The Reds’ Travis Church slides home safely through the legs of Braves relief pitcher Joe Gianakis.
By Rich Bevensee
Nerves of steel and boatloads of confidence. Travis Church and Teddy Monahan are league leaders in those qualities, and the Philadelphia Reds 18U club emerged with a victory because of it.
Church made a gutsy decision to score from second on a wild pitch to give his team the lead in the final inning, and Monahan walked the fine line between winning and losing in a relief appearance before slamming the door shut.
Thanks to the late-inning efforts of Church and Monahan, the Reds escaped with a 6-5 victory over the Nokona 17U Braves to conclude their week of pool play games in the 18U Diamond Nation World Series on Wednesday afternoon at ‘The Nation’ in Flemington.
“We’re a pretty tough team mentally and physically, so I didn’t really worry about coming from behind in the last inning,” Church said. “I thought we would rally and pull out the win.”
The triumph allowed the Reds (2-1-1) to finish the week on a high note going into their next tournament in Hershey, Pa., next week. The Reds opened with a 7-7 tie with Untamed Exposure, beat Diamond Jacks 17U Gold, 5-3, and lost to TBT Ballers NY 18U, 7-0.
Nokona, based in Ashland, Massachusetts, closed out pool play at 2-2. It defeated Coal Region Sports, 3-2, and Diamond Jacks 17U Gold, 6-1, before bowing to the Reds and PS2 Academy, 7-0.
Church, the catalyst in the Reds’ comeback in the top of the sixth inning, was standing on second base and Nate Perricone was on third with their team trailing 3-2. After Joe Krasowski received an intentional walk to load the bases, the first pitch to Teddy Monahan was wide of the plate and Perricone hustled home. That’s where Church comes in.
Braves catcher Colin Yeaton retrieved the wild pitch from the backstop, his throw hit Perricone as he slid, and the ball rolled in front of the plate. Church never slowed as he rounded third and slid home safely to give the Reds a 4-3 lead.
“I always try to be aggressive and anticipate things like that,” said Church, a rising junior at Radnor (Pa.) High. “As soon as I saw the ball go there and no one was rushing to get it, I took off and I knew I had it. When I was rounding third I wasn’t positive I was going to make it but I was confident. I always try to run hard and hope for the best.”
“He’s getting the game ball,” Reds coach Sandy D’Orazio said. “Travis went on his own. He’s aggressive and he hustles like crazy. He saw the ball and he scored from second on that play. It surprised them – they were standing around and the ball was just laying there and he saw that. He went before my (third base) coach even knew he was going. That’s instinct.”
The Reds turned the top of the sixth into a four-run rally. After the excitement surrounding the wild pitch, Monahan drove in Krasowski with a sacrifice fly and Evan Hartman capped the rally with an RBI single for a 6-3 lead.
With no time left on the 1 hour, 50 minute clock, the Reds needed to simply shut down the Braves in the bottom of the sixth. Easier said than done.
Monahan came on in relief and got the first out before yielding a double to Joe Gianakis. Pinch runner Noah Johnston stole third and scored on a groundout. The Braves were down to their final out, trailing 6-4.
Teddy Griswold reached on an infield error and Monahan then gave up a long RBI triple to Brody Minick, which brought the Braves’ tying run within 90 feet.
“Yeah, it was a little bit nerve racking at the end there,” Monahan said. “I was trying to keep the same approach – throw strikes and get a ground ball or pop fly. I was trying to play loose and not think about what happened in the past because you can’t go back and fix it.”
With Minick representing the tying run on third, Monahan doused the Braves’ excitement by enducing a groundout for the final out.
“That was a big sigh of relief,” said Monahan, who, like Church, is a rising junior at Radnor. “Whenever we’re in trouble I come in and try to throw strikes. It’s pretty fun – it gets the heartbeat going pretty fast, but it’s a fun place to be. I’d rather be there than bases empty in a blowout.”
Monahan, whose role on the pitching staff is as a late-inning reliever, said he’s experienced both sides of the drama and understands how to deal with the pressure.
Luke Miele’s two-run single in the bottom of the fifth inning gave Nokona a 3-2 lead.
“In Cape Cod last weekend I gave up a walk-off bloop single over the third baseman’s head,” Monahan said. “It was a little disappointing because I walked the guy who scored. I wasn’t thinking about that today because later in that tournament I closed the door again.”
Through the early stages of the game it appeared Nokona’s defense would carry the day as the Massachusetts club carried a 1-0 lead through three innings.
And it wasn’t just that the Braves produced some highlight reel-worthy web gems. It’s that they came at the most crucial times.
In the top of the second, shortstop Luke Miele went to his knees in the hole to stop a grounder and rose to his feet in time to make the throw for the first out. Not to be outdone, right fielder Chris Mondesir made a diving head-first grab with two on and two out.
The Braves took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second as starting pitcher Max Paladino hit an infield single up the middle and Colin Yeaton never stopped running from second base to score the game’s first run.
Nokona received another web gem in the top of the third when, with the bases loaded, first baseman Griswold made a superb backhanded stab in the hole to get the final out.
The Reds showed early on that they, too, could perform in the clutch. Reds starter Daniel Kellis began the bottom of the third by allowing a leadoff single to Luke Whitney, who reached third with no out. But Kellis escaped without damage with a fly ball and two strikeouts.
With Mike Athansoulas relieving Paladino (three scoreless innings, three hits, four walks, two strikeouts), the Reds took their first lead of the game in the top of the fourth. Krasowski singled to right to drive in Church, who barely beat the throw home after a sensational throw by Braves right fielder Ryan McCausland. Brady Dolder then singled in Krasowski for a 2-1 Reds lead.
In the bottom of the fifth, the Braves retook the lead, 3-2, on a Miele two-run single.
Then came the top of the sixth, when D’Orazio decided he’d given his players enough freedom to operate on their own and reminded them how to produce runs with the game on the line.
“That rally in the sixth, I call that building an inning,” D’Orazio said. “All game I let them do what they wanted. They all think they’re Babe Ruth or Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays, and everyone wants to swing from their heels. We were down and I knew from the clock that we were going into our last at bat. I told them we don’t need a hero. Build an inning. Your job is to get on base and let the next guy get to the plate. I’m not saying look for walks, but don’t help the pitcher out.
“We had a good week against good teams, and you always like to end on a positive note. A win today is a good win against that team. They have a lot of big strappers over there.”