Cubs prove resilient in capturing 9U Mother’s Day Classic

By DN WRITING STAFF | May 13, 2024

By Rich Bevensee

Predicting the winner of the 9u Mother’s Day Classic championship game would have been a blind guess at best because both combatants entered with a legitimate claim that they held the upper hand.

The Morris County Cubs had the pedigree of a champion entering the contest, having won three Diamond Nation titles in four finals appearances this spring.

Sandlot Baseball Academy entered the final with the top seed and the knowledge of having humbled the Cubs just 24 hours earlier, winning by 14 runs.

What Sandlot was not prepared for was the accurate pitching of ace Ari Schwam or the explosive hitting of Duncan Erne and Nick Scudilla. It was those three young ballplayers who carried the Cubs to an 8-5 victory and the team’s fourth title of the season on Sunday morning at ‘The Nation’ in Flemington. 

Cubs coach Alphonse Falco said recovering from the blowout loss to Sandlot a day earlier came down to reminding his players of what they already knew.

“It all comes down to confidence,” Falco said. “They wanted to come out and win this. I gave it to them pretty good after that (17-3) loss. We had one of those talks where the coaches and I said, ‘What are we doing here? Why are we not doing what we’re supposed to be doing?’ 

“We pitched great today, we played good defense and we got timely hits. That made all the difference.”

The Cubs’ collection of Diamond Nation trophies also includes hardware from Battle At The Turf (March 24), King Of The Diamond (April 14) and last week’s Spring Classic. The Cubs bowed to the Jersey Storm in the April Fool’s final on April 7.

Erne, who clubbed a two-run home run in the top of the sixth inning – runs which turned out to be vital because of a late Sandlot comeback – said the run of success the Cubs have enjoyed this spring comes down to balance.

“It’s been fun to play for the championship every time,” Erne said. “We have really good pitchers and hitters, we play really good defense, we can all throw really accurately, and we make good catches. It’s been a lot of fun.”

Beginning with the Battle At The Turf weekend, March 23-24, the Cubs are 16-4 at Diamond Nation.

“Top to bottom these kids just grit it out,” Falco said. “Even at practice during the week they play together. They’ve gelled very well. But they’re just tough kids and they love to play together.”

Schwam, who relied on his fastball and threw just one off-speed pitch because of a constant rain, located in and around the zone and alternated speeds to keep Sandlot off balance. He allowed two runs (one earned) on one hit and six walks over five innings and he struck out six.

“Ari’s been throwing the baseball great all year,” Falco said. “He had a great week last week and came out here and kept doing what he’s been doing.”

Schwam was especially tough with runners on base. He stranded six baserunners, four in scoring position. 

And the bottom line is that Schwam held a Sandlot team which scored 43 runs in three games to just two runs in his five innings of work.

“I just kept doing my own thing, doing what my dad (Jacob) taught me, that if I get a few strikes, keep doing the same pattern,” Schwam said. “I stayed away from off-speed pitches because the ball was wet and it was slipping in my hand. It was really hard to pitch today because I kept slipping off the mound.”

Erne began his heavy lumber day by belting an RBI triple in the top of the first inning, and he later scored on a passed ball for a 2-0 Cubs lead.

Sandlot bounced back with a run in the bottom of the first when leadoff hitter Julian Peters reached on a walk and later scored on a wild pitch.

The Cubs took the lead for good in the top of the third, when their leadoff man Phoenix Pitts walked and scored on a wild pitch, and Scudilla clubbed a two-run double for a 5-1 cushion.

Sandlot scratched back with a run in the fifth, when Jackson Kane reached on an error, stole second and took home on an errant throw after stealing third.

Erne didn’t know it then but his inside-the-park, two-run home run in the sixth would provide some important insurance. At the time it gave the Cubs a 7-2 lead. Scudilla followed Erne with an RBI double to make it 8-2.

“I really liked that pitch and I felt like I stayed in on it, and then I drove it,” said Erne after hitting his fourth homer this season.

Sandlot wasn’t finished. In the bottom of the sixth, Darion Norton singled home a run and Mason Buczynski cracked a two-run triple to bring Sandlot within 8-5 with two on and one out. 

Sandlot sent the tying run to the plate twice but Cubs reliever Gavin Sassoon got a strikeout and a nifty running catch by right fielder John Lyons to slam the door on the club’s fourth title of the spring.

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