By Sean Reilly
Cash Fletcher and his FB Braves teammates had never played on a big field, but you’d never know it in their performance over the weekend at Diamond Nation.
Fletcher had a magnificent showing at the plate, and added a strong pitching performance as well, while his team rolled to five wins in five games to capture the 13U Labor Day Blast championship in Flemington.
The capper to the weekend was a 10-3 victory over the Connecticut Moose in the tournament final on Monday morning.
The Labor Day Blast is the first tournament of the fall season at ‘The Nation,’ and it is also the first in which players ‘age up’ a year in competition. That makes the event a huge and challenging one for the 13U players, who for the first time advance from the smaller size field to the big 60/90 diamond, where they will now play for the rest of their careers.
In the case of the FB Braves, veterans of competing at, the smaller, Fields 2 and 6 at Diamond Nation, with their accompanying 50-foot pitching distances and 70-foot base paths, making the move up to marque Field 1 at the complex was a big deal, but also one they could handle.
There was no better example than Fletcher, who was selected tournament MVP after going 1-for-2 with a RBI single in the final, and 7-for-11 overall on the weekend, with four singles, a double, two triples and 10 RBI, along with seven runs. He was also the starting pitcher in a pool play win over the Moose on Sunday, in which he allowed one hit over three scoreless innings.
“We had one scrimmage on the big field before this,” Fletcher said. “That was it.”
“It was a little challenging, but I liked it,” Fletcher said. “The pitching was a little slower, so when you are hitting you have to wait on it more. Pitching, it’s longer, so you have to reach the plate and throw slower, so you have to expect them to hit. If I was on the smaller field, I’d be throwing different pitches, but on this one, you have to concentrate on throwing strikes.”
Another aspect of the adjustment is how there is much more hitting into gaps and the space between the infielders and outfielders, yet further distances for runners to cover between the bases.
That was clear in the bottom of the second inning of the final, when the FB Braves scored all 10 runs. There were nine hits in the inning, and eight of those were singles.
Fletcher singled in the first run, on a full-count hit that landed in center field, just onto the green beyond second base.
Asher Carney tripled in the second run, and he scored on a single to center by Hunter Marcus.
Chris Steiner singled in the fourth run, and the next two batters – Tyler Ciasullo and Cade Miller – also had RBI hits into the outfield.
After the Moose moved onto their third pitcher of the inning, the other runs scored on a ground out and wild pitches.
Ilan Pony was the starting pitcher for the Braves, and he struck out five and walked one over two hitless innings. Carney pitched a hitless third inning, with two strikeouts and a walk.
Cash Fletcher of the FB Braves was named 13U Labor Day Blast MVP.
The FB Braves dipped deeper into the bullpen in the fourth, and the Moose capitalized with a three-run inning that wiped out a chance for an early end via the mercy rule.
Cole Silverman started that inning by getting the lone hit for the Moose, a single to center field. There were then six walks over the course of the frame, with a double play mixed in, including bases-loaded passes to Mike Wallace, James Robertson and Waylon Hribernik.
The 1:50 play clock expired during the middle of the fifth inning.
Braves coach Dylan Edelstein was very pleased with the team’s 13U debut, which came after a second-place finish at a 53-team tournament in Cooperstown, N.Y. in their 12U finale.
“It was awesome,” he said. “They’re ballers. They’re a great team. The camaraderie is great, and that’s what makes them a special group. We just came off of a very tough loss in Cooperstown, and this was our first legit tournament since, and we had some fire and revenge to get, and we hadn’t practiced on a big field. This was a great start, and you can’t ask for any better than what they showed.”
And the leader during the first big-field weekend, in which the Braves outscored their opponents, 69-10, was Fletcher.
“He’s one of those kids who comes in with no batting gloves, and we call him a Country Boy Swinger, because he comes in and sits and rips, and he’s always hitting, whether it’s fast or slow pitching, and he plays everywhere on the field,” Edelstein said. “He’s very versatile and a very good teammate. He also adjusted to everything this weekend. You can’t ask for anything more. I would like to have a million Cash’s if I could.”