By Sean Reilly
When Carter Fusco woke up on Sunday morning, it was raining hard at his Morris County home.
He knew that he was still likely to play baseball, because his Flores Baseball Braves 10U Red team would be competing on the turf fields at Diamond Nation.
He also figured that before heading home from Flemington, he’d be pitching against a very talented opponent, the Jersey Devils, with the 10U Fall Classic championship on the line.
Fusco was right on both counts. The weather cleared and the fields were totally playable, and both the Fairfield-based FB Braves and Shore-based Jersey Devils easily won their last pool games in the morning to reach the noontime final.
Fusco then pitched a complete game, including three scoreless innings to finish it out, as the FB Braves captured the championship in an exciting 5-4 victory.
Fusco also factored into the decisive run. The score was tied, 4-4, when he came to bat with Johnny Spatola on third base with two out in the bottom of the third. Fusco worked the count full, and a wild pitch on ball four allowed Spatola to scamper home with what turned out to be the winning run.
The game was also the third over the past year between the FB Braves and the core group comprising the Jersey Devils, who are coached by New Jersey baseball legend and ex-Major League star Todd Frazier, whose son, Blake, accounted for two of the Devils five hits.
Julius Donado of the FB Braves was named 10U Fall Classic MVP.
The FB Braves won those two earlier meetings, but both were close games.
“I woke up knowing we were going to play, because of the turf fields,” Fusco said. “I also knew it was going to be a tough game, because they are really good. It feels great to beat a team like that, because we played them twice before and won both, but they were nail biters.”
This meeting, even though it was technically the first against the Jersey Devils, was no different.
The Devils took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first, on a two-run double to right-center field by Paul Basile with two out.
The FB Braves got both runs back in the bottom of the inning, when Julius Donado hit an RBI double with two out, took third on a throw to the plate, and then scored on an error at the end of the play.
The Jersey Devils went back ahead, 3-2, in the top of the second on a two-out bases-loaded single to left field by Blake Frazier.
The FB Braves countered with two runs in the bottom of the inning, with Dylan Gamarekian smacking a two-run triple to left field with two out for a 4-3 advantage.
Not to be outdone, the Jersey Devils tied the game in the top of the third. Johnny Batista led off and was safe on a two-base error. He moved to third on a wild pitch and scored when Basile grounded out to shortstop for the second out.
The three consecutive outs that Fusco recorded to close out that inning were a turning point in his performance.
After allowing eight base runners in the first two innings, he allowed only two Jersey Devils batters to get aboard after Batista reached on the error. One was on a leadoff walk in the fourth inning, and the other was on an infield hit by Rex Frazier (Blake’s cousin), on a slow grounder between the plate and third base, with two out in the sixth. Fusco then got the next batter to hit a game-ending ground out to first base.
Fusco’s pitch count was over 60 in the third inning, but his final total was in the 90s.
“My change up was working,” he said. “And my coaches told me to calm down and believe in myself. My infielders also stepped up and were making plays for me.”
Donado, who was 1-for-2 in the final and 6-for-10 for the weekend, with a pitching victory mixed in, was selected the tournament MVP.
“It feels great,” he said. “I felt very confident. We’ve played them before, and we know what they’ve got, and they’ve seen us before, so I knew we had to play well and that it was going to be a good game.”
NJ legend Todd Frazier coaches up one of his Jersey Devils ballplayers on Sunday at Diamond Nation.
While the Jersey Devils did not win, the tournament experience was a great one for the team coached by Frazier, who famously led the Toms River Little League to the world championship in Williamsport as a 12 year old in 1998. Frazier went to become an All-State player at Toms River South High School and an All-American at Rutgers before playing in the majors from
2011 through 2021, including time with the Cincinnati Reds, the Yankees and the Mets.
While his brother, Jeff, has coached his own son, Rex, previously at ‘The Nation,’ the Fall Classic was Todd’s first chance to visit the complex.
“This was my first time here and I love it,” he said. “I wish I had this when I was younger. This place is exceptional. All turf fields, and Mike Cust and company do an awesome job. I can’t wait to come back. We’ll be here next spring and summer for sure.”