By Bob Behre
Diamond Jacks Super 14U pitchers permitted a single hit over their final two tournament games to secure the 14U Fall Harvest championship last night at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
Lefty A.J. Saccento tossed a no-hitter in the semifinals when the Diamond Jacks defeated Blueclaws Baseball Academy, 12-0, and a trio of Super 14U hurlers limited the Bucks County Generals 14U Black to a single hit en route to a 6-5 victory in the championship game.
The lethal Diamond Jacks bats scored 54 runs while their efficient staff limited opponents to just eight total runs and ran the table with a 5-0 tournament record.
Saccento struck out six and walked six in tossing his five-inning no-hitter in which the Diamond Jacks won by the 10-run mercy rule. Then lefthander Zach Fronio and righties David Varoli and Will Mahala combined to nearly register a back-to-back tournament no-hitter for the Super 14U. They would settle for a one-hitter and, of course, nailing the championship.
“Our guys were phenomenal on the mound this weekend,” said Super 14U coach Walt Cleary. “We have a lot of depth and we’re built to play eight games, if necessary, in a tournament.”
It was a bit of an adventurous no-hit bid that would reach the last out of the bottom of the sixth inning, the Generals’ final at bat. The Diamond Jacks pitchers issued 11 walks and, though solid defensively, the team committed three errors to clog up the basepaths. But, still, Super 14U carried a no-hitter and a 6-3 lead into the final inning with reliever Will Mahala trying to close out the victory.
Mahala, who sports a nasty curveball, issued inning-opening walks in the sixth to Jack Pye and Ayden Smith. Both runners moved into scoring position off a wild pitch and a stolen base before Mahala had retired an out. The righthander had entered in the fifth with two outs and the bases loaded after the Generals had scored twice to shave the deficit to 6-3. Mahala extricated the Diamond Jacks from that jam when he got the cleanup hitter looking at a curveball on the outside corner for strike three. This time, Mahala was in a jam of his own making.
Mahala nearly got through it cleanly when he struck out the next batter and induced a comebacker for the second out as the runners held. Because of the glut of Generals’ base runners through the six innings, it was unclear if anyone on Field 1 was aware a no-hit bid was in place, but Mahala was indeed one out away from closing out the championship and a second straight no-hitter for his team.
Matt Seminack, who did a fair job of relief work himself for the Generals, then stepped in and hit a slow bouncer over the mound, toward the middle of the diamond. Neither shortstop Jayson Labrador nor second baseman Dylan Wayne had much of a shot of making a play at first. The best they could do was keep the ball in the infield. Seminack beat out the infield hit without a throw to break up the no-hitter and both runners scored on the play.
Of bigger concern for the Diamond Jacks, the Generals had just shaved the deficit to 6-5. And that tenuous one-run lead would become more tenuous when Seminack quickly stole second base to put the tying run in scoring position. But Mahala didn’t buckle, getting the next batter to loft a fly ball to center field that Varoli put away for the final out.
The Generals had entered the championship game on a roll, having outscored their first three tournament opponents 34-0. Righthander Braden Kelly got the championship game start for Bucks County and sported a live fastball and impressive curveball. But the Diamond Jacks did a nice job meeting that difficult challenge by working the count and getting desirable pitches to hit. They would reach Kelly for four runs on three hits over the first three innings and got their opponent’s pitch count up enough to force the Generals to go to their bullpen in the fourth.
Jayden Capindica ripped a two-out single to right field in the first inning but Kelly got the next batter before any real threat arose. But the lefty-hitting Mahala, batting fifth, triggered a two-run second inning by slicing an opposite field leadoff double down the left field line. Blake Echternacht then reached on a misplayed infield pop-up and promptly stole second base with Andrew Parisi at the plate. Parisi was clearly sitting fastball after Kelly just missed with a 1-2 curveball and blasted it deep to left field for a two-run grounds rule double.
Kelly, to his credit, would strand Parisi after striking out the next two batters and getting a grounder to third base to end the inning. While his stuff was clearly impressive, Kelly battled with command and walked Wayne and Labrador with one out in the third. He then struck out the dangerous Capindica on a nasty curveball for the second out. But Varoli unloaded a long two-run double to straightaway center field that scored both runners and lifted the Diamond Jacks’ lead to 4-0.
Fronio would allow just one run, which was unearned, on no hits over four innings as he struck out three and walked four to earn the victory. Seminack scored in the third to shave the deficit to 4-1. He drew a leadoff walk, moved to second on Zack Neeld’s one-out walk, took third on a wild pitch and scored when Owen Pinkerton’s two-out grounder was misplayed.
Seminack relieved and gave up the only runs he would allow over three innings in the fourth, and both were unearned. Echternacht drew a leadoff walk, stole second and scored on an error in the outfield. Parisi, who flashed some speed in reaching third on the error, scored on Joe Barca’s RBI bouncer to shortstop.
The Diamond Jacks’ 6-1 lead seemed secure but the Generals scored twice in the fifth off Varoli, who walked four batters in the inning, including Chase Harlan to force home the second run of the inning, trimming the lead to 6-3.
But Mahala came on to get the final out and survived the sixth to secure the 14U Fall Harvest championship.
“We hit real well from top to bottom,” said Cleary. “Parisi hit a bomb, Cap had a really good tournament at the plate and Varoli swung it well all weekend, too.”
NOTES: The Diamond Jacks had four of their five hits in the first three innings. … Kelly allowed four runs, three of which were earned, on four hits, struck out five and walked two. … Capindica led off the sixth with a booming triple to center field. But when Varoli lifted a fly ball to medium left field, Pinkerton caught it and fired home to get Capindica by a wide margin for the double play. … The Super 14U closes its fall tournament season this coming weekend when it plays up in Diamond Nation’s 15U Halloween Mash.