Hustle Baseball’s Malik Little (#24) draws a crowd at the plate after his three-run HR.
Hustle Baseball put together one of those once-a-summer innings and the Whiz Kids National, a quality club from the Philadelphia area, just couldn’t turn off the faucet.
The two teams cruised into the top of the fourth amid a crisp, clean game in which Hustle Baseball led by the threadbare score of 1-0. There certainly was no sign of anything amiss, nothing like what was about to unfold. Starting pitcher Jacob Hogan led off with a hard single to right field, a hit that, in retrospect, was a prelude to doom for the Whiz Kids.
By the time the inning ended, Hustle Baseball had stroked nine hits, drew four walks, reached base on just a single error, sent 16 batters to the plate and amassed a stunning 14 runs. Hustle Baseball would close out a 15-1 mercy rule victory in the bottom of the inning to improve to 2-0 in 16U Blue Chip Prospects pool play.
Hustle Baseball returns to Diamond Nation on Wednesday for a pair of games that it hopes will vault the Fairfield, N.J.-based squad into Friday’s playoffs. The Whiz Kids finished their tournament at 0-3-1.
“We kind of got off to a slow start this summer,” said Hustle Baseball coach Matt Rago, also an assistant coach at Gov. Livingston High School in Berkeley Heights. “I think it had a lot to do with not playing in the spring. Our timing was really off.”
Hustle’s timing appeared locked in on Wednesday and no one’s plate presence was more impressive than Malik Little’s, the team’s No. 6 hitter. The lefty-hitting Little slashed an RBI double down the right field line and smashed a three-run home run in two memorable at bats in the fourth inning.
“I got a fastball high and inside and took it down the line,” said Little about his double that boosted the lead at the time to 5-0. The shot he launched over the fence in right field later in the inning was even more head-turning and put a cap on the 14-run inning.
“It was a fastball low and in, where I like it most,” said Little about the homer. “I just pulled it over the fence.” The shot went out quick on a line and even caught Little by surprise. “It was a lined drive and just went straight out. No way I thought it would.”
Rago certainly loves Little’s approach at the plate.
“Malik is aggressive,” said Rago. “We have high expectations for him.”
Jