By Sean Reilly
His team needed to get one more out, and Lex Melito was ready to make the play.
His Dig In Baseball team was up two runs, but the opposing ‘71 Pirates, who had already scored four times in the frame, had runners on first and second with two out in the bottom of the fourth and final inning in the championship game of the 11U Father’s Day Classic at Diamond Nation.
The batter ripped a line drive toward Melito, and he made the catch at shortstop to close out a wild 12-10 victory in Flemington.
“The ball was coming toward me,” he said. “It was a very close game. I knew I had to catch that ball, and if I did, we would win.”
Both teams had plenty of base runners in the game that consumed all of the 1:50 time clock, which resulted in the four-inning result.
The Maryland-based Dig In Baseball finished the weekend with a 3-1 record by defeating a ‘71 Pirates team that had won all three of its pool games by a combined score of 46-6.
Dig In Baseball scored two runs after the first two batters had been retired in the top of the first. But the ‘71 Pirates countered with four runs in the bottom of the inning.
Dig In Baseball then struck for four runs in the top of second to go up, 6-4. Melito had a two-run hit to tie the score, and then stole third and scored on an error. Cooper Kim added a two-out RBI single for the other run.
Dig In Baseball added another run in the third. Owen Burgess led off with a walk, advanced to third after a wild pitch and a passed ball and then scored on a ground out by Ben VanCise.
The ‘71 Pirates closed to 7-6 in the bottom of the inning after Brice Staples led off with a double and moved to third on a ground out before Bam Pelzer rocked a home run well over the fence in left center.
Dig In Baseball scored five times in the top of the fourth to command a 12-6 lead. Melito, who led off the inning with a walk, came home on a wild pitch for the first run. Braxton Rose added an RBI single, VanCise had a two-run hit and Parker Luskey singled in the other.
The ‘71 Pirates made things very interesting in the bottom of the inning. Blake Simon singled across a run with one out. J.R. Holly followed with a RBI single, and Staples was hit by a pitch to load the bases. B.J. Hall then singled in a run to make the score 12-9 with the power hitting Pelzer coming to the plate as the potential winning run. He hit a sacrifice to deep center to cut the deficit to 12-10. That’s when the next batter lined to Melito to end the game.
“I saw it coming at me and was like ‘Let’s go,’” Melito said. “This was a good tournament and it was a fun opportunity to come here.”
While they fell short in the final, the ‘71 Pirates are one of the most unique teams to visit Diamond Nation this spring.
The roster consists entirely of minority players from throughout the Philadelphia, Central Jersey and New York area, and they are named in honor of the World Champion 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates, who during the course of that season, became the first team in the history of Major League Baseball to field a starting lineup in a game which consisted entirely of minority players.
“Our mission is to provide wonderful opportunities for young black and brown baseball players,” said ‘71 Pirates coach Bernard Hall. “Everybody knows that the numbers of African-American baseball players are the lowest that they’ve ever been. We’re here to provide them with a life-changing experience.
“We’re going to the Dominican Republic at the end of July and August. We wanted to give folks an opportunity to play with young men who look like them and we consider it a privilege to be a part of their baseball experience.”