Matt Rowe of Full Count 17U Prospects singled through the middle in this at bat in the sixth inning.
Winning one of the five championship brackets in the 95-team Blue Chip Prospects 17/18U tournament is no easy chore, but it does feel possible when your team is getting contributions at every turn.
Full Count 17U Prospects got exactly that type of performance in a 5-0 tournament run and capped its big week with a 4-3 championship game victory over the Diamond Jacks Super 17 team at Diamond Nation on Friday.
“We saw a lot of effort and everyone contributed,” said Full Count coach Ross Halkias. “We saw our pitchers come up big, too.”
In the championship game alone, Full Count showcased some timely hitting, took advantage of some aggressive baserunning, made the tough plays defensively when they needed them and received a nice relief effort from its bullpen.
Full Count would strike for all four of its runs in the bottom of the fourth inning to erase an early 2-0 Diamond Jacks lead and, along the way, just found ways to get on base and score runs.
It looked like a quick fourth inning for reliever Kyle Adorno when he induced the leadoff batter to bounce out to shortstop and got the next hitter, Josh Kuroda-Grauer, swinging at strike three in the dirt. But the ball got away and Kuroda-Grauer reached first base. Kuroda-Gauer quickly stole second and Andrew Fernandez slashed a single inside the left field line to bring Full Count within a run at 2-1. Kuroda-Gauer was moving on the pitch so had no trouble scoring.
Matt Rowe followed with a single to center field and Adorno walked Chris Serrano to load the bases. Raiden Yost then hit a medium range fly ball to center field for the second out as Fernandez held third. But Adorno issued another walk, this one to Justin Miller and it forced home Fernandez to tie the game at 2-2. Matt Belford then came to the plate and had what turned out to be the decisive at bat of the game.
Belford got in a 1-2 hole and kept fouling off pitches until he latched onto one, sending it toward the middle of the diamond clearly bound for center field. But second baseman Jack Nugent dived and deflected the ball toward shortstop Matt Miceli. Miceli fired to first but was too late to get Belford. Rowe had already scored and Serrano, to his credit, never stopped running and scored all the way from second base on the play.
Suddenly Full Count had a 4-2 lead.
“I was looking for a fastball and adjusting to the breaking balls,” said Belford, “and I was just trying to put a ball in play. I fouled a few off and I was looking to the right side for sure. I got a fastball middle away.”
The Diamond Jacks, as they will, kept scrapping and drew within a run in the top of the fifth courtesy of some alert baserunning by Charlie Granatell. Granatell reached first on a fielder’s choice and took off for second base with Ben Romano at the plate. The catcher’s throw was a bit late and deflected off the sliding Granatell and into left-center field. Granatell quickly bounced up and raced all the way home to trim the lead to 4-3.
But reliever Matt Medvetz closed out the Diamond Jacks from there, getting a strike out and pop out to end the fifth and he retired the side in order in the sixth. That Diamond Jacks would not get another chance to hit as the time limit was invoked in the bottom of the inning.
“Matt did a nice job holding them at bay,” said Halkias. “And he did a good job keeping their batters off balance. It was the second time he pitched in relief today and he did a good job both times.”
Vinnie Esposito, who pitched well twice in the tournament, was named the Blue Chip Prospect 17/18U Red Bracket Most Valuable Player. Esposito, a rising senior at South Plainfield High, made sure Full Count reached the championship game when he pitched six strong innings in a 3-2 victory over the Complete Game Colonials in the semifinals.
“Vinnie did a great job keeping them off base in the semifinals and getting us to the final,” said Halkias. “It was the same story all tournament with our pitching.”
Full Count surrendered just nine runs in its five tournament games while scoring 24 runs. The Diamond Jacks Super 17 used excellent pitching in its tournament run, as well, going 4-1 despite scoring just 13 runs. Super 17 held its opponents to 10 runs.
GAME NOTES: Righthander Matt Smoke started and pitched three hitless and scoreless innings for the Diamond Jacks. He allowed just one baserunner, on a walk to Miller leading off the third. … Medvetz allowed two runs, one of which was earned, on one hit over 3.1 innings. He struck out two and walked one. … Ben Romano went 1-for-2 and drew a walk and Adorno and Jack Nugent each had a single for the Diamond Jacks. … Rowe went 2-for-3 and scored a run for Full Count. … Full Count coach Ross Halkias played at Rutgers Newark and is now an assistant coach at the NJAC school.
17/18U Blue Chip Prospects recaps
(Orange Bracket): Northeast Pride Underclass Scout Team 3, MVP Beast National 0
Northeast Pride Underclass Scout Team edged MVP Beast National, 3-0, in the 17/18U Blue Chip Prospects Orange Bracket championship game. Devin Market of Northeast Pride was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Northeast Pride (5-0) outscored its opponents 33-6. MVP Beast (4-1) held a 13-7 runs advantage on its opponents.
(Yellow Bracket): East Coast Lumberjacks 2021 5, Long Island Body Armor Titans, 0
The East Coast Lumberjacks 2021 defeated Long Island Body Armor Titans, 5-0, in the 17/18U Blue Chip Prospects Yellow Bracket championship game. Rob Mannino of the Lumberjacks was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. The Lumberjacks (5-0) outscored their opponents 33-6. The Titans (4-1) held a 20-10 runs advantage on their opponents.
(Blue Bracket): Jersey Boyz Baseball 6, Locked In Baseball Expos 16U 2022 0
Jersey Boyz Baseball defeated Locked In Baseball Expos 16U 2022, 6-0, in the 17/18U Blue Chip Prospects Blue Bracket championship game. Ben Ribicoff of Jersey Boyz was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Jersey Boyz (5-1) outscored their opponents 34-9. Locked In (3-1-1) was outscored by its opponents 21-19.
(Purple Bracket): Long Island Titans (Quattrini) 3, Prospect Baseball Academy 1, 0
Long Island Titans defeated Prospect Baseball Academy, 3-0, in the 17/18U Blue Chip Prospects Purple Bracket championship game. Matt DeStefano of the Titans was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. The Titans (5-0) outscored their opponents 38-9. Prospect Baseball (4-1) held a 21-5 runs advantage on its opponents.