Crossbridge Raiders save best for last in 16U Summer Finale

By DN WRITING STAFF | August 23, 2022

By Rich Bevensee

There is a considerable stress level which comes with playing under the summer-long scrutiny of college baseball coaches and the goal of getting recruited. The young men on the Crossbridge Raiders 16U ballclub were making a concerted effort to play for each other in their last summer tournament together.

Playing for a title wasn’t going to be easy for the Raiders. Their championship game opponents from the south, Baltimore City-based Visions Select Baseball, steamrolled through pool play and earned the top seed for the playoffs.

After sneaking through a dramatic eight-inning, semifinal victory, the Raiders had everything clicking against the Baltimore crew in the final. Dylan Hirsh went 3-for-4 with three RBI, Josh Thompson pitched a complete game while scattering nine hits, and Brooks Saft capped an exhausting weekend by catching all 34 innings of his team’s games. 

That combination yielded a 12-5 victory over Baltimore in the 16U Summer Finale Blue pool final and the Raiders’ first championship of the now-completed summer season on Sunday evening at Diamond Nation in Flemington.

“My feet were aching – my last few at bats were tough – but everything else was fine,” said Saft, a 6-1, 190-pound rising junior at New Hope Solebury High (Pa.) who was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. “I think this means more to us because we haven’t won a championship this summer. This is the last time we’re all gonna be together. This is a great team. This is my first year with this team and it’s the best environment I’ve ever been in, by far.”

Raiders coach Derrick Kraemer said Saft and left-handed pitcher Chase Burrows were the stalwarts on the roster this weekend – Saft for catching every inning of competition on the Raiders’ march to the title, and Burrows for not yielding a run in three appearances. 

“Chase was a lockdown guy every time we threw him, but you can’t have great performances from your pitcher without a great catcher,” Kraemer said.  “When it’s a toss-up, you gotta lean toward the guy who’s wearing all the gear in this heat.”

The Raiders earned the third seed in the three-team Blue pool playoff after beating N.Y. Dynasty 9-5, Hammonton Stars 11-1 and Mayhem 2-1. Crossbridge then needed eight innings to defeat Syracuse Sports Zone Black, 7-3, in the semifinal

Visions Select represented an imposing threat in the final, having ripped through pool play by beating its three opponents by a combined 27-3. 

But the Raiders turned the tables on the offensive juggernaut from Baltimore by scoring four times as many runs as their opponent had allowed in three games. Vision Select entered the Summer Finale with two tournament championships (both in Richmond, Va.) and five finals appearances in nine tournaments on its summer resume.

Joining Hirsh as offensive stars for the Raiders were Jordan Czerniak, who went 2-for-4 with a double and three RBI, and William Kraemer, who had a two-run triple. Colin Chou singled and drove in a run, and Justin Prekop walked four times.

“This means a lot because we’ve been playing a lot of tournaments just to get recruited, and we haven’t really had a lot of championships,” said Hirsh, a 5-8, 160-pound rising sophomore at Pennsbury (Pa.) High. “It’s been really fun winning, especially since we’ve been battling all summer. We battled all year long, so it’s fun winning today because it means leaving all the stress and winning once before the summer’s over.”

While Hirsh presided over the Crossbridge Lumber Company, Thompson kept the lethal Baltimore bats at bay. He yielded five runs (three earned) on nine hits and one walk with nine strikeouts.

“He did a very good job pitching today. He was dealing,” Visions Select coach Raoul Edwards said of Thompson. “I think it was a combination of him, and a looong weekend of baseball. Guys were out of energy. We just couldn’t get an out when we needed it. Needed some strikes – guys just tired and couldn’t get that ball over the plate. And we couldn’t get the hits.”

Thompson, a 5-11, 165-pound rising junior at Immaculata — who already has the valuable experience of pitching in a state final — said he primarily used his fastball and mixed in a curveball and changeup while keeping Baltimore off balance in what he estimated to be his best outing of the summer. Thompson slipped in and out of jams often, stranding five runners on base (three in scoring position) to limit the damage. And he struck out the side in the sixth and final inning.

“It was really special to have the opportunity to be out there during that big moment,” Thompson said. “The last two tournaments, we really started hitting the ball a lot better. Dylan’s been on fire the last two weeks, just double after double, and Jordan, too. Our energy never let down in the dugout tonight. Our defense was really clean, our baserunning was clean. Everything was working really well.”

Visions Select crept back into the ballgame and trailed 7-5 after scoring three runs in the bottom of the fifth. Momentum seemed to be with the kids from Charm City.

That is, until the top of the sixth, when Czerniak and Hirsh delivered back-breaking hits.

Crossbridge Raiders catcher Brooks Saft was named the 16U Blue Summer Finale Most Valuable Player.

