Eat Dirt Baseball unleashes big bats en route to 12U Summer Bash title

By DN WRITING STAFF | August 14, 2023

Bryce Schmeck, Jackson Damon, Luke Spayd and MVP Sammy Dianna hit HRs for Eat Dirt Baseball.

By Rich Bevensee

Chad Denunzio said he wasn’t worried about the mood of his players when the team came to Diamond Nation and promptly lost its first two games.

He also said there was no reason to fret when his Eat Dirt Baseball 12U ballclub trailed by seven runs in the semifinals of the Summer Bash tournament.

“We’ve been a very good offensive team all summer and I didn’t see that stopping anytime soon,” Denunzio said. “We almost lost more games down here than we have all season, but this team has been together for a while and they know what they’re capable of. Sometimes we don’t show up but when our backs are against the wall we usually do a pretty good job.”

After having to scrape through the first four games of the tournament, Eat Dirt came alive with a powerful offensive display worthy of a season-ending championship.

Sammy Dianna homered twice and drove in six runs, Luke Spayd and Jacksen Damon both hit two-run homers, and sixth-seeded Eat Dirt of Reading, Pennsylvania, steamrolled its way to the Summer Bash 12U title with a 22-7 victory over fifth-seeded Baseball U Anthracite on Sunday afternoon at Diamond Nation in Flemington.

Eat Dirt Baseball pounded the ball on the way to the 12U Summer Bash championship.

“We always struggle down here,” Denunzio said. “We’ve lost in the championship game, we’ve gotten knocked out in the semis. Diamond Nation is a beautiful place and we love coming here, but we’ve always struggled here so it was nice to get the monkey off our backs.”

The Diamond Nation title was the first of any kind despite a highly successful summer for Eat Dirt, which had reached three championship games and had another final rained out. Eat Dirt concludes its season 30-6.

“We almost lost more games here than we did all summer,” Denunzio quipped.

Dianna, named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player after hitting three home runs over the weekend, took pride in his own hitting as well as in the longball prowess of his teammates.

“We’re more of an offensive team than anything else,” said Dianna, who went 3-for-3 in the final with two homers. He also singled, walked once, drove in six runs and scored four times. “We hit the ball hard and put it in play. It’s fun to hit home runs. It’s fun to see my teammates do it and it’s fun to celebrate.”

And speaking of homers, Eat Dirt would not have reached the championship game were it not for the longball efforts of Bryce Schmeck, who hit a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the seventh inning to lift his team to a 12-9 semifinal win over the Stafford Hitmen of Manahawkin, N.J.

Eat Dirt, trailing 8-1 before batting in the bottom of the fourth inning, scored three runs in the fourth and three more in the fifth to climb within one. In the sixth, Parker Denunzio sent the game into extra innings after driving in the tying run with a sacrifice fly.

The Hitmen scored once in the top of the seventh to take a 9-8 lead. With the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the seventh, Schmeck drilled an opposite-field shot over the right field fence to propel his team into the championship game. 

“That game we could have easily lost,” Denunzio said. “We were down early but battled back and stayed in the game, just knowing that we only need a few guys on base because we have seven or eight guys who can hit a home run any time.

“We have hit a lot of home runs and it seems we do it a lot when there are guys on base. That strengthens the blow because it becomes a three-run home run or a grand slam.”

The fact that Eat Dirt was even battling for a spot in the championship game was an unlikely scenario as of Saturday afternoon.

Sammy Dianna of Eat Dirt Baseball was named MVP of the 12U Summer Bash tournament.

Denunzio’s crew lost its two pool play games, including a decisive 9-2 loss on Friday night to Baseball U Anthracite, the very team it beat in the final. Eat Dirt then lost 5-4 to the New Jersey Marlins on Saturday before carrying the sixth seed into the seven-team playoff.

“We knew we could beat all the teams we played,” Dianna said. “We just didn’t play the best we could. Our coach gave us a speech, that this is our last tournament of the summer in 12U, that we’ve been trying to win this tournament for the longest time, and we really needed to bounce back from those two losses.”

In the quarterfinals on Saturday evening, Eat Dirt defeated the third-seeded EEP Bandits of Staten Island, 12-9. Then came the semifinals on Sunday and Schmeck’s game-winning blast. 

“We came into the playoffs at 0-2 and a little shaky,” Denunzio said, “but the way this tournament was set up, I saved my No. 1 (Dianna) and No. 2 (Damon) for last night and today.”

Eat Dirt was just one example of a 12U playoff bracket ripe with upsets. The Hitmen earned a semifinal berth by beating the second-seeded East Coast Lumberjacks, and top-seeded MXE Academy lost to Baseball U Anthracite in the other semi. 

In the championship game, Eat Dirt batted around in the second inning and again in the fifth while scoring 22 runs on 13 hits and eight walks.

After taking a 2-0 lead in the first inning on a Dianna two-run homer, Eat Dirt scored nine runs in the second inning for an 11-0 lead. In that inning, Eat Dirt bookended its scoring with two-run homers. 

First, Damon crushed an opposite-field, two-run homer to right which traveled 230 feet and landed on the batting cage roof adjacent to the Diamond Nation office building. Spayd (2-for-4) blasted a dead-center shot which cleared the tallest trees beyond the 240-foot fence. 

Eat Dirt exploded for 11 more runs in the fifth, a flurry capped by Dianna’s no-doubt-about-it grand slam to left. 

“We probably average about 10 to 12 runs a game this year,” Denunzio said. “We didn’t hit very well in the first two games but we came alive today.”

Also for Eat Dirt, Carter Burr drove in two runs with a single and a walk, and he also had a brilliant assist from center field in throwing out a runner at first. Damon was 2-for-3 with three RBI and two runs. Schmeck finished 2-for-4 with an RBI. Bode Hinnerschitz drove in two runs with a groundout and a hit-by-pitch. 

Jake Fink pitched very well for 3⅓ innings, allowing three runs on three hits and no walks with one strikeout. Schmeck pitched two-thirds of an inning and allowed one run on three walks. Parker Denunzio pitched the final inning and permitted three runs on four hits.

For Baseball U, Anthony Masias cranked a two-run home run in the fourth inning to break up Eat Dirt’s shutout bid. The next batter, Austin Roberts, followed Masias with a solo homer, and Avery Schlauch added an RBI groundout. 

In the bottom of the fifth, Baseball U tacked on three more runs, as Madden Fries, Roberts and Lucas Tranguch each rapped an RBI single.

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