Dirtbags 13U Mann-Up resilient in bounce back win

By DN WRITING STAFF | July 10, 2022

Ari Borek of Dirtbags 13U Mann-Up had an RBI single in the first inning.

By Rich Bevensee

The Dirtbags 13U Mann-Up squad from Rockland, County, N.Y. was mired in a troublesome situation.

Not only had the Dirtbags just suffered a lackluster performance while getting blanked by Prospects Baseball Academy in the first game of their Saturday doubleheader, their next opponent had just administered an 18-run drubbing in its first game. 

It was no time for the Dirtbags to lick their wounds. They needed to develop a short memory, and quickly. 

“Kids tend to hold onto things – an error, a strikeout, whatever it is,” said Dirtbags coach Scott Cantor. “I was very specific with them after the first game: The key thing is the game’s over, forget about it, it’s a brand new day and let’s go at it, and that was it.”

The Dirtbags used the second game to show their coach they may have had a shortage of offense but an abundance of resilience. They got a terrific pitching effort from Sean Robledo, a well-timed, two-run triple from Billy Fontanilla, and basically turned away danger in every inning while slipping past the Trenton Elite Giants 5-2 in the 13U Youth World Series at Diamond Nation in Flemington.

“It was more mental than anything because after the first game we picked each other up, and we really had more confidence going into the second game, knowing we had to win,” Fontanilla said. “We just had to forget about the first game and we needed someone to take charge.”

That someone was Robledo, a pint-sized pitcher with a vise grip for a handshake. Because the Congers, N.Y., native yielded five hits and six walks in four innings, he was forced to maneuver in and out of trouble to keep his team in the ballgame.

And he did. Robledo doesn’t have an amazing fastball or drop-off curveball, but he does have an ability to pound the strike zone, which allows his defense to do its work. As a result he stranded nine runners, six in scoring position.

Trenton Elite Giants’ I’Meir Kennedy singles in the first inning.

Twice he left the Giants shaking their heads after he escaped bases-loaded jams.

“I just kept my body language together and took deep breaths,” Robledo said. “I wasn’t really nervous. You just have to not think about it that much. I just think about the next batter and not think about who’s on base.”

And after all the danger the Giants made Robledo endure, it was Fontanilla who gave his pitcher and the Dirtbags some breathing room in the top of the fifth inning. Conner Mullin singled and Reid Johnson reached on an error to lead off the inning, and Fontanilla blasted the first pitch he saw into right center field for a two-run triple and a 5-2 Dirtbags lead. 

“I was simply trying to hit the ball but then I got a good hit,” Fontanilla said. “I just drove the ball and that’s what I was supposed to do.”

“That was nice because when I pitch and I try my best, it’s good to know my team’s behind me scoring runs,” Robledo said. 

The Dirtbags struck first when Nick Speckenbach and Ari Borek both knocked RBI singles in the top of the first inning for a 2-0 lead. 

The Giants answered with two runs in the bottom of the frame when Liansel Perez’s hard infield single went off the glove of Dirtbags second baseman Nate Cantor, scoring Terril Tift and I’Meir Kennedy. But the Giants then got their first sample of Robledo’s resolve, as he left the bases loaded with a strikeout. 

The Dirtbags took the lead for good in the second inning when Cantor reached on a leadoff error, stole second, advanced to third on a groundout and scored on a wild pitch. 

The Giants’ Isaac Russell opened the bottom of the second with a double but was left stranded at third. 

Robledo escaped major danger for a second time in the third inning after Kennedy walked and Jarrett James singled. Cantor made a terrific line drive snag which was destined for the right-center field gap. 

The Giants’ Christopher Mauger walked to load the bases with one out, but Robledo answered the call with two straight strikeouts. 

“He’s a wonderful athlete and as he grows he’s going to be a great pitcher,” Cantor said. “This wasn’t even his best outing. He’s a team guy and I love the way he plays.”

James, who came on in relief of Liansel Perez in the top of the first inning, showed the Dirtbags he was equal to the task by working out of his own bases-loaded trouble in the fourth. He yielded walks to Borek and Colton Romanoff before getting a fielder’s choice out. 

James then pulled a gutsy move after walking Luke Kromar to load the bases. On a 1-2 count to Michael Gauthier, James wheeled to pick off Romanoff at second base. Then James induced another fielder’s choice grounder to evade any damage.

In the bottom of the fourth, the Giants pushed the potential tying run to third base as Jamir Conover stroked a two-out single up the middle, stole second and advanced to third on a groundout. Conover was left there after Robledo got Kennedy to fly out to right to end the inning. 

With time ticking toward the end of the 1 hour, 50-minute limit, Fontanilla drove a dagger into the Giants with his two-run triple.

Speckenbach came on in relief for the Dirtbags in the bottom of the fifth inning and the Giants immediately immersed him in the same kind of danger Robledo endured for four innings. 

James walked but Speckenbach induced a ground ball from Perez which Cantor helped turn into a 4-6-3 double play. Borek made a terrific pick at first base to ensure the second end of the twin-killing.

With two outs, Speckenbach yielded a walk to Mauger and a single to Caron Woods, bringing the tying run to the plate for the Giants with no time left on the clock. Speckenbach worked the count full before getting a strikeout and giving the Dirtbags a solid victory in which they needed their mental toughness time and time again.

“One of the troublesome things about working with young kids is they lose their focus, “ Dirtbags coach Cantor said. “We want them to become better ballplayers and be more conscious of what they’re doing. It was good to see some of the kids come through, and we do have that ability to bounce back at times. It’s what happens when some kids step up at the plate.”

The Dirtbags improved to 2-1 on the weekend with the win. They edged Bergen Crush, 6-5 on Friday, and lost to Prospects, 5-0, the game before facing the Giants. The Dirtbags conclude play with a 4:30 p.m. Sunday contest against Cayuga Bombers 13U Piscotti.

The Giants opened World Series play Friday evening by blowing up Wladyka Baseball American 20-2 and bowing to Prospects 5-2. The Giants close out their weekend with a 6:30 p.m. Sunday tilt against the Long Island Body Armor Titans.

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