M.J. Lombardi scores tying run in bottom of the sixth to cap three-run rally for Defenders Baseball.
By Rich Bevensee
After trouncing their last opponent with 23 runs, Defenders Baseball of New Milford, Conn., found itself in an unfamiliar situation – having to make a last-ditch comeback.
But the Defenders were also following their script from all of 2022, which is to keep fighting and hitting and scoring until the last out.
Trailing the entire game, the Defenders needed three runs to pull even in the bottom of the sixth inning, and the middle of the order delivered.
Sal Mattera’s one-out single through the left side scored M.J. Lombardi to cap a three-run rally, and the Defenders tied the New York Prospects 11-11 in the 12U Halloween Mash tournament on Saturday morning at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
Nicky Vlastos, who cranked his 50th home run of the year in the Defenders’ 23-5 victory over Connecticut Moose in an earlier game on Saturday, went 3-for-3 against the Prospects with a key RBI double in the sixth inning which brought the Defenders to within 11-10.
The Defenders trailed 8-1 going into the bottom of the third inning.
“I thought we fought very well. We had clutch hits, we played defense when we needed it, but we came up just a little short,” Vlastos said. “I was really starting to give up hope, and then we started hitting and making our plays. We started believing and getting more confidence, and then we made the comeback.”
The Prospects charged to an 8-1 lead after scoring five runs in the top of the second inning, and they led 9-2 after batting in the third.
Prospects starting pitcher Charlie Risano, who drilled a solo home run (his fourth of the year) in the top of the fifth for an 11-8 lead, said miscues were his team’s undoing.
The Defenders made a huge step in their comeback in the bottom of the third when they scored four runs on three hits and three errors. That surge whittled the Prospects’ lead down to 9-6.
“We were doing good in the first two innings and then the walks and errors hurt us. That’s really it,” Risano said. “It really put a dent in our lead in the third and fourth innings.”
The Defenders’ final push to catch the Prospects in the sixth began when Rylan Lasser walked with one out, and he scored when Vlastos blasted a double into left center. Vlastos scored to make it a one-run game when Lombardi reached on an infield error. Mattera drove a grounder through the left side to plate Lombardi with the tying run.
“They stayed focused and hung in there,” Defenders coach Greg Lasser said. “They have had to fight back a few times before but not necessarily by that much. They did a great job and I’m so proud of these kids because they keep going and keep fighting.”
Risano, Gio Molinare, Christian Perez and Vito Lavignani drove in runs for the Prospects in the first two innings to provide that 8-1 lead. Lavignani’s opposite-field, two-run single with two out was the big blow for the Prospects in the second inning.
Risano went 2-for-2 with a homer, single, walk and two RBI. Gavin Loscalzo singled, doubled and drove in a run, and Perez finished with two RBI.
The bottom of the third was when the Defenders’ bats came alive. Lombardi had an RBI single, Vlastos scored on an error on Mattera’s grounder, Will Beverly drove in a run with a single, and Joe Diamantis plated another run with a ground out. The Defenders had crawled to within 9-6.
Perez had an RBI single in the top of the fourth to push the Prospects lead to 10-6.
The Defenders countered with two in the bottom of the fourth, when Lasser scored on the tail end of a double steal, and Mattera added an RBI single.
Both teams benefitted from a number of alert defensive plays. In the top of the third inning Defenders reliever Peter Farquharson threw out Jack Piccolo on a comebacker and first baseman Cole Gallagher threw to catcher Diamantis at home to nail Risano trying to score.
In the bottom of the third, Prospects center fielder Ayden Villodas made a strong throw to third and Beverly was eventually caught in a rundown.
In the top of the fourth, the Defenders right fielder tracked down a ball in the corner on a single by Perez, relayed to second baseman Mario Brito Trinidad and he fired to Lasser at third to catch Perez.
The Defenders, desperately trying to make up their deficit in the fifth, were thrown out twice on the bases. Brito Trinidad was caught stealing at second, and Farquharson was nailed at home trying to score on an Esleo Amereno single.