Zach Grieco saved his first hit of the 17/18U Home Run Classic for his last at bat.
Grieco pulled a single into right field to score Jack Krautzel from second base with the winning run as BBA 17U edged the Philadelphia Reds, 6-5, in an entertaining 17/18U Gold championship game.
“That was my first hit of the tournament,” said Grieco, who jumped on an 0-2 pitch and drove it to right field. The single on an 0-2 pitch was mishandled as Krautzel raced home with the winning run. “I got a curveball on the second pitch and was sitting fastball and staying ready for a curveball. I got the fastball.”
The clutch hit got Grieco something else, the 17/18U Gold Bracket’s Most Valuable Player award.
It was Krautzel who kept BBA 17U in position to win with a sterling six innings of relief work on the mound. The righty Krautzel limited the Reds to one run on three hits, struck out six and walked five.
BBA 17U (4-0), which outscored its opponents 30-15, found itself in a 4-0 hole after a half inning. It, however, responded in kind in the bottom of the inning to even the game at 4-4. Matt Diohavia brought the first run home with an infield single. Nolan Carroll, who had doubled, scored on a balk and Ryan Jeffers capped the rally with a two-run double to left field.
The Reds had scored all four runs in the first inning without the benefit of a hit. Starter Noah Benfer hit leadoff batter Travis Church with a pitch, then walked the next three batters to force in a run. BBA 17U coach Joe Dean called on Krautzel at that point.
“Jack was supposed to start the game, originally,” said Dean, “but Noah did a nice job closing out our semifinal win, so I tried to squeeze another inning or two out of him. It’s the fourth game of a tournament, so you’re trying to save innings where you can. The time between games was a little longer than we expected, so that probably didn’t help Noah.”
Krautzel, who throws a knuckleball, had his own issues initially, walking two and hitting a batter as the Reds forged the 4-0 advantage. But Krautzel did strike out the side in the first, including the last two in order. That was a sign of good things to come for his knuckleball. “We rushed Jack in there, so he didn’t have time to find the feel for his knuckler,” said Dean. “Jack is at his best when he gets his knuckleball dancing.”
Krautzel did get his knuckleball to dance and his complementary pitches benefitted. “My two-seam fastball was there, too,” said Krautzel.
The Philadelphia Reds (3-1, 27-16) grabbed the lead back in the top of the fourth after Church led off with a triple to right-center field. Joe Krasowski got Church home immediately with a sac fly to center. Grieco, the center fielder, made an excellent throw to the plate but Church beat it by a step.
BBA 17U knotted the game up at 5-5 in the sixth on Logan Hamilton’s sac fly to left field. Carroll led off the inning and reached on an error, stole second and moved to third on Diohavia’s infield hit.
Krautzel gave way to closer Luca Urdaneta for the seventh and Urdaneta retired the Reds in order to set up BBA 17U’s walk-off opportunity in the bottom of the inning.
Krautzel led off the bottom of the seventh and worked a walk. Coach Dean, staying aggressive, sent Krautzel, who stole second with one out and Matt Kimble at the plate. Grieco, BBA 17U’s No. 11 hitter, stepped in patiently stroked that 0-2 pitch into right field to win it.
“Zach is one of our better hitters,” said Dean. “He was hitting 11th only because we are moving guys around to give people opportunities to hit.”
NOTES: The first inning was played in an unsightly 35 minutes, but the pace and play improved significantly after that. The two teams had no trouble getting in all seven innings under the hour-and-50-minute time limit.
… Krautzel made a nice play on a dribbler to the left side hit by Gabe Falcone to record the third out of the sixth inning with a runner aboard.
… Falcone made a pair of nice plays of his own, going low to snare a liner by Kimble for the first out of the second inning, and deftly back-handed a shot by Jeffers for the second out of the fourth.
… Reds right fielder Jacob Farhy made a nice running catch in the gap on a shot by Ordoneta for the third out of the third inning.
… Reds center fielder Teddy Monahan made a diving catch for the final out of the fourth to rob Krautzel of a potential RBI double.