It would be very hard to recall, maybe impossible, if ever a team began a tournament getting trounced in the rain to the degree the Diamond Jacks Gold 13U absorbed, then stood three days later to receive its first place trophy.
The Diamond Jacks Gold 13U’s turnaround was thorough, impressive and, in the end, exhilarating for a team left for dead after its early Friday night blight. In the very end, the Gold 13U would defeat the NJ Marlins, 6-3, to win the 13U Memorial Day Blast championship.
“This was the most exciting championship I’ve ever been a part of,” said Gold 13U coach Evan DeLuca, who after a terrific high school career at Immaculata played minor league ball in the Yankees chain. “To be run-ruled in our first game and come back and come out on top was just unbelievable.”
The team that fell 18-1 in a heavy rain on Friday night to Morris County Cubs Navy bore absolutely zero resemblance to the Diamond Jacks who emerged to run-rule their next three opponents and earn a playoff berth. In fact, the Gold 13U’s resilience was tested immediately, as the team had to get right back on the field in cold and wet conditions and play a second game on Friday night.
The Diamond Jacks responded with a 17-5 victory over ASBA Cherry Hill 13U Red that quickly put their opening loss in the lost shoe bin and righted its offense in an astonishing way. The Gold 13U came to bat in the bottom of the third inning nursing a tenuous 8-5 advantage against the Cherry Hill club and simply opened the floodgates, scoring nine runs to end the game via the 12-run mercy rule.
John Rossman ripped a pair of home runs in the game and drove in four runs. C.J. Banos brought three runs home and JoJo Fava and Ryan Ciesla eached delivered a pair of runs. Justin Zdeb did the job on the mound as the Gold 13U headed home late Friday night with a firm grasp of what it was capable of. It had games against the Pa. Shockers, on Saturday, and Trumbull Travel Gold, on Sunday, each representing an opportunity for redemption.
And the Gold 13U would not let that opportunity slip away.
It would take just three innings again as the Diamond Jacks struck for 3, 4 and 11 runs in their three at bats to deliver an 18-0 victory over the Pa. Shockers on Saturday, suddenly improving to 2-1 in the tournament.
Fava tossed a three-inning, mercy rule no-hitter, striking out one and walking two and jumped into the offensive party with a 3-for-3, 5 RBI effort from the cleanup spot in the order. Fava’s big hit was a two-run triple in the top of the first inning that staked the Gold 13U to a 2-0 lead..
Nick Yaccarino went 2-for-4, scored three times and knocked in two runs and Peyton Keller was 1-for-2, scored twice and drove in three runs as the Diamond Jacks amassed 14 hits and drew 10 walks against the Shockers. Each batter in the Gold 13U lineup contributed in some way, be it a hit, run or RBI.
“We were the most competitive in the box as we’ve been all year,” said DeLuca of his potent lineup. “We made good contact and everyone contributed. On top of that, our situational hitting was great as we moved runners over frequently. Our approach was great.”
The Diamond Jacks pitched another shutout and piled up the runs again on Sunday morning in a 16-0 victory over Trumbull Travel Gold. This time Colin Ricciardi limited Trumbull to three hits over three innings, striking out two and walking two and benefitted, too, from another offensive onslaught by his teammates. Ricciardi also had a double, a walk and scored three runs from the No. 3 spot in the batting order.
Fava and Rossman again led the offensive charge, driving in or scoring 12 of the team’s 16 runs. Fava was 3-for-3 with a double, three runs-scored and 5 RBI. Rossman was 2-for-3 with another home run, scored three runs and drove in two runs. The Diamond Jacks had outscored their second, third and fourth opponents in the tournament, 51-5, to turn their fortunes to the point where they qualified for Monday’s four-team playoff.
Next up was the Northeast Clippers (3-2) in the semifinals and this one would turn into a pitcher’s duel. The Clippers scored a run in the bottom of the second and would hold that slim 1-0 lead until the Gold 13U rallied for a run in the top of the sixth. Ciesla was hit by a pitch with one out and Max Yeager followed with a single to advance Ciesla to second. Both moved into scoring position on Keller’s sac bunt. Rossman then beat out an infield single to the left side that scored Ciesla with the tying run.
The game would go to extra innings and the California Tiebreaker was put into effect. Each team begins its half of the extra inning with the bases loaded and one out.
The Diamond Jacks picked up a pair of runs in the top of the eighth on two pitches that sailed over the catcher’s head and lodged in the backstop. Both balls were ruled dead, allowing a runner to score each time. The 3-1 lead would hold as Yaccarino got a strikeout for the second out of the bottom of the eighth and Fava made a fine running catch on a long shot to left-center field for the final out.
“I thought about moving JoJo closer to the left field line for that last at bat,” said DeLuca. “I’m glad I didn’t because he would have never got to that ball. It was slicing and he made a great play on it.”
Lost a bit in all the end-game excitement of the semifinal was a terrific pitching performance by the Diamond Jacks’ Josh Figuieredo, who permitted one run on six hits over six innings, struck out two and walked three. Yaccarino nailed down the save by getting the final five outs in a row.
“Josh pitched a great game,” said DeLuca. “He threw 86 pitches and 54 were strikes.”
The Diamond Jacks celebrated the scintillating victory like they had won the tournament. But there was more work to be done.
The NJ Marlins entered the final favored and carried a 4-0 record and a gaudy 53-6 runs differential. But the Diamond Jacks Gold 13U jumped on the Marlins for four runs in the top of the first to quickly set the tone. Rossman opened the game with a single before the Marlins committed an error, walked four and hit a batter to set up the big first inning for the Gold 13U.
While the Marlins bullpen settled things down nicely, Fava, Yaccarino and Rossman would piece together a five-hitter in seven efficient innings, striking out a combined four and walking three on the way to a 6-3 victory and a truly memorable championship.
“The boys were still jacked up on Tuesday at practice,” said DeLuca, who exuded the very same energy.
Fava and Rossman were named co-MVPs of the 13U Memorial Day Blast and it was easy to see why. Fava went 9-for-15 (.600) with two triples, 12 RBI and scored 12 runs. He also worked five innings and permitted just two runs. Rossman went 7-for-17 (.412) with two homers and 13 RBI. He also chipped in with 1.2 innings of hitless relief and the big save in the semifinals.