By Sean Reilly
James Esposito hit three home runs over the weekend at Diamond Nation, but he didn’t consider it to be his top accomplishment for the Out Of The Park Cyclones Prospects at the 12U Youth World Series.
That’s because an impressive relief stint by Esposito quieted a potent Diamond Jacks Super 12U lineup in the championship game, helping his team take home the accompanying trophy, medals and rings with an 8-7 victory on Monday afternoon in Flemington.
Esposito moved from center field to the pitching mound with his team up 4-3 with a leadoff runner on base in the third inning against a Diamond Jacks Super 12U team that had scored 57 runs in its five prior games over the weekend.
That inherited runner scored, but he allowed no runs on two hits until the Diamond Jacks scored three times with two out in the top of the sixth. By then, the OOTP Prospects had built enough of a lead where there were no major worries until the final batter flew out to center representing the tying run.
“My pitching here was more important, because this was a championship game,” he said. “I was just trying to stay calm and collected. They definitely made it tight, but I’m glad that we came out in the end.”
Both teams scored plenty of runs in the tournament.
The OOTP Cyclones ended 5-0 with a 62-23 run differential, and were fresh off a 13-10 comeback win over the South Jersey Young Guns in the semifinals.
The Diamond Jacks Super 12U, meanwhile, ended 4-2 with a 61-32 run difference. The host team reached the final by rallying to a 16-10 win over LSW Astros Kalinowski in the other semifinal.
Esposito, in fact, was available to pitch against the Super 12U only because he didn’t last beyond the second inning as the starting pitcher in the semis.
“I didn’t do that well,” he said. “But as it turned out, it all worked.”
The tone for the final was set in the first inning. The Diamond Jacks scored three times, highlighted by a two-run single by Andrew Finarelli. But the OOTP Cyclones countered with four runs in the bottom of the frame, with Dylan Pudlak hitting a one-run single with two out for the lead.
Dylan Pudlak, center, is the 12U Youth World Series MVP.
Pudlak, who totaled seven hits during the course of the team’s three games on Monday, was selected tournament MVP.
“We always play really good here,” said Pudlak, whose team also won the Battle At The Turf championship earlier in the season on top of several titles at ‘The Nation’ in 2022. “The hits were contagious. Once one kid gets a hit, we start to rally. And James did really well pitching. He was throwing hard.”
The Diamond Jacks tied it in the third. Nico Comiskey walked before the pitching change. He stole two bases and scored when Ryan Jezorwski grounded out to second base.
The OOTP Prospects reclaimed the lead in the bottom of the inning. Esposito walked, advanced to third on two wild pitches and scored on a two-out single to right-center field from Vin Donofrio.
The Somerset County-based OOTP Prospects extended the lead by adding three more runs in the fourth inning.
Nick Yacykewych reached on a full-count walk with one out, and Gianni Cenicola followed with a bunt single. Chase Gechtman sacrificed the runners into scoring position for the top of the order, and David Falcone hit a hard two-run single past the second baseman and into right field. Falcone took second on a throw to the plate, and scored when Lucas Bolton reached on an error, for an 8-4 lead.
The score held until the top of the sixth, when the Diamond Jacks made things interesting with two out, starting with a full-count double to center field by Nick Stangata. Jezorwski also doubled to center to score Stangata, and then Bryson Auten hit a two-run home run over the fence in center field to get the Super 12U within a run. But another fly ball to center field, this one caught, ended the game.
“Even when they hit the home run, I knew we were still winning the game,” Esposito said. “This was a good weekend. We also did well in our pool play games. Hitting was definitely the key in most of them.”