Dillon Gallagher, Thompson and Luke Billings led off the Crossbridge half of the sixth with walks, and Czerniak followed with a towering, bases-clearing double to right center. Two batters later, Hirsh collected his third hit of the night, a two-run double to nearly the exact same spot where Czerniak’s hit landed, for a 12-5 lead.

Hirsh said he wasn’t as effective at the plate earlier this summer, but thanks to his older brother Reese, he ironed out his problems and gradually moved up the batting order. Hirsh batted third against Visions Select.

“My brother – who’s leaving for college tomorrow – we work out a lot and do everything together,” Hirsh said of Reese, who will continue his baseball career at Washington College in Chestertown, Md. “It was a little bit of tough love, but he’s my brother, of course. But he’s really good at it and he helped me out a lot.”

Thompson remained in the game for the bottom half of the sixth, and shut down Visions Select by striking out the side. The fact that he remained for the final inning for Crossbridge provided an emotional lift and a confidence boost for the Immaculata star, whose last championship game start was against Ranney in the NJSIAA Non-Public B final this past spring. He was unable to get the win that day despite a terrific performance (carrying a four-hitter into the sixth inning before tiring).

For Baltimore, leadoff man Collin McLain went 2-for-3, Derrick Thompson was 2-for-2, Rashin McLeod doubled and drove in two runs, Xavier Gilliam had an RBI single, and Braxton Brogan doubled.

Baltimore’s most dangerous inning was the bottom of the fifth when it rallied for three runs on four hits and a walk to cut its deficit to 7-5. McLeod drove in a run with a double to right center. Two more runs scored when Gilliam followed with an infield chopper, which allowed Antuan Oliver to score from third. The resulting errant throw to first allowed McLeon to cross as well.

Oliver, the Visions Select starter, allowed seven runs (three earned) in five innings on six hits and five walks with two strikeouts. Corey Brown pitched ⅓ of an inning of relief and allowed five runs on one hit and four walks with one strikeout. Kamani Watson got the final two outs of Crossbridge’s last at bat. 

Crossbridge survives semis scare against Syracuse

The Crossbridge Raiders advanced to the 16U Summer Final championship game thanks to a wild ride called the “International Tiebreaker” in tournament play. 

The Raiders and Syracuse Sports Zone Black finished seven innings tied, 2-2, in the 16U semifinal. Teams which are tied entering the eighth inning begin with the bases loaded and one out. 

Crossbridge, the visiting team, began the eighth when Brooks Saft singled through the left side for a 3-2 lead. William Kraemer followed with a two-run single which hugged the first base line for a 5-2 lead. Luke Billings walked with the bases loaded to force home another run, and Jordan Czerniak tacked on an RBI single for a 7-2 lead. 

In the bottom of the eighth and with Justin Prekop on the mound for Crossbridge, the only run Syracuse could muster came via a balk. Prekop and the Raiders closed out a 7-3 victory.

SUMMER FINALE RECAPS

10U

HUDSON VALLEY RENEGADES 10U defeated the Roberto Clemente Pirates, 6-1, in the 10U Summer Finale championship game. Colin Witkowski of the Renegades was named the 10U tournament’s Most Valuable Player. The Renegades (3-0) outscored their opponents 30-15. The Pirates (1-3) were outscored by their opponents 38-17.

12U

TACONIC RANGERS defeated the Staten Island Orioles, 17-0, in the 12U Summer Finale championship game. Parker White of the Rangers was named the 12U tournament’s Most Valuable Player. The Rangers (4-0) outscored their opponents 70-5. The Orioles held a 41-36 runs advantage on their opponents.

14U RED

BULLDOGS BASEBALL ACADEMY defeated RCBC Marucci 14U, 2-1, in the 14U Red Bracket Summer Finale championship game. Colin Kroner of the Bulldogs was named the 14U Red’s Most Valuable Player. The Bulldogs (4-0) outscored their opponents 29-2. RCBC Marucci (4-1) held a 39-18 runs advantage on its opponents.

14U WHITE

CRUSADERS BASEBALL CLUB defeated Vaughan Vikings 14U AAA, 7-1, in the 14U White Bracket Summer Finale championship game. Joe Matise of Crusaders Baseball was named the 14U White’s Most Valuable Player. Crusaders Baseball (4-0) outscored its opponents 25-3. Vaughan Vikings (3-2) were outscored by their opponents 25-20.

16U RED

NE PRIDE defeated Tri-State Arsenal 2024, 5-3, in the 16U Red Bracket Summer Finale championship game. NE Pride (5-0) outscored its opponents 41-15. Tri-State Arsenal (3-1) held a 29-9 runs advantage on its opponents. 

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