Diamond Jacks’ Ryan Greenstein delivers a pitch to Locked In Expos’ Evan Ravalli.
By Joe Hofmann
Joe Letko saw one offspeed pitch and didn’t offer.
He wasn’t about to let the next one get away.
The Diamond Jacks 16U Gold left fielder ripped it for a two-run double to give his team the lead for good on the way to a 9-6 victory over the Locked in Expos 17U Black in the 17U Diamond Nation World Series on Wednesday.
“I took the first one,” said Letko, who attends Bridgewater-Raritan. “He came back with the second one. I saw it right out of his hand.”
Letko keyed a five-run uprising and made a winner out of starter Ryan Greenstein, who pitched the first three innings before giving way to reliever Nathan Choi, who pitched the final two innings.
The win was special for the short-handed Diamond Jacks, who’d lost their first two games of the World Series.
But they came away winners thanks to doing a lot of baseball’s little things.
“We’ve had to play through a lot of adversity,” winning coach Shaun Ryan said. “We played from behind well. We made some productive outs and we ran the bases well. I like giving them the flexibility to make some mistakes and then tell them what we did wrong. I want the kids to play aggressively. Are we perfect? No. But I want them to be aggressive.”
The Diamond Jacks were patient at the plate and scored two runs in the first and one in the third, only to have the Expos explode for five runs in their half of the third.
But Ryan’s team put it all together with a five-run rally of its own in the top of the fourth.
“One of the things I liked is that we made good, productive outs,” Ryan said. “We moved runners over. This is one of the most complete games we have played. We were missing four guys. We usually have 14. But the kids played well. Our first two games, we should have won and didn’t, but we played more like the team we are capable of being today.”
Ryan’s team dropped a 7-1 decision to the Taconic Rangers and fell, 6-3, to Power Arm Baseball. But they came together Wednesday — especially in the decisive fourth against Expos hard-throwing reliever Nick Park, who took the loss.
Trailing 5-3, the Diamond Jack’s Logan Raghunath led off with an infield hit before Choi walked. With runners on first and second, the Expos catcher threw wildly past first on an attempted pickoff throw, scoring Raghunath from second to make it 5-4.
Jacob Kisselbach walked and, one out later, Letko doubled in two runs to put the Diamond Jacks in front, 6-5, and took third on an ill-advised throw home before scoring on a wild pitch.
Reymundo Gonzalez and Greenstein walked before E.J. Balewitz singled in another run.
There was more evidence of the Diamond Jacks’ efficient baserunning in the top of the first when Letko (2-for-3, 2 RBIs, 3 runs scored) and Gonzalez led off the game with walks off starting pitcher Will Mumby. Letko and Gonzalez both advanced on a wild pitch and Letko came home on a second wild pitch before Ethan Massardier’s infield single.
In the third, Letko and Gonzalez reached on infield hits and advanced on Jack Reardon’s infield out. Letko came around to score on Greenstein’s 6-3 groundout.
In the fifth and final inning, Raghunath walked, Choi bunted him over, and Kisselbach brought Raghunath home with an RBI double.
The Expos did much of their damage in the third but couldn’t hold the lead.
Matt Hodapp led off with a single to center and Joey Queli reached on Greenstein’s throwing error before Connor Watson unleashed a two-run double up the left field line. Two batters later, Mumby reached on an infield hit to score Watson, Evan Ravalli walked, and Jack Lia hit a long two-run double to left center for a 5-3 lead.
But the Expos couldn’t make it stick.
“The last few games, we hadn’t been clicking but we put it all together today,” Letko said. “We did a good job today of get-’em-over, get-’em-in. We worked together and figured it out.”