By Sean Reilly
With only one day to go, Vincent Donofrio was still undecided on what kind of costume to wear for Halloween.
He was dressed in his Out Of The Park Cyclones uniform on Sunday afternoon at Diamond Nation, but considering the way he pitched in the championship of the 12U Halloween Mash, a magician’s getup might be an appropriate choice for the holiday.
Donofrio worked out of jams in four of the six innings, including the final three, and his OOTP teammates came up clutch in the field and at the plate when the Cyclones defeated the Canes Tri-State, 7-4, for the tournament title in Flemington.
Donofrio went the distance, scattering eight hits while striking out 12 and walking two.
“I had to lock in, block out all the noise and focus,” he said. “I was mixing up my speeds, they were chasing my off-speed pitch a lot.”
The Cyclones had an interesting day at the plate. Their first eight batters of the game all struck out against Canes starter Ryan Depp, but the bats eventually came alive, sparked by third-batter Cody Alicea, who hit a leadoff home run for a 3-1 score in the bottom of the third inning and a two-run blast for a 7-3 advantage with two out in the fifth.
Donofrio displayed his tenacity for the first time with the game scoreless in the top of the second. The Canes had runners on second and third with one out, but he struck out the next batter on a nasty off-speed pitch, and then got another strikeout to end the inning.
“It was hard to do,” he said of his consistently working out of trouble. “But it was fun.”
The first Cyclones batter to not strike out was ninth hitter Cole Webster, who was hit by a pitch with two out in the third. Tenth hitter Chase Gechtman was up next, and he hit a grounds rule double to center field.
At first, the ball bouncing over the fence seemed like a bad break for the Somerset County team, since Webster would have likely scored. But it turned out to not matter, since leadoff man Dylan Pudlak wound up hitting a two-run, opposite field single to right field for a 2-0 lead.
“It felt good to get the team started,” Pudlak said. “I focused on hitting the ball over the second baseman’s head, and it happened.”
The Canes threatened again in the top of the fourth. Singles by Jayvian Vazquez and Gian Paso, combined with a passed ball and stolen base, put both in scoring position with one out. Depp then singled to center field to score Vazquez, but a very strong throw from Townes O’Connor in the outfield to catcher Lucas Bolton erased the trail runner. Donofrio then fanned the next batter to maintain the 2-1 lead.
Alicea led off the bottom of the inning with his first home run, which went over the fence to the left of the scoreboard in right center on Field 2 at ‘The Nation.’
“He was striking everyone out, but we had to keep attacking,” Alicea said. “On that one, I was trying to hit the ball hard.”
Bolton then doubled to right field with one out, moved to third on a ground out to first base by Donofrio, and then scored as Gianni Cenicola singled on a full count to the area between the mound and second base.
The Canes mounted another threat in the fifth, starting the inning with singles by A.J. Hernandez and Rocco Scerbo. Hernandez scored on an error with nobody out, and Scerbo came home on a one-out single by Alex Lewis. After Eric Marano reached on an error and stole second, the Canes again had runners on second and third with one out and their deficit cut to 4-3.
This time, Donofrio worked out of the pickle by getting a called strike on a full-count pitch, before retiring the next batter on a foul pop to third baseman Alicea.
In the bottom of the fifth, Webster was again hit by a pitch, this time leading off. He was replaced on the bases by Parker Dipollina, who stole second and third. After the next two batters flew out, Nicholas Yacykewych extended the inning by reaching on an error which scored Dipollina for a 5-3 lead. The Canes then made a pitching change, but Alicea greeted the reliever with a two-run home run to left field.
“On that one, I was just trying to get on base again,” Alicea said. “I had to make an adjustment for the new pitcher.”
The Canes staged one final comeback bid in the sixth. Paso led off with a hard single to left field. After a strikeout, Ryan Park walked and Hernandez was hit by a pitch to load the bases. A wild pitch scored Paso to get the Canes within 7-4 with runners on second and third, but Donofrio struck out the next two batters to clinch the championship.
“This was a great team win,” Pudlak said. “They were a good team. A lot of people did well. We all did things to get everything going.”