By Sean Reilly
Neil Gelfand of the Taconic Rangers South was given a choice by coach Will Jackson prior to the sixth inning of Sunday’s championship game of the Diamond Nation 13U Summer Bash.
Gelfand was the starting pitcher for the Rangers, and the left-hander was impressive in navigating through some tough situations while allowing one unearned run through the first five frames. His teammates, meanwhile, had built a five-run lead over the New York Prospects-McCormack.
Gelfand had also amassed a season-high pitch total to that point, so Jackson asked him if wanted to yield to the bullpen, especially since the Prospects were sending up hitters 3-4-5 in their order.
Gelfand said no.
“I wanted to give it a chance,” he said. “I always want to compete.”
He struck out the leadoff man, and with his tank clearly running close to empty, he walked the next two batters. At that point, he exited to appreciative applause.
The Prospects did score an unearned run in the inning, but Gelfand’s work was the difference in a 7-2 triumph that allowed the Rangers to close out their summer season in style.
“That was the most he’s pitched all year,” Jackson said. “In the sixth inning, I asked him if he wanted to go back out. I said they’ve got 3-4-5 coming up, and he said ‘I know, I’ve got it.’ The only reason I took him out was that it was the most he pitched all season. He was a bulldog. I was really happy for him.”
Gelfand allowed five hits in his 5⅓ innings, with five strikeouts and five walks.
“My curveball was working pretty well,” he said.
The NY Prospects, who had at least one runner advance into scoring position in all six innings before the 1:50 time clock expired, took a 1-0 lead in the second inning. Andrew Grilletti walked on a full count with two out, and advanced to second on a wild pitch. He stole third and scored on an error.
The Rangers, who ended the weekend with a 4-0 record and 30-6 run differential, tied it in the bottom of the frame. Jayden Bower led off and was safe on an error. He stole second and moved to third when Will Cruz grounded out to third. James Meyer then hit an RBI single to shortstop.
The Rangers added three more runs in third for a 4-1 lead. George Delmonico led off with a single to right field and stole second. Ryan Gann followed with a bunt single and stole second, putting two runners in scoring position for the top of the order.
Leadoff man Jason Papini responded by hitting a full-count sacrifice fly to left field that scored Delmonico. Gann held at second base. Nico Masillo was up next, and he was hit by a pitch.
Neil Gelfand Jr. was named 13U Summer Bash MVP.
Christian Maratos followed with perhaps the most important at-bat of the game. After being hit in the arm by a pitch in the first inning that left him sore, Maratos sliced a two-run opposite field triple down the right-field line for a 4-1 lead.
NY Prospects placed runners on second and third with two out in the fourth, but Gelfand induced a groundout to second on a 3-2 pitch.
In the bottom of the inning, Meyer (2-for-3) led off for the Rangers and singled to center. Meyer stole second, and scored when Braeden McCarty hit a single to center.
McCarty took second on a throw to the plate, and advanced a base when Joseph Frusciante grounded out to third. He scored when Delmonico hit a sacrifice fly to left field for a 6-1 lead.
The NY Prospects had a runner on third with one out and the top of the order up in the fifth, but Gelfand escaped further trouble by getting a pop out to shortstop and called third strike on a curveball.
The Prospects had one final threat in the sixth. After Garrett Cruz and Sean Mezzasalma drew one out walks, Meyer relieved Gelfand. A fly out moved Cruz to third, and he scored on a throwing error to second as Mezzasalma advanced on a wild pitch.
Grilletti walked, and Michael Hopes singled to center to load the bases and send the tying run to the plate, but the next batter hit a grounder to Masillo at shortstop, who stepped on second for the third out.
Bower led off the bottom of the inning for the Rangers with a walk, and wound up scoring on a wild pitch later in the inning before the time clock expired.
The victory closed out the season for the Rangers, and the championship was the third of the campaign for the team from Westchester County, N.Y.
“This is an awesome way to end it,” Gelfand said.