburn) scored on a wild pitch. 

“It’s a nice way to start our season, and I take zero credit because I just met most of these kids today,” said Chapman, who did enjoy a bit of familiarity in the dugout, as four Millburn players were in the Wladyka batting lineup – Fujita, Gurijala, Greg Rosenthal and Brett Ploetner. 

Rosenthal led all hitters by going 3-for-3 with a double and two runs scored. Aidan Quinn (Union Catholic) and Gurijala both scored twice. 

“I love the way we approached things offensively – aggressive on the bases, stole some bags that were important, and we had some really good at bats especially late in the count,” said Chapman. “That always is going to play, whether you’re playing at Diamond Nation in June or some back high school field in April. Batting with two strikes is a quality that all good teams possess.”

Keigo Fujita of Wladyka National singled and drove in two runs in an 8-6 victory over Tri-State Arsenal.

Fujita said he didn’t mind walking back to the dugout hitless after his first two plate appearances because the at bats were productive. 

It’s the kind of unselfish approach Chapman has come to expect. This spring Fujita batted .358 (19-for-53) for Millburn and collected 19 RBI, fourth on the team. He had five doubles, one triple and 18 runs scored.

“I’ve been watching that for two years – he’s fantastic,” Chapman said. “He’s a professional hitter. He goes about his business, understands that he has an approach, and as a tenth grader those are pretty good qualities.”

“Usually I’ll choke up, get in the back of the box all the way, I’m crowding the plate, and it’s out to in, starting with outside fastballs and anything else I’ll just adjust,” Fujita said. “It was good early on but there was a little patch where I was slumping a little bit and it’s tough when you’re slumping to really apply the rules the right way. But I’m hoping with a little more maturity I can get there.”

Wladyka National lost the second half of its Friday night doubleheader, 6-2 to Morris County Cubs 16U Navy. Wladyka was to complete pool play against Complete Performance Baseball Academy on Saturday.

Wladyka and Arsenal traded four-run bursts as the game headed into the fourth inning tied at 5-5. Arsenal lefty Joe Zundrich (Jackson Memorial) came into the game to settle things down after Wladyka loaded the bases with one out. Sabatella was the first to face Zundrich and his sacrifice fly to center plated Quinn. Soon thereafter Gurijala scored on a wild pitch to give Wladyka a 7-5 lead.

Wladyla turned in the defensive play of the game in the bottom of the fourth. 

Arsenal’s Travis Jenkins (Gov. Mifflin) smoked a one-out triple which curled into the right field corner, and he tried scoring when the next batter, Ethan Fantel (South Brunswick), popped a shallow fly to right and he saw that the throw from Wladyka second baseman Henry Hui (Rutherford) throw was up the third base line.

Ploetner, the Wladyka catcher, alertly came out from behind the plate, fielded the throw and flipped to pitcher Peter Lawrence (Millburn) who was darting toward the plate. Lawrence made the tag just as Jenkins went into his slide, inches from home.

Wladyka picked up an insurance run in the fifth when Nolan Secor (Columbia HS) walked with the bases loaded for an 8-5 lead. 

With no time left on the clock in the bottom of the fifth, Austin Wright (Rancocas Valley) ripped a two-out RBI double in an attempt to spark a last-ditch rally for Arsenal, but Lawrence shut things down by inducing an infield fly for the final out.

For Arsenal, Fantel crushed an opposite-field, two-run home run over the left field fence, and Brady Wendell (Jackson Memorial) doubled.

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