Doherty, Quiceno guide Centercourt in 14U Spring Classic

By DN WRITING STAFF | May 4, 2024

Evan Ketschke of Centercourt takes a rip in the fourth inning.

By Rich Bevensee

Jack Doherty of Centercourt Baseball-Belford began offering a healthy dose of his changeup two weeks ago, and hitters have been a frustrated bunch in the batter’s box since then.

His teammate, Darien Quiceno, has so much movement on his pitches that even his catcher has to stay on high alert, never mind the batters. 

It’s a tough combination to handle for any ballclub, as Diamond Jacks Gold will attest after their most recent pool play contest in the 14U Spring Classic at Diamond Nation in Flemington.

Doherty and Quiceno combined for a five-hitter with seven strikeouts and held the Diamond Jacks to a single run over the final four innings in a 7-3 Centercourt victory on Friday evening at ‘The Nation.’

On a team which features a handful of high school freshmen, Doherty and Quiceno are both eighth graders who have impressed coach Matt Belford with not only their talent but their maturity as well.

Featuring his baffling changeup, Doherty went five innings and allowed two runs on four hits and one walk with two strikeouts. 

“I didn’t start throwing the changeup until two weeks ago and now it’s my best pitch,” Doherty said. “My coach and my dad (Joe Doherty) wanted me to throw it. I always had the pitch but never had the confidence in it until my coach called it, and it was moving great so I kept on it. Coach likes me keeping batters off balance and getting in their heads, so I’ve been mixing it in there and it’s been working great for me.”

“Jack has a changeup that makes people talk to themselves on the way back to the dugout because it comes out of the same arm slot as his fastball,” Belford said. “At this level you can pick up the curveball as a hitter but that changeup, it’s the best pitch in the world if you can throw it. That’s his best secondary pitch now.”

Quiceno entered in the sixth and immediately kept catcher Jack Tafur busy with his cutting and sweeping arsenal of pitches, including a two-seam fastball which ran side to side and a curveball which dropped in for a handful of strike threes. Quiceno struck out five over two innings while allowing one run on one hit and two walks. 

“Darien threw strikes and everything he throws, moves,” Belford said. “You saw with the fastball, the catcher moving to either side.”

As dominant as Quiceno was in those two innings, Belford said he believes his tall righty has found a niche as a reliever rather than a starter.

“It’s funny, coming out of the pen is better for him because he gets the ball and just goes and things are moving,’ Belford said. “And if he gets that hammer going it’s hard for guys to make an adjustment, and it’s less thinking for him. We tell our guys, tomorrow you’re going to pitch, and for some guys it’s too much time to think about it.”

Chris Tortorella of Centercourt dives back to the bag with Diamond Jacks Michael Murphy covering.

Centercourt spotted the Diamond Jacks a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the third inning before its offense got into gear. Leadoff hitter Sam DeLaurier swatted an RBI single and later scored on a double steal when T.J. Dally broke for second after reaching on an error. 

The Diamond Jacks were quiet for a while after that, as Doherty allowed just two baserunners and was the beneficiary of an unassisted double play by first baseman and Union Catholic freshman E.J. Onyschak. 

Meanwhile, Centercourt responded in its next at bat with two runs in the top of the fourth. A.J. Huber singled and later scored on a wild pitch, and Tafur scored on a fielding error on a Doherty ground ball. 

“It doesn’t affect me when the offense takes a while to get going,” Doherty said. “I’m confident on the mound and I know we have enough guys on this team who will hit and make plays and we’ll be fine.”

Diamond Jacks pitchers Remington Mortman, Jackson Scott and Andrew Wheeler held Centercourt to only three hits, but what Centercourt lacked in base hits it made up for with opportunistic play. 

In the top of the fifth, Centercourt scored four runs on one hit, two walks and two errors. Two of those runs scored while the Diamond Jacks turned a 6-4-3 double play.

“We teach it all the time to be aggressive but it doesn’t mean it happens in a game all the time, so to see that, it’s awesome,” Belford said. 

Luiggi Sacca forced in a run with a bases loaded walk to push Centercourt ahead 3-2. With the bases still loaded, Huber grounded to first and Vincent Lettini scored when the throw home for the force play was wide.

Evan Ketschke grounded into a double play but his teammates’ aggressive baserunning pushed Centercourt’s lead to 6-2, as Chris Tortorella scored from third and Sacca raced home all the way from second.

The Diamond Jacks picked up another run in the bottom of the sixth when DeLaurier singled and later scored on a throwing error, but Centercourt countered that run when Tortorella scored on a double steal for the final margin.

Centercourt will continue pool play with a Saturday doubleheader, against Lower Bucks Minutemen Navy at 6:30 p.m. and against Intensity Baseball at 8:30 p.m.

The Diamond Jacks fell to 0-2 with the loss to Centercourt. Earlier Friday, they bowed to Intensity, 6-3. On Saturday, the Diamond Jacks will face Lower Bucks at 8:30 p.m.

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