U.S. Elite’s Avik Cherry slides home to complete an inside-the-park, three-run home run,
By Rich Bevensee
The U.S. Elite Mid-Atlantic National 14U ballclub and its fans are getting used to seeing – can we say expecting? – Avik Cherry sprint around the bases. And his jaunts are usually good for four bases.
The club’s leadoff hitter never fails to make opposing teams pay for a ball in the gap or a misplayed fly ball, and Diamond Nation got its first taste of the speedy young man at work in 14U pool play of the Memorial Day Blast on Saturday morning in Flemington.
Cherry turned a sinking liner into his sixth inside-the-park home run of the season, and that three-run shot supported a five-man rotation which threw a combined four-hit shutout in a 3-0 victory over Baseball Warehouse Indians ‘27 Purple.
“I’m scoring all day, that’s just what I think,” Cherry said when asked what he thought when he saw the ball skid to the right field fence. “Whenever it gets in the gap or it gets past the fielder, I think I’m scoring, and especially on turf. If it’s on dirt and it slows down, maybe it’s a triple, but on turf it’s four (bases) in my mind.”
Cherry was one of the five pitchers who posted seven zeroes on the scoreboard for U.S. Elite.
Drew Kittelman threw a perfect first inning with two strikeouts. Cherry threw two innings and allowed two hits and two walks with four strikeouts. Nate Shepherd threw two innings and allowed one hit and two walks and struck out three. Tommy Futrell allowed one hit in his one inning of work. And Hunter Dunst struck out the side in the seventh with a one-walk hiccup.
“We’re looking at arms for down the road,” U.S. Elite coach Jimmy Kittelman said. “We have 11-12 guys and we’re looking potentially at six games in a weekend, so we’re trying to space it out a little bit. So we used today as a bullpen for some guys who are probably going to see some innings on Monday.”
Can Diamond Nation fans expect more of this exceptional mix-and-match pitching from this Maryland-based crew for the rest of the weekend?
“We actually plan all seven innings before each game and we didn’t deviate from the plan at all,” Kittelman said. “We normally go longer with our starter and then have a reliever ready to go. That’s what you’ll see the rest of the weekend.”
Micah Nemeth pitched well in the losing effort for Baseball Warehouse, based in Highland Park, Middlesex County, N.J. He allowed three hits, all in a pivotal fourth inning, didn’t walk a single batter and struck out seven.
In the bottom of the fourth inning, U.S. Elite’s Davis Champion led off with a towering double to left which bounced over the fence. Cooper McDonald followed with a walk to bring up Cherry.
Cherry, from Annapolis, ripped a screaming liner to right which the Indians’ Nate Langon charged and nearly caught with a feet-first sliding attempt. The ball slowly skidded to the wall, and the track meet was on for Cherry.
“With Avik, he does that week to week,” Kittelman said. “He’s a good hitter and a good ballplayer who can run. At this level you have to challenge the arms and they have to make perfect throws in order to make that play at home. I knew it off the bat, once I saw it get past him (Langon), we’ll see Avik at home.”
Besides the fourth inning damage, the Nationals struggled to get any kind of offense going. In fact, outside of the fourth inning, Nemeth faced just one batter over the minimum – when Austin Cunyar reached on an infield throwing error in the fifth.
Kittelman said he cautioned his players to not get caught up in the scoreless game and rather focus on playing inning to inning.
“Baseball is a frustrating game. It’s hard no matter what’s happening,” Kittelman said. “So when you get some calls that don’t go your way, it’s about staying in the game, staying in the moment. As frustrating as it is going through it, these are the times and the games we want to go through to prepare these boys for the future.”
The Indians tested U.S. Elite pitching at nearly every turn, getting runners on base in every inning, and pushing runners in scoring position in the second, third and fifth innings.
U.S. Elite is aiming for a fourth tournament trophy in just its sixth outing of the spring. Kittelman’s group won a trophy in Shipyard Park, Berkeley County, S.C., and two more Ripken titles in Aberdeen, Md.
U.S. Elite have a pool play doubleheader on Sunday. They faced the New Jersey Nationals at 8 a.m. and the Morris County Cubs at 10 a.m. Pool play finishes with a contest against Monmouth Baseball on Monday at 2:15 p.m. Three pool winners advance to the playoffs, with the second and third seeded teams playing a semifinal at 6:30 p.m. and the championship game following at 8:30 p.m.
The Indians, who tied the New Jersey Nationals, 7-7, on Friday, close out pool play against Monmouth Baseball Liberty on Sunday and the Morris County Cubs on Monday.