By Joe Hofmann
Before the Diamond Jacks 10U took the field in the August Showdown championship game Sunday night, there was a buzz.
And then for six innings, energy and excitement built in their dugout.
The team’s first tournament championship victory would soon follow.
The Diamond Jacks captured a 9-7 victory over GRIT Orange in the championship game to set off a wild victory celebration when it was over.
Coach Peter Minsavage’s team showed grit and determination in the tournament, which should come as no surprise. The group has displayed that since they came together for practice in March.
The DJacks 10U was the No. 3 seed after pool play before beating the top two seeds to win it.
“Looking at their expression when the final out was made was priceless,” Minsavage said. “There was so much improvement and they put so much effort into this. We all felt it, the parents felt it, I felt it. It was really, really nice to see. We put in so much effort and hard work and it showed.”
Minsavage’s team has been practicing twice a week since March. He has seen their skills rise as well as their baseball acumen.
“Every week during practice the kids are progressing better and better,” he said. “They never give up. Every day they ask how to improve. Each individual player … they all want to progress and get stronger and have a better mindset about baseball. It’s all coming together.
“I think in the future this will be one of the best Diamond Jacks teams ever. They saw how close they were, they tasted it and it showed this weekend.”
The Diamond Jacks broke out in the final with four runs in the first inning and five more in the third, withstood a GRIT five-run rally in the fourth, and held on for the win.
Chase Larsen had two hits and three RBIs, Ryan Nigro had a hit and three RBIs, Nate McGann had two hits and Luca Eberle, Josh Labrador, and Allan Pena had one hit apiece.
Pitcher Tyler LaGanga allowed just one run on no hits through the first two innings but had to be removed from the game before the third inning because he was hit by a pitch. Tim Donahue came on with one out in the fourth and shut the door on GRIT.
“In the fifth and sixth innings, our defense locked down and we made the plays,” Minsavage said.
“We performed really well in our hitting and defense. It was a really well-earned win for us.”
It was a sweet turnaround in the final after falling, 13-9, in the tournament opener to GRIT. The Diamond Jacks allowed 10 unearned runs in that game. McGann had three hits, Nigro had two hits and two RBIs, Larsen had a hit and two RBIs, and LaGanga had two hits in a losing cause.
In their next game, the Diamond Jacks captured a 14-8 victory over the Rockville Centre Tigers. Pena had two hits out of the leadoff spot, McGann had two hits, Eberle had a hit and three RBIs, and LaGanga, Nigro, Jack Suarez, Bott and Larsen all had one hit apiece.
Bott, meanwhile, allowed just one earned run in five innings to get the win.
The Diamond Jacks went on to beat the L.I. Dodgers Nation Finelli, 18-7 in a game that was shortened due to the mercy rule after four innings.
McGann had two hits and three RBIs, LaGanga had a hit and three RBIs, Larsen had two hits and an RBI, and Pena, Bott and Labrador each had an RBI. Nigro went the route and got the win.
“The whole lineup stepped up with everyone contributing hits,” Minsavage said. “We had some smart baserunning, took advantage of passed balls, stole bases at the right time, and we had some nice clutch hitting.”
One week earlier, the Diamond Jacks had their hitting shoes on in the Boys of Summer Tournament at Diamond Nation. The team outscored three opponents, 57-11, but then lost a 10-4 decision to GRIT Black in the final.
“The first three games, the boys hit and it kept going week-by-week,” Minsavage said. “Our bats were explosive and we had great discipline with each at bat.”
The Diamond Jacks’ first title was a fitting way to end their summer. The team has made gigantic strides under Minsavage since March.
“They play spring, summer and fall,” he said. “In the winter, they train as well. I took them under my wing in March. The progress they have made is day and night. When I first had them, they were small and seemed a little uncomfortable but they came together as a family. You could see the bond with every player. It became a real family atmosphere and that has helped them on the field.
“When we started off, they weren’t understanding baseball but their baseball IQ has risen. They now know what is expected on a baseball field and how to handle themselves. Every week, you saw progression.”Capping their summer with a championship will make the season even more memorable for this tightly knit group of Diamond Jacks.