By Rich Bevensee
A little more than a month ago, Ascent Athlete 2027 was a brand new team finding its footing in the ultra-competitive world of club baseball.
And maybe the players and coaches surprised even themselves by winning their tournament debut at the Memorial Day Blast at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
Ascent, from Garnet Valley of Chester County, Pennsylvania, has spent the early summer weeks making a name for itself, and winning no longer comes as a surprise. That’s what the rest of the 14U bracket found out at the Independence Weekend Firecracker at ‘The Nation.’
In the 14U championship game, Luke Hunter scattered six hits over seven innings, Thomas Lawler completed a marvelous weekend at the plate with an RBI single and three walks, and Ascent capped the holiday weekend by beating previously unbeaten and top-seeded Colossal 14U Select, 9-2, to claim the Firecracker title on Monday.
“We’re beating a lot of good teams and we’re getting better as the year goes on,” said Lawler, who earned tournament Most Valuable Player honors after going 10-for-17 with a home run in the team’s final pool play game. “We’re pretty hard to beat when we have our best guys on the mound and the best guys in the field.”
After Ascent won the Memorial Day Weekend title, Ascent’s Matt Gryskiewicz said the team believed it could be one of the best 14U squads in the nation. Ascent improved to 20-3 after winning the Firecracker title and is making good on Gryskiewicz’ claim.
“I think the holiday weekend thing may be a coincidence,” Ascent coach Scott Lawler said with a laugh, “but we try to show up and win wherever we are. We only have three losses, so things have been good. We’ve played some really good competition so we’re proud of the guys.”
Accent defeated Kings Park Pride, 10-4, Tucci Elite 14U, 11-0, Titus Baseball 2027, 7-4, and Santos Baseball, 10-6, in pool play. In the semifinals, Ascent knocked out Team Crush Baseball, 8-7.
In the other semi, Colossal (5-1) defeated Diamond Jacks 14U Gold (3-2) 5-2.
Scott Lawler took particular pleasure in awarding the MVP to his son. Thomas Lawler, who had those 10 hits and hit his first home run against Santos Baseball. Thomas is hitting .500 for the season.
“It’s a great experience for me as a father. It’s amazing,” Lawler said. “It’s his first time winning an MVP trophy, and he had a great weekend. He’s our catcher, he puts in a lot of time back there, and he’s a leader. I’m super proud of him.”
The 6-2, 180-pound Lawler walked three times and scored twice before getting an RBI single in the top of the seventh. He also threw out a baserunner at third.
“I’ve grown a lot as a player this season, so the MVP means a lot,” Thomas Lawler said. “I wasn’t really a great player back on the little field. I’ve gotten a little bigger and a little better.”
Like Gryskiewicz in the Memorial Day Blast final, Hunter was outstanding on the mound in the Firecracker final. He allowed two runs on six hits and two walks with four strikeouts by using a two-seam fastball, curveball and changeup.
Ascent Athlete’s Thomas Lawler was named 14U Independence Weekend Firecracker MVP.
Hunter’s greatest attribute on Monday was maneuvering in and out of trouble. He yielded a pair of runs in the first inning as Colossal inched back into the game, 6-2. After that, Hunter shrugged off two-out hits and two-out walks with six scoreless frames.
“I just don’t care about them personally,” said the 6-4, 180-pound Hunter. “I just worry about the batter. I don’t care if they steal on me or get another hit. I just worry about the batter, and if they get a little ground out, I trust the fielders.”
“Luke is that way all the time. He doesn’t let little stuff bother him,” Scott Lawler said. “That’s what I love about Luke. He pounds the zone, he’s very consistent, and a chintzy hit here or there or a misplay in the field doesn’t bother the kid at all. He just keeps coming at the competition.”
Colossal entered the final as the top seed after allowing just five runs through five games. Ascent would not go that quietly, as the Garnet Valley squad scored six runs in the top of the first inning.
Jalen Bowman singled and Lawler and Gryskiewicz both walked before Hunter forced in a run with a third straight walk. Tommy Sergio then belted a three-run single to left for a 4-0 lead.
Sergio took home on a double steal, and Nick Vanni scored on an infield throwing error for a 6-0 cushion.
In the bottom of the first, Austin Midili and Braxton Gillis singled before Colossal received a two-run double from Gavin Franchetti to get back into the game at 6-2.
In the top of the second, Lawler scored from second on a Colossal throwing error for a 7-2 lead.
The game got quiet from there as four scoreless innings whizzed by. Ascent struck once more in the seventh when Lawler delivered an RBI single and Hunter added a sacrifice fly.