NJ Axemen’s Jeylan Rodriguez swings away in front of Super 12U catcher Danny Contiliano.
Sunday’s heat index was a not-exactly-balmy 100 degrees so playing baseball, like most things, was not really a comfortable endeavor.
When the Diamond Jacks Super 12U team won their first game of the day, 6-5, over the Delaware Diamonds, they knew they had ensured themselves the No. 2 seed and a playoff berth. They also knew they were looking at a three-game grind in a sauna if they were to reach the championship game.
Buoyed by the play of tournament MVP Matt Baker and a ferocious, all-inclusive lineup, the Super 12U rolled to the Mid-Summer Classic championship.
“I give the guys a lot of credit,” said Super 12U coach Mike Raymond. “It’s 100 degrees, they’re playing three straight games and facing an outstanding opponent who got to sit in air conditioning all day.”
Baker pitched four innings of four-hit ball and hit a home run as the Super 12U overcame a red hot NJ Axemen team, 11-3, in the final. The Axemen came into the championship game at 3-0 and having outscored their opponents 38-3. The Axemen, which also flashed some serious leather in their infield, had played their first three games on Saturday.
Baker was a bit wild in the first inning when he walked leadoff batter Chris Marano, who would later score on Shane Patten’s single to right field. But he quickly settled in.
“I just stopped trying to throw the ball through the backstop,” said Baker. “I was working on hitting my spots and staying confident.”
Baker permitted two runs on those four hits, struck out four and, critically, walked just two to keep the potent Axemen lineup at bay.
“My four-seam fastball was working best and I started using my changeup later to get outs,” said Baker, who had to battle gamely to get through his final inning unscathed. Chris Marano had led off the fourth with a double to right-center and stole third with one out. Then Baker walked J.C. Pacheco with two outs to put two runners aboard.
Raymond came out to check on his starter’s gas tank and stayed with him for one more batter. Baker rewarded his coach by getting the next hitter to pop out to first base to end the threat.
“Matt was very competitive tonight,” said Raymond. “He was very aggressive in the strike zone. He went to his second and third pitches later in the game and got it done.”
Baker also hit a grand slam in the Diamond Jacks’ 20-11 victory over their Diamond Jacks Gold 12U brothers in the semifinals. The Gold 12U were not in a playful mood, though, striking for eight runs in the top of the first inning to put the Super 12U on their heels before they rallied to the victory.
Baker had plenty of offensive support from his teammates. Blake Echternacht delivered the team’s first of five two-out RBI hits in the top of the first, a single that scored Chase Schollenberger to tie the game at 1-1. Echternacht also capped the Super 12U’s scoring for the night with a two-out, two-run HR down the right field line. Echternacht also gave the fans a glimpse at his overall game when the centerfielder chased down Anthony Onnembo’s shot into the right-center field gap to end the fifth and strand a runner at second base.
The Diamond Jacks broke the game open with a five-run second inning that included a pair of huge two-out hits by Schollenberger and Cole Raymond. Schollenberger’s two-out single through the left side extended the lead to 4-1 and Raymond capped a lengthy at bat by ripping a shot into left field to score Schollenberger and Echternacht.
Liam Coyle, who also hit a solo home run in the fifth, had put the Diamond Jacks in the lead for good with his RBI single in the second that scored Justin “Hoosta” Labrador from second. Labrador ignited the rally with a leadoff walk and stole second. Baker also brought a run home in the inning with a fielder’s choice grounder to the right side.
Schollenberger ripped a two-out RBI double into the left-center field gap to score Jack Markovich in the fourth. Schollenberger then scored on a wild pitch to boost the Diamond Jacks lead to 8-2. The Axemen had scored a run in the third when Marcelo Harsch leadoff with a single to left, stole second and eventually scored on Colin Kassai’s infield single.
Luca Leonardis left off the sixth inning for the Axemen with a no-doubt-about-it bomb to left field.
Baker’s opposite field solo home run in the sixth was majestic. It left the field quickly and soared over the left side of the batting cages beyond right field.
“I was just telling myself to put the bat on the ball,” said Baker. “I got the pitch I wanted and took it deep.”
NOTES: The Diamond Jacks’ contributors were plentiful. Schollenberger went 2-for-4, drove in two runs and scored three times. Echternacht was 2-for-2, knocked in two runs and scored twice. Raymond drew two walks along with his two-run single. Coyle was 2-for-3, drove in two runs and scored two runs. Josh Figuredo drew a walk and scored a run. … Figuredo worked the final two innings in relief for the Super 12U, surrendering just a run on one hit, Leonardis’ home run, hitting a batter and striking out one. … Baker had just one 1-2-3 inning against the rugged Axemen lineup. Marano, the Axemen’s starting pitcher and leadoff batter, had the best at bats, drawing a walk, doubling and lining out in his three trips. … The two teams combined for just a single error in the game.