Five Star NY had surrendered a single run through its first five games in Diamond Nation’s Super 16U Top 25 Showcase so forgive the New York squad for being taken aback by its falling behind 5-0 through two-and-a-half innings in the championship game.
More stunning, was Five Star’s immediate reaction to its quandary. It simply struck back in very noisy fashion on the way to a 10-6 victory and the Super 16U Top 25 Showcase championship.
Joe Torres ripped a three-run triple in the third inning, winning pitcher Vinnie Fusco homered in the fourth and Kevin Kirk hit home runs in back-to-back at bats in the fifth and sixth inning to turn the tide in tsunami fashion.
The lefty Fusco got all but one out in an impressive six-hit effort that transitioned suddenly from shaky to sterling as quickly as the Five Star lineup had turned lethal in the middle innings.
Hustle Baseball (5-1) struck for three runs in the top of the second inning and two runs in the third off of Fusco to stake itself to a 5-0 lead that looked ominous considering the plight of both teams’ pitching depth in what was the very last day of weekday tournament play at Diamond Nation this summer.
“I wasn’t spotting my fastball early,” said Fusco, “and they were sitting on it.”
That paid dividends for the dangerous Hustle Baseball lineup in the form of five hits and all five of its runs in the second and third innings. Kenet Quinones kicked off a three-run rally in the second with a leadoff triple. Mike Kelly followed with an RBI single and he was chased home immediately by Mossimo Infante’s triple to right. James Macko then delivered Infante with a fielder’s choice grounder that pushed the lead to 3-0.
Joey Bernardo lifted the lead to 5-0 with a two-run single in the third. Tommy Jova started things with a leadoff walk and Luke Maida singled. A double steal put both runners in scoring position.
“I went to my curveball and changeup after that, the curveball more,” said Fusco, “and that seemed to work.”
Fusco settled down after Bernardo’s two-run single. He did plunk Quinones with a pitch to put a second runner aboard, but he got the next two batters on a comebacker and strikeout to mark his turnaround. Fusco would retire 10 of 11 Hustle batters after the hit-by-pitch, including a fifth inning in which he struck out the side in order.
Fusco’s resurgence coincided with a Five Star awakening at the plate in the third-through-sixth innings that would put Hustle Baseball in a hole from which it could not climb.
Hustle Baseball starter Jova allowed just one hit through the first two innings, a single by Kirk in the first, but would not survive the next two innings. Joe Sorge led off the third for Five Star with a single to left field and Tialowa Costello singled with two outs to keep the inning alive. Jova should have been out of the inning but the next batter reached on an infield error.
That’s when Torres, the No. 3 hitter, lifted a high and deep shot to straightaway center field that fell for a three-run triple. Center fielder Evan Revalli made a valiant dash toward the fence for the ball but it fell just out of his reach.
The lefty-hitting Fusco led off the fourth and quickly reduced the deficit to 5-4 when he yanked a shot well over the fence in right field for a home run.
“It was a 1-1 count,” said Fusco. “He had thrown me three curveballs the at bat before. I was sitting on the curveball and got it.” The ball was so far over the fence in right that Fusco got a nice long look at it.
The home run seemed to embolden Five Star’s lineup as No. 6 hitter Freddy Heymach followed with a laser into the gap in right-center field for a triple. Jaylem Sepulveda then stepped in and singled hard to right field to score Heymach with the tying run.
Joe Hunderland capped the three-run inning for Five Star with a one-out double to right-center field to give his team its first lead of the game at 6-5.
Fusco’s three straight strikeouts in the fifth gave him four straight Ks and seemed to have Five Star’s hitters running to the plate in the bottom of the innings. Kirk certainly had a hop in his step after a ferocious cut that sent a blast the opposite way to right field for a leadoff home run and a 7-5 lead.
A walk to Torres, a single by Noah Holt, a single to right by Heymach and a wild pitch produced a second run in the inning and boosted the lead to 8-5.
Hustle Baseball did get a run in on a two-out infield error in the top of the sixth to trim the deficit to 8-6. It was a rally that began with Bernardo’s leadoff single. Fusco got two outs in the inning but the error was the last straw for his pitch count. Mike Youngman relieved and got the only batter he faced on a pop up to shortstop.
With the game clock running down, Five Star got its last at bat in the bottom of the sixth and another rally spelled the end for Hustle Baseball. Costello was hit by a pitch with one out, bringing Kirk, who homered the prior inning, to the plate. Kirk suddenly doubled Five Star’s two-run lead with a monstrous two-run home run to left field.
The 5-10, 150-pound Kirk seems to be defying physics with his power and also flashed some serious leather at shortstop.
“We’ve been hitting all summer but it took us a while to get going in this tournament,” said Kirk. “We finally did the last two games.” Five Star knocked off Knights Nation MXE Academy, 8-0, in the semifinals.
More impressive was Kirk’s ability with the bat.
“I was just trying to drive the ball up the middle,” he said. “The first home
run, I got a fastball on the outside corner. I was sitting fastball there. The second one I got a fastball low and in and that’s my pitch.”
Torres followed Kirk’s home run in the sixth with a single and Holt drew a walk as the game clock expired, as did Hustle Baseball’s hopes.
Five Star NY (6-0) outscored its tournament opponents 38-7. Hustle Baseball Academy (5-1) held a 38-19 runs advantage on its opponents.
SUPER 16U TOP 25 PLAYOFF
4-Knights Nations MXE Academy 12, 5-Kempton Coyotes 5
3-Long Island Body Armor Titans 7, 6-9ers Baseball Club 3
1-Five Star NY 8, 4-Knights Nation MXE Academy 0
2-Hustle Baseball Academy 6, 3-Long Island Body Armor Titans 3
Five Star NY 10, Hustle Baseball Academy 6