Max Hinchliffe had a key two-run single in the fourth inning for Biopitch Baseball.
By Rich Bevensee
Entering the game as a relief pitcher with his team sinking fast tested Max Hinchliffe’s mettle. He actually embraces the challenge.
But coming to bat for a second time in a rally-building inning after he struck out looking tested his resolve. Turns out, he doesn’t mind that scenario either.
Hinchliffe proved to be a clutch performer in both situations while lifting Biopitch Baseball to a 9-5 victory over Baseball U Pa. Pocono in Beat the Heat 14U pool play at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
Hinchliffe, a rising freshman at Rumson-Fair Haven High, threw 4⅓ innings of scoreless relief by stifling Baseball U on two hits and striking out seven with no walks after his team had fallen behind 5-0 in the top half of the first inning.
Then, as the 11th batter in the bottom of the fourth inning, Hinchliffe came to the plate ready to atone for striking out looking for the first out of the inning. With his team looking to pad a one-run lead, all Hinchliffe did was drop a two-run single into center field to provide Biotech some breathing room.
That at bat, at least to Biopitch coach Jason Clapper, seemed bigger than his pitching because Hinchliffe is a P.O., or pitcher-only, so he rarely plays the field and occasionally gets some at bats.
“That’s baseball, right? Anytime you fail you have to find a way to make an adjustment,” Clapper said. “He struck out and came back the same inning and told himself he was going to get a hit.”
Biopitch, which entered the bottom of the fourth trailing 5-1 and had struggled to get runners aboard to that point, sent 14 batters to the plate and scored eight runs on three hits, five walks and a hit batsman.
“I knew from the beginning we had the talent,” Clapper said. “It was more like we were sleepwalking through the first two innings. I knew we had the ability to come back. It was more when it was going to happen. Sometimes I think I’m more confident in them than they are in themselves.”
Harrison Eng was hit by a pitch to get the Biopitch rally started in the fourth. Jack Murphy walked and Jake McDaid reached on an error to load the bases. Cam Estok, pinch-running for Eng, scored on a wild pitch and Chase Kaplan walked to reload the bases before leadoff man Nick Rakoski and Davis Harr stroked back-to-back, bases-loaded singles to make it a 5-4 ballgame.
Kaplan scored on a balk to tie the game, and Dan Nafziger walked with the bases loaded to give Biopitch its first lead, 6-5.
Then came Hinchliffe to the plate for the second time. After starting the inning by looking at a 3-2 fastball on the outside half of the plate, he was looking for payback
“I completely forgot about the strikeout,” Hinchliffe said. “With the bases loaded I was thinking let’s try to drive the ball and get some runs here. What I learned from striking out was the umpire likes to call the outside pitches. So I was able to get my bat on one outside. We got a little cushion, and that also set the tone for a couple more runs that inning.”
After allowing a leadoff double to Logan O’Connor in the top of the fifth, Hinchliffe retired the side to bring Biopitch a victory in its tournament opener. The Manchester Township-based program continued pool play with a Saturday game against Bell Ringers 14U Black at 10 a.m., and against Warehouse Indians ‘26 Black on Sunday at 12:15 p.m.
Rakoski, who led Biopitch offensively by going 2-for-3 with a triple and single, said the team had come back from considerable deficits before and therefore there was no reason to worry Friday night.
“We were a little bit down after the first but we had to keep the energy and try for that big inning,” said Rakoski, a rising sophomore at Holmdel. “When our pitcher (Hinchliffe) comes out and shows, it makes it easier to come out and hit. This team builds on rallies. We like to keep it going and build on momentum.”
Biopitch starter Chase Kaplan, whom Biopitch founder Greg Short called the team’s ace, was removed after an uncharacteristic performance in which he lasted ⅔ of an inning and allowed Baseball U to score five runs without the benefit of a single base hit. Kaplan yielded six walks and struck out two.
After Baseball U batted around, Hinchliffe took over and allowed a bases-loaded walk to leadoff hitter Brian Kitchell and before getting a strikeout to end the inning.
“What went through my mind when I went out there is obviously I have to have some confidence in myself,” HInchliffe said. “It was a big spot. I was a little nervous, but when I got out there and finished off the inning it set a whole new tone for the game.”
Hinchliffe was solid from there, pitching to just two batters over the minimum, surrendering a Ty Boger single in the third and a double to O’Connor in the fifth. Employing his fastball almost exclusively, Hinchliffe faced 16 batters and worked to a three-ball count twice.
“To come in and pick up for a guy who couldn’t find the strike zone, we were looking to save him for another game but he came in and he did the job, and that’s all you can ask of a guy who’s sitting on the bench,” Clapper said.
“It was all fastballs,” Hinchliffe said. “I have a curve but no one was catching up to the fastball. I have the most confidence in my fastball. It tends to move, so I was locating it outside, outside, outside. I definitely had to get the feel for it. I walked the first guy but got the feel from there.”
Biopitch shortstop Nafziger made a terrific play up the middle in the top of the third inning to support Hinchliffe’s performance. He robbed Conor Triano of a base hit by going up the middle to stab a grounder and throw him out at first.
Kitchell, Baseball U’s center fielder, was his team’s defensive standout. In the third inning with runners on first and second, he nearly robbed Austin Harr of a base hit with a front-long dive. Kitchell wasted no time lamenting a near-miss, popping up and throwing a perfect strike to third for the force out.
Baseball U built its 5-0 lead in the first on seven walks and one infield error. O’Connor, Boger, Kellen Binstead and Kitchell forced in runs with bases-loaded walks, and Triano scored on a wild pitch.
Baseball U starter Sam Smale lasted 3⅓ innings and permitted four runs on three hits, four walks and two hit batsmen with two strikeouts. Binstead relieved Smale for a ⅓ of an inning in the fourth and allowed five runs on two hits and three walks with one strikeout. Boger recorded the final out after giving up one hit and two walks with one strikeout.
Baseball U continued its Beat The Heat tournament with a 10 a.m. game Saturday against Warehouse Indians ‘26 Black, and concludes pool play on Sunday at 12:15 p.m. against Bell Ringers 14U Black.