By Sean Reilly
The Flores Baseball Braves 10U White has been playing better as the 2023 season has been moving along.
The players and coaches could feel it, and now they have a Diamond Nation championship to prove it.
The Braves, the second of two 10U Flores squads that have competed this spring at ‘The Nation,’ completed an unbeaten weekend by defeating Santos Baseball 10U, 13-7, in the championship game of the 10U Home Run Classic, Powered By Victus, on Sunday afternoon.
Eight of the nine Braves batters recorded a hit, all of them reached base at least twice and everyone scored at least once as the Fairfield-based team overcame a 5-1 deficit in the second inning.
“We came back, but I knew we could do it because everyone put the bat on the ball a lot,” said leadoff man Luca Bonura, who was named tournament MVP. “My job is to get on base, get the bat on the ball and move the runners up. We’re definitely getting better. We have a lot of good guys on this team who can hit the ball very well and make plays on the field. We have a good future.”
Santos Baseball, out of Bergen County, claimed the early lead with a five-run second inning, which featured RBI singles from Mason Caldas, Logan Scott and Leo Garcia.
FB Braves White didn’t sulk, and in fact did quite the opposite by striking for seven runs in the bottom of the inning.
James Ventola drove in the first run by reaching on a fielder’s choice and Bonura followed with a walk that loaded the bases. John Cangelosi hit a sacrifice fly to center field, and an error on the throw back to the infield scored a second run to get the Braves within a run.
A wild pitch with Anthony Bellino at the plate scored the tying run, and he followed with a single and took second on a throw. Matt Testa then hit an RBI single for a 6-5 advantage. A first-and-third double steal scored Testa. Andrew Nazare, who had walked and stolen two bases, scored on a wild pitch.
FB Braves White extended its lead to 12-5 with a four-run fourth inning. Testa (2-for-4) singled, advanced on a wild pitch and scored on a full-count single to left by Nazare, who ended 1-for-2 with two walks and three runs. Two more runs scored on wild pitches before Ventola dropped down an RBI bunt single.
Garcia (2-for-2) hit an RBI single in the fifth to get Santos Baseball within 12-6, but FB Braves White got the run back when Brayden Bilak (2-for-2, two walks, two runs) hit an RBI single to right field in the bottom of the inning.
Bilak pitched five full innings and faced two batters in the sixth before Testa closed out the win for the FB Braves White.
“It’s amazing when you can come back in a game,” said Bilak, who led off the big second inning with a single after having a tough top of the frame on the mound. “We just started hitting. In the second inning we smoked the ball and batted around the order.”
After that, Bilak settled down on the mound. Pitching is a new part of his game, but he is quickly adapting to the job.
“You just have to throw strikes,” he said. “That’s basically all you have to do. You just can’t get behind in the count, which I did sometimes, but you have to find a way to battle back.
“I think we’re doing a lot better,” he added. “Once we started beating other teams, we started gaining more confidence.”