Francisco, Motiwalla steer U.S. Elite 17U’s 15-hit barrage

By Bob Behre | July 21, 2021

Zach Rogacki of Untamed Bulls went 3-for-4 and threw out three base runners.

Shut out and held hitless through two innings, U.S. Elite 17U NJ also trailed the Untamed Bulls 4-0 in a Wednesday morning matinee on Diamond Nation’s showpiece that is Field 7.

But the U.S. Elite bats sprung to life in the third inning and never relented as the team hammered out 15 hits and scored all of its 13 runs over the final four innings to storm past  the Bulls, 13-8, in the 18U Diamond Nation World Series.

U.S. Elite would need that barrage of hits because the Bulls kept coming as well, striking for three runs in the bottom of the fifth to draw within 9-7. The Bulls (1-1) managed 11 hits of their own in a game stopped after six innings for the time limit.

The victory improved U.S. Elite’s tournament record to 2-0 as it remained one of nine undefeated teams in the 48-team tournament. The 18U Diamond Nation Wood Bat World Series continues through early Friday afternoon and each team plays four games.

U.S. Elite, which boasts a lineup stocked with players from Bergen, Morris, Essex and Middlesex counties, received one hit after another from a deep lineup that defied a beginning or an end. Leadoff hitter Gabe Francisco went 3-for-3, scored three runs and knocked in a pair of runs. And No. 10 hitter Matt Motiwalla shook off a slump to go 3-for-3 and score three runs.

Between the top and the bottom of the order, U.S. Elite saw every one in its lineup reach base at least once, eight of the 10 batters had a hit and eight of them scored a run.

“I don’t think I’d been as aggressive as I should have been,” said Motiwalla, a rising senior first baseman at Columbia High in Maplewood. “It’s mental for me. I relaxed today and had fun. I was just hunting fastballs.”

Motiwalla triggered a two-run rally in the top of the third with a one-out single to center field. He led off the fifth inning with another single to center and that ignited a four-run rally that enabled U.S. Elite to turn a 5-4 lead into a more comfortable 9-4 advantage.

After the Untamed Bulls pulled back into it with three runs in the bottom of the fifth, Motiwalla singled to right-center to load the bases in the top of the sixth and open the floodgates to a four-run uprising and a 13-7 lead.

Lefty Christian Ailleo of U.S. Elite 17U NJ delivers a pitch to Liam James of Untamed Bulls.

Leadoff man Francisco, meanwhile, kept following Motiwalla’s lead with hits of his own to move the rallies along. Francisco, a rising senior center fielder at Rutherford High, chased Motiwalla home in the third with a double down the right field line. He singled to left in the fifth when U.S. Elite mashed for four hits and capped his day with an RBI bases-loaded single to left in the sixth.

“I’m trying to be simple at the plate,” said Francisco, who was particularly hot during his team’s recent trip to Boston when he reached base at an .800 clip. “I know they’re going to start me with fastballs the first time around,” he said. “Then I expect to see curveballs early in my later at bats. “You have to go up there thinking you are better than the pitcher.”

Zach Turko, U.S. Elite’s No. 2 hitter, had two singles, scored twice and drove in a run. Luke Nomura provided a two-run single in the sixth. Ellis Garcia chipped in with a double and a single and Danny Sanchez, the No. 9 hitter, delivered a two-run double in the fourth.

The Bulls struck for two runs in the bottom of the first inning and scored two more runs in the second to stake themselves to a 4-0 lead. U.S. Elite would erase that lead with two runs in the third and three in the fourth.

Bulls Alvernia-bound catcher Zach Rogacki (Jackson Memorial) had a terrific game, going 3-for-4 with 3 RBI and he threw out three would-be base stealers. He started the two-run rally in the first with a one-out single to right field. Liam James followed with a double into the right-center field gap and Rogacki showed his speed as he scored all the way from first base. Vincent Luciano (Hunterdon Central) followed with a two-out single to right field to deliver James.

Freddy Truncale (Gov. Livingston) drew a leadoff walk in the second to get things going again for the Bulls. Kean-bound center fielder and leadoff hitter Kyle Adorno  was hit by a pitch with two outs. Truncale and Adorno eached moved up on stolen bases before Rogacki unleashed a clutch, two-out single into right field to score both runners and extend the lead to 4-0.

The Bulls loaded the bases in the fifth on a walk to James and back-to-back singles by Gus Carretto and Lunciano. Then Nick Loniewski put forth the individual at-bat of the game. Loniewski got in a 1-2 hole then worked the count full before he saw 10 pitches. The 11th pitch from reliever Christian Aiello was sent by Loniewski on a line into left-center field for a two-run double. Had the double not bounced over the fence, Luciano would have likely scored, too, from first.

Dallas Lorrenzetti did get Luciano home with a sac fly to draw the Bulls to within 9-7, but Aiello got out of it from there. And U.S. Elite’s four-run top of the sixth all but put the game away.

NOTES: U.S. Elite plays Prospect Baseball Academy-2 next at 8 a.m. on Thursday on Field 1. Untamed Bulls draw Complete Performance Baseball Academy 18U at 12:15 on Thursday, also on Field 1. … Adorno singled and scored on Rogacki’s double in the sixth for the Bulls. The A.L. Johnson (Clark) grad also made a fine running catch on Jack Lanza’s shot to deep right-center field in the second, robbing the Seton Hall Prep catcher of a two-run double.

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