Davis’ successful return to the mound bolsters Hawks 14U

By DN WRITING STAFF | May 7, 2023

Jason Wormer of Hawks 14U provided the first big hit when he doubled home a run in the first inning.

By Rich Bevensee

The doldrums of winter can be a tough grind for a ballplayer. Days and weeks of training turn into months with no payoff in sight.

But at least ballplayers get to pass that time by doing ballplayer things, a privilege Slade Davis was denied this winter. He was shelved with a rotator cuff injury which kept him from participating in even the most mundane drills.

For that reason, Davis’ pitching performance on Saturday night must be considered a relief, a breakthrough, or a success. Or all three.

The young southpaw surrendered just two hits over five shutout innings to pace the Hawks of Hillsdale, Bergen County, to a 10-0 victory over Complete Game Colonials in 14U pool play of the Spring Classic at Diamond Nation in Flemington.

“It feels good to be back,” Davis said. “The first time I’ve thrown more than three innings since my injury and no runs scored? It’s really good. I’m not surprised I did well but I’m happy that I did well especially because I’m coming back from my injury.”

Davis received quite a bit of help in making his return a successful one.

Six Hawks had at least one RBI, including Sam Staub, who tripled, singled and scored once. Evan Gallucci and Jason Wormer made acrobatic catches in the outfield, and Frank Gravina relieved Davis to pitch a scoreless inning of relief.

The shutout win came on the heels of a 9-7 victory over the Locked In Expos, a game in which the Hawks led 9-1 after three innings and had to withstand a furious Expos rally in the sixth.

“Our pitching and defense was great this game, he (Davis) didn’t walk guys, and we made the plays behind him,” Hawks coach Chris Kirkby said.

The Hawks (2-0), poised to earn a berth in the 14U semifinals on Sunday, will face Hustle Baseball Academy at 12:15 p.m. The semis are slated for 4:30 p.m.

“We’re a town travel team, so we’re just trying to challenge ourselves against club teams,” Kirkby said. “This is a good step up in competition for us. We started out slow in USABL but we won a Frozen Ropes tournament two weeks ago.”

The Colonials (0-2), who lost to Hustle, 6-3, before facing the Hawks, will take on the Expos at 12:15 p.m. to wrap up pool play.

Davis relied on mixing fastball speeds to keep the Complete Game lineup off balance. He struck out five and walked two.

“I was throwing mostly fastballs and changing up speed. I had a curveball here and there, but I’m coming back from injury so my curveball wasn’t there totally,” David said.

Evan Gallucci of the 14U Hawks made an acrobatic catch on left field when he went completely horizontal and dove to rob the Colonials’ Braeden Knapp of a base hit. Gallucci also drove in a run and scored once.

“He was pretty smooth and limited his pitch count so we could stretch how far he went, and that’s big, because in a tournament you gotta limit how many guys to use and how many pitches they throw,” Kirkby said.

Davis said his shoulder problems began in the fall, and continued into a pitching clinic which didn’t go as well as he’d hoped.

“It was late in the fall, and any time I threw it hurt a lot,” Davis said. “I started to do a pitching clinic and then it was really hurting. I went to a physical therapist and took the whole winter off because a muscle underneath my rotator cuff wasn’t working properly. It was affecting my shoulder and elbow.

“It was upsetting because I wanted to keep practicing because everyone else was and I just couldn’t. Here and there the physical therapist would have me throw and it still hurt so I kept getting upset. That’s why it feels so great to be back and pitching with no pain.”

With Davis dealing on the bump, the Hawks made sure his performance was not wasted. Wormer got things started with an RBI double. Gallucci added a sacrifice fly and later scored (as a courtesy runner for catcher Drew Kirkby) on a wild pitch for a 3-0 Hawks lead in the top of the first inning.

The Hawks added a pair of unearned runs in the third. Max Staub and Gallucci both reached on infield errors. Staub scored on a Kirkby sac fly, and Gallucci on a wild pitch for a 5-0 lead.

More damage was done in the fourth, when Joe Luciano, running for Davis, moved to third on an Ethan Rettew single and scored on an outfield error.

The Hawks put the finishing touches on Davis’ masterpiece in the sixth. Gallucci (running for Kirkby again) scored on an infield error. Luciano (running for Davis) scored on a Rettew fielder’s choice. Ryan Coleman added a sac fly and Sam Staub finished off the Colonials with a huge RBI triple into the left center gap.

Giancarlo Mena and Braeden Knapp were the only Colonials to scratch a base hit off Davis. Mena doubled off Hawks reliever Gravina in the sixth.

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