Mike Nasti launched a three-run home run for Intensity Baseball 17U.
By Rich Bevensee
Lucas Henderson wasn’t quite sure what to expect of himself with his first trip to the pitcher’s mound in nearly a month.
He was anxious to resume baseball activity after completely resting his arm during that time, but he was also understandably nervous about his level of efficiency after such a long break.
For an evaluation of his performance Saturday morning, all Henderson has to do is ask Sportika Baseball 17U, which was the victim of a three-hitter in his terrific return from self-imposed rest.
Utilizing unbreakable rhythm and a terrific sense of control, Henderson carried a shutout into the sixth inning and propelled Intensity Baseball 17U to an 11-1 victory in a 17/18U Wood Bat Championship game at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
“I’m just excited about today,” said Henderson, a 5-11, 160-pound right-hander. “It went much better than I thought. I thought I was going to walk more kids, I thought I was going to get hit around, I didn’t think my velo was going to be as much as it was. I’m relieved. I thought I had a good game today.”
It was a good bounce-back win for Intensity after bowing to Diamond Jacks Super 18U, 8-2, on Friday night. Intensity closes pool play with a game against Locked In Baseball Expos ‘24 on Sunday at 4:30 p.m.
Henderson, a junior at Hun after transferring from Hopewell Valley, surrendered three hits and four walks and struck out six in a complete-game effort, which included an unearned run in the sixth. He had not pitched since early August when Intensity took a month-long break.
As it turns out the break was well-timed because Henderson said he was experiencing an uncomfortable twinge in his right elbow and wished to shut everything down to make sure it didn’t get worse.
“I’m excited to get back on the mound today,” Henderson said. “It was bothering me a lot not to throw. I wanted to go out and throw with my friends. I did hit but not as much as I’d like to. I didn’t throw because I wanted to rest my arm.”
Intensity coach Matt Cilento said it didn’t appear Henderson was suffering any effects from the layoff.
“Lucas does a great job of pounding the zone for us. He did it all summer,” Cilento said. “He really keeps it efficient. He has a nice, quick arm slot and he’s very efficient when he’s out there. He continues to hit the zone and he keeps the defense engaged because he stays in a rhythm.”
Henderson allowed just two Sportika baserunners to reach second base through five innings. In the sixth Parker Beyun reached on an error and eventually scored on Todd Post’s two-out RBI single.
Henderson pitched a scoreless seventh and finished his work with 103 pitches.
“My fastball was working, my curveball worked a little but not as much as I would like it to, and I’d mix in a sinker and get kids to foul it off into their shin or into the ground,” Henderson said. “During the summer I’d usually throw in the mid 80s but today I felt like I was in the low 80s. It’s been on and off but today it ended up working.”
Henderson said it was his best outing since pitching a one-hitter against Great Lakes Baseball Academy (which encompasses players from the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area) at the East Cobb complex in Marietta, Ga.
“I love to work fast, that’s just how I get in my rhythm and that’s how I’m able to pound strikes,” Henderson said. “Once the game slows down for me, that’s when it gets a little tough, so I like to speed it up a little bit.”
One of Henderson’s main offensive contributors was left fielder Mike Nasti, who turned a two-run lead into a 5-0 bulge after his line-drive, three-run home run over the left field fence in the third inning.
Nasti, a 6-2, 190-pound senior at Southern Regional, halted a four-month homer drought with his blast Saturday. He had not cleared the fences since launching two home runs for Southern in April.
“I definitely prefer the long ball but I aim to go gap-to-gap. That’s my approach,” Nasti said. “The pitch I hit today was center cut, right in my wheelhouse. I didn’t really know it was gone because it was a line drive, but I had a feeling it was going to keep carrying. Rounding first, I said I got this.”
Leadoff man Devante Noriega got Intensity on the scoreboard in a strange way in the top of the first inning. After singling to right he moved to second on a James Nitti walk and he took third on an errant throw. He attempted to steal home on the error and was thrown out easily by Sportika left fielder Joe Russo. But the home plate umpire ruled Noriega safe at home due to obstruction by third baseman Jacob Hines.
Joe Sclama made it 2-0 Intensity with a sacrifice fly to right.
In the top of the third, Ryan Acquisto and Sclama walked before Nasti launched his drought-busting home run for a 5-0 lead.
In the fourth, Intensity’s lead grew to 7-0 after Nitti had an RBI sac fly and Acquisto belted an RBI double.
After Sportika finally got to Henderson with a run in the sixth, Intensity added four more runs in its final at bat. T.J. Marshall had a two-run, bases-loaded single, Noriega added an RBI sac fly and Marshall scampered home on a passed ball.
Sportika fell to 0-2 with the loss and will wrap up pool play Sunday with a game against Diamond Jacks Super 18U at 4:30 p.m.
For Sportika, Noah Oliva pitched 3⅓ innings and gave up seven runs on two hits and seven walks with one strikeout. Reliever Parker Beyun allowed four runs in 3⅔ innings on five hits and three walks.
NOTE: Intensity coach Matt Cilento is a familiar face to Garden State baseball fans. He was a star player at Colonia High School, graduating in 1997, and Barry University in Florida. He’s now a special education teacher at Point Pleasant Boro High School.