Gritty United Baseball makes most of little things in  14U Firecracker

By DN WRITING STAFF | July 1, 2023

Aiden Mazzola drives a grounder to second which scored the winning run for United Baseball.

By Rich Bevensee

It may not have been one of the most attractive wins in the dozen or so games which United Baseball 13U has played this summer, but the young men from Cortlandt Manor, N.Y., learned that mixing aggressive baserunning with clutch hitting to earn a come-from-behind victory can be just as satisfying.

Thanks to the efforts of Sam Lange and Aiden Mazzola, among others, United was able to wipe out a deficit created by some early errors and claim a 4-3 triumph over the Baltimore Redbirds in the 14U Independence Weekend Firecracker on Friday evening at Diamond Nation in Flemington. 

“That’s the quality of baseball we didn’t intend to play, for sure, but we hung in there, we didn’t get our heads down and we scrapped it out,” United coach Todd Lange said. “We had some good at bats, strung some good ones together, got a couple lucky bounces and it went our way. A win’s a win.”

United Baseball continues its holiday weekend baseball with a game against Smash It Sports 14U on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. United then plays Wladyka Continental on Sunday at 2:15 p.m., and the Diamond Jacks 14U Gold on Monday at 8 a.m.

Mazzola struck out twice before his two-out ground ball drove in the winning run in the bottom of the sixth inning, capping a three-run rally and United’s amazing comeback.

“I was really happy after that because, maybe it’s not a hit, maybe it’s an error, but I’d rather have that at that point in the game than my first or second at bat,” Mazzola said.

United’s dramatic comeback spoiled a terrific effort from Redbirds righty Jack Rogers, who allowed one run on two hits and no walks with eight strikeouts through five innings. 

The only run Rogers surrendered was the one which breathed life into United’s comeback. Sam Lange, the coach’s son, singled up the middle to lead off the bottom of the fifth and stole second base. With one out, Mike Santoiema hit a hard grounder to third where Redbirds third baseman Ian Hax made an acrobatic stop and threw to first for the out.

Lange took third on the throw, rounded the bag and never stopped.

“He ran through a red light, so good thing he made it,” Todd Lange said. 

“On the car ride here my dad yelled at me for not being aggressive enough on the bases,” Sam said. “When I rounded third I was about five steps off the bag. I looked over and saw the first baseman, as he caught the ball, turned to look at the umpire, and I knew he wasn’t paying attention. And the third baseman wasn’t looking at me either, so I was like, I might as well go. He (his dad) is not going to yell at me now.”

Ian Hax had two hits for the Redbirds, including a bunt single in the second which drove in a run.

“After the play Sam told me what happened in his view and he made the right decision,” Todd Lange said. “He saw the first baseman look back to the umpire and took advantage of that half-second of indecision.”

With Rogers removed after 82 pitches, United gave Redbirds relievers all they could handle in the sixth.

No. 9 hitter Lucas Tangredi began the inning with a walk and leadoff man Max Selinger singled. Consecutive wild pitches allowed Tangredi to score and bring United within 3-2. Selinger scored the tying run on a Thomas Imperati groundout.

Baltimore changed relievers after another walk to Maxx Minichino. With runners on second and third and two out, Mazzola came to the plate. Rogers got the better of Mazzola in his previous two at bats. This time Mazzola was facing an 0-2 hole against Zane Krikstan.

Mazzola slapped a hanging curveball to the deeper side of the second base hole where Will Sauer made a great stop but couldn’t rise in time to make the throw, and Minichino came across with the winning run.

“There were two outs so I just wanted to put the ball in play either way,” Mazzola said. “I was down 0-2, and I knew if I put it in play I would have a chance to get on base and the RBI would come in.”

Mazzola said the two previous strikeouts never entered his mind coming to the plate a third time.

“You have to forget about those. I just wiped that away,” he said. “I feel like if I did think about that I probably would have struck out again. I realized my swing was too long and I wanted to shorten it. He also gave me a curveball and I was late on the two fastballs because of my long swing, and he hung a curve.”

Eli Pierce pitched a perfect seventh in relief to complete United’s tournament-opening comeback.

“We’ve been playing well and got some good easy wins,” Todd Lange said of his team’s 8-2-2 record, “but this is one we had to struggle for.”

The Redbirds, made up mostly of Baltimore-area private school players from the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association, carried a 3-0 lead into the fifth thanks to some good old-fashioned run production and two United errors.

Art Konschak led off the second with a single and stole second. After taking third on an infield out, Konschak scored when Hax laid down a perfect safety squeeze. Hesitation on the throw home allowed Konschak to slide in safely, and Hax advanced to second when the ensuing throw sailed past first base.

Hax scored two batters later on a two-out, outfield error to give the Redbirds a 2-0 lead.

Baltimore added another run in the third when a throwing error allowed  Sauer to reach, and he scored on back-to-back perfectly executed sacrifice bunts, first by Krikstan and then by Will Sheridan.

Minichino started for United Baseball and gave up three runs on three hits and one walk with one strikeout over 4⅔ innings. Mazzola pitched 1⅓ scoreless innings with a walk and two strikeouts. 

The Redbirds continue their baseball weekend with a meeting against Full Count Baseball on Saturday at 4:30 p.m., Valley Dogs 14U on Sunday at 2:15 p.m., and Locked In Expos on Monday at 8 a.m.

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