The difference between 13 year-olds and 14 year-olds on the big field can be glaring, but the Diamond Jacks Super 13U squad has shown an ability to cope — and cope very well — when playing up an age level.
The Diamond Jacks Super 13U drew one step closer to a possible playoff berth in the Diamond Nation 14U World Series when it defeated GBG Northeast Hawks White, 16-4, on Wednesday morning in Flemington. Super 13U improved to 2-0-1 in pool play and elevated to the No. 6 spot in the eight-team playoff standings.
Grabbing a top six spot in the 36-team tournament will not be an easy task, though, even if the Diamond Jacks win their final pool play game on Thursday, an 8 a.m. affair opposite Syracuse Sports Zone 14U White (1-2). Either way, there is no questioning the Super 13U’s status as a playoff-ready entity after it amassed 12 hits in just three at bats against the Hawks.
“It’s going to be tough to get into the top six,” said Diamond Jacks coach Chris Brown. “But if we can pull off that last win in pool play I’d be very satisfied about our performance in the tournament.”
The Diamond Jacks trailed, 2-0, when they came to bat in the bottom of the first inning and quickly went about erasing the deficit with a six-run outburst that including five hits and two bases on balls. Catcher John DiGregorio (pictured above) ignited the rally with a one-out triple over the right fielder’s head and 11 batters would come to the plate before GBG could extinguish the rally.
“I’m just trying to stay middle of the field, center field with my swing,” said DiGregorio. “I want to hit line drives to center field.” The righty hitting DiGregorio simply went with the pitch on his drive to right field and he shot a double into the left-center field gap to drive in a run in the second inning, clearly staying centered in his approach. “I just want to stay that way and get RBIs, do my thing.”
All of the hitters in the deep Super 13U lineup did their thing against GBG Northeast, whether it was driving in a run with a base hit, patiently working a walk or dropping down a bunt that contributed to one of the team’s three rallies.
Logan Force and Matt Fattore singled home a run apiece to tie the game at 2-2 in the first inning. Mike Contiliano then dropped down a pretty squeeze bunt to score Jack Sweeney, who had singled. Hunter Force, Logan’s twin, delivered a run on a fielder’s choice grounder and two more runs came home on a throwing error.
“We’ve been doing a good job of competing on every pitch,” said Brown.
The Diamond Jacks dodged a bullet in a top of the first inning that could have gotten out of hand. The Hawks (2-1) had five hits, all singles, but managed just two runs. Collin Peck and Will Astorino started the game with back-to-back singles but the next batter hit a bouncer to the middle of the diamond that shortstop Matt Gannon turned into a 6-unassisted-3 double play. Brett Jussaume followed with an RBI single and singles by Jase Lyons and Pierce O’Sullivan produced another run.
But starting pitcher Christian Zebrowski got a strikeout to extricate himself from further trouble. And the Super 13U’s big bottom of the inning quickly changed the momentum of the game.
“Matt’s double play was huge,” said DiGregorio, who did a nice job behind the plate as well. “I just want to keep my pitchers calm and let them take a breath sometimes. These teams all hit fastballs so we were working in breaking balls. The curveball definitely helps.”
The Diamond Jacks tacked on two runs in the second to extend the lead to 8-2. Gannon led off with a single through the middle and raced all the way home on DiGregorio’s booming double. DiGregorio stopped at third on Logan Force’s single to left and scored when Sweeney dropped a single into center field.
“Playing up in age gives our guys a chance to experience the speed of the game,” said Brown. “It’s their first time on big fields and our infielders are finding out how fast they have to get rid of the ball. And our batters are seeing the difference in the pitchers’ velocity.”
O’Sullivan singled home Jussaume in the top of the third to shave the Super 13U lead to 8-3, but the Diamond Jacks would put this one away in the bottom of the inning.
This time 14 Diamond Jacks would come to the plate as the Super 13U combined four hits with seven Hawks walks and another well placed squeeze bunt by Gannon to score eight runs and boost the lead to 16-3.
Hunter Force and John Freitag got things going with a pair of singles and Brooks Saft drew a walk to load the bases with no outs. Zembrowksi and Colin Chou drew walks to force home the first two runs of the inning before Gannon’s squeeze brought home the third run. The final five runs of the inning would score after two were out. Sweeney singled home a run and Fattore and Contiliano drew bases-loaded walks. Hunter Force then ripped his second hit of the inning, an RBI single to center. Freitag capped the rally with a walk that forced home the eighth run.
Reliever Chou, working his second inning, got the first two batters out in the fourth with Super 13U comfortably in position to win via the 10-run mercy rule. But the Hawks delayed the outcome by stringing together three hits. Peck doubled and would score on back-to-back infield singles by Astorino and K.J. Beckett (2-for-3) to forge the 16-4 final margin. Jussaume’s hard liner to right field ended it.
“Since these guys got on the big field they’ve done a great job,” said Brown. “They string hits together.”
The Diamond Jacks Super 13U has, thus far, outscored their 14U Diamond Nation World Series opponents 30-16.