Cross, Ortiz and company guide FB Braves to 13U title

By DN WRITING STAFF | March 27, 2023

By Rich Bevensee

The calendar has not yet flipped to April and one thing has already become abundantly clear at Diamond Nation in Flemington. 

Pitching and defense may be two of the pillars of baseball success, but the Flores Baseball club of Fairfield, N.J., is working on securing the copyright.

Immediately after his 10U Red team allowed two runs in three games to capture that age group title, team manager A.J. Flores ran over to his 13U squad and guided them through the semifinals and championship game to wrap up a magnificent weekend of baseball for the organization.

The FB Braves 13U Red team received a four-hitter from Bobby Cross and an RBI triple from tournament Most Valuable Player Jandiel Ortiz to secure a 5-1 victory over the Wolcott (Conn.) Scrappers and the 13U title to close out the Battle At The Turf tournament on Sunday evening at The Nation.

The 13U team surrendered four runs in four games en route to the title. And Flores was 5-0 as a coach on Sunday; three wins with the 10U team and two with the 13U team.

“This is our first time outside so it was cool to see them making all those plays,” Flores said. “But we’ve had most of these kids since they were 9 and 10 and they are known for pitching and defense. We have a lot of good fielders out there – we like to say we have a lot of shortstops at every single position.

“We have a lot of good kids and a lot of great coaches – I take a lot of pride in that. And we’re tough on our kids – some people call that old school – but we’re seeing dividends on the field.”

The Braves defeated the Richmond County Baseball Club Ghost 13U Nationals (2-1) and Brooklawn (13-1) in pool play, and knocked off the Long Island Storm 8-1 in the semis on Sunday.

Cross, mixing a big, dipping curve with his fastball, pitched a complete game in the championship and logged five strikeouts against one walk. He also helped his cause with an RBI single in the first inning to get his team on the board.

Yandiel Ortiz belted a pair of inside-the-park home runs and three triples to earn MVP honors in the 13U bracket.

“After working inside all winter I felt comfortable coming outside,” Cross said. “I trusted myself. I worked hard inside and I was ready for this. I felt good going into it. I was trying to get them to hit the ball because I trust my defense. That’s the key.”

And boy, did his team provide some defense. The Braves pocketed all three fly ball outs, made just one error on 12 ground ball chances and eliminated the lead runner twice at second base. Even right fielder Vin Russo got an assist when he turned what looked like a routine base hit through the right side into a 9-3 out at first base. 

And Braves shortstop Evan Johnson provided the defensive play of the day in the top of the fourth. With a runner on second and two out, he ranged behind third base and dove to catch a sinking liner off the bat of Lucas Gonzalez. 

Ortiz, the Braves first baseman, locked up the tournament MVP award with a tremendous offensive weekend, going 7 for 10 with two inside-the-park home runs and three triples. 

“I was trying to make contact, be confident and hit the ball in the gap where no one is,” Ortiz said. “I was excited for this weekend because we haven’t been outside for a while and I couldn’t wait to play baseball. Thank God I started out good.”

His RBI triple in the Braves’ two-run third inning got everyone out of the dugout. He roped a shot into the right-center gap to score Dante Placente, and he got the green light from Flores to head home when the Scrappers second baseman bobbled the relay throw. That gave the Braves a 3-0 lead.

“When I hit it first I thought I had a shot,” Ortiz said. “And then I was looking at Coach and he was saying, ‘Keep going, keep going,’ and so I thought I’m going all the way.”

The Scrappers nicked at their deficit in the top of the fourth when Charlie Napoleon drove in Matt Clarke with a ground out. 

But the Braves padded their lead in the bottom of the fifth when Placenti drove home Evan Johnson from third with a one-out ground ball which turned into an infield throwing error. Ben Weninger, who reached on a hit by pitch, later crossed on a wild pitch to cap the scoring. 

Clarke, the Scrapper starter, lasted four innings and permitted three runs (two earned) on three hits and four walks with five strikeouts. Napoleon pitched two innings of relief and allowed two runs on one hit and one walk with three strikeouts.

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