Filiaci tweaks repertoire to send Super 14U to KOD title

By DN WRITING STAFF | April 16, 2024

By Rich Bevensee

If victory can be decided by inches – a strike three pitch cutting across the edge of the plate, or a game-winning hit landing just inside the foul line – then the path to that victory may also be measured by the smallest adjustments. 

Just ask Matt Filiaci and Gino Spigarelli, the starting battery for the Diamond Jacks Super 14U ballclub which captured yet another tournament title this spring.

Along with coach Travis Anderson, they deduced that a heavier dose of Filiaci sliders would keep Iron Nine from feasting on his fastball. No major strategy change, just a tweak in pitch selection. 

And that’s what it took for the Diamond Jacks to roll to their second championship in three weeks. After an un-Filiaci-like first inning, the young lefty struck out nine of the next 13 batters he faced and led his team to a 7-2 triumph and the 14U King Of The Diamond title on Sunday evening at Diamond Nation in Flemington.

“Essentially you gotta have confidence in the pitcher, even when situations get tough,” said Spigarelli, who shared Most Valuable Player honors with teammate James Fenton. “As the catcher, you’re the leader of the infield and you gotta make sure you’re confident and pick your pitcher up. I told Matt, ‘Your stuff is better than their stuff.’ It’s that simple. He made an adjustment, got in the zone and got his confidence up. Excellent job by Matt.”

The Diamond Jacks won the Spring Invitational title March 15-17, and reached the April Fool’s title game last week before bowing to the Jersey Storm. This second championship was especially satisfying for the Diamond Jacks because they were mercy-ruled by the Storm in last week’s final, 14-2.

Another reason why the Diamond Jacks may savor the taste of this particular title is that they survived a marathon of a day. The Iron Nine contest was their fourth ballgame of the afternoon.

Earlier Sunday, Anderson’s group defeated Connecticut Grind Carolina 6-5 and Pelicans Baseball 7-3 in pool play, then eliminated its brothers on the Diamond Jacks Gold, 10-8, in the semifinals. 

“Not only was it six games in a weekend, but four games in one day, which is possibly something you’ll never do again,” Anderson said. “That’s an extremely tough thing to do, even for players this age. With the amount of time you spend on a baseball field, it’s a grind. We hit a lull in the second game today, and then in the playoffs you get after it. I can’t say enough about them. Pitching was outstanding. My hat’s off to them.”

Filiaci, who lasted one inning in the April Fool’s final against the Storm, was unsure he would be throwing on Sunday after waking up to a 100-degree fever on Saturday. A dose of antibiotics helped him rebound while he missed his team’s first two games, and he arrived at Diamond Nation in time for the semifinals. 

In the championship game, after being staked to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning, he surrendered two runs on two hits to the Iron Nine in the bottom of the first, not because of any lingering effects of his illness, but because he needed a new prescription of pitches.

Gino Spigarelli, left, and James Fenton of Diamond Jacks Super 14u were named co-MVPs.

“In the first inning I threw probably 85 percent fastballs, and I realized they were hitting it a little bit and I had to change it up,” Filiaci said. “On the first batter I spiked three balls. I threw good in the ‘pen and I’m thinking, I know I’m better than this. I only threw my slider one time in the first inning.”

Filiaci, who throws a fastball which touches 80, a changeup and a curve, needed his fourth pitch to get his team back into the game.

“I told Matt, ‘I got your back, the defense has your back, now do what you know you can do,” Spigarelli said. “He made an adjustment and shut them down.”

Filiaci struck out the side looking in the second and third innings, completely stifling Iron Nine batters with that slider which hooks left to right across the plate. He struck out two more in the fourth and another in the fifth. 

He did not allow a base hit after the first inning. 

“Throughout the next four innings I threw about 70 percent sliders and I don’t think they touched it once,” Filiaci said. “Normally I throw it a lot. I don’t know why I didn’t throw it in the first inning. They couldn’t hit it, so I thought if it’s not broken don’t fix it.”

“That’s why G (Spigarelli) is one of the MVPs,” Anderson said. “It’s not like Matt had his best stuff, but making that little adjustment and throwing that slider that he has, and being able to throw it for strikes was the difference. Brownie (Diamond Jacks coach Chris Brown) and I were talking about it – being able to throw the slider for strike one at this age is special. He looked like he was going right through them. He and G made that adjustment and it was great to see.”

Filiaci finished his night with a tidy 68 pitches. On a night where he was coming off a rough performance the week before and strep throat the night before, he may point to this performance as one full of life lessons.

“Today showed that if you have a bad start you can’t just put your head down and pout about it,” Filiaci said. “Just try a fresh start. Like in the ‘Ted Lasso’ show, they say, ‘have a mind like a goldfish and forget about it.’”

While Filiaci clamped down on Iron Nine batters, the Diamond Jacks wasted no time getting their southpaw the lead again. Gabe Miller drove in a run with a double to center in the top of the second for a 3-2 lead. 

In the fourth, Owen Ehrenkranz stroked a two-run double down the left field line and Gavin Ross added a sacrifice fly for a 6-2 lead. In the seventh, pinch hitter Michael Donahue launched an RBI double to forge the final score. 

Mateo Liloia pitched the final two innings of relief for the Diamond Jacks. He shut out Iron Nine on no hits, struck out five and walked three.

Anderson lavished praise on Ehrenkranz, who shut down the Connecticut Grind, and Fenton, the co-MVP, who threw well against Diamond Jacks Gold in the semis. 

“Owen, in our morning game, threw lights out. Super, super impressed by him,” Anderson said. “And Fenton had three hits against the Grind and threw in our playoff game against the Gold team. He’s a special arm.”

For the Iron Nine, Connor DiStefano surrendered six runs on six hits and four walks with three strikeouts in 3⅔ innings. Vincent DeCock permitted only one run in his 3⅓ innings of relief work, yielding three hits and no walks with three strikeouts.

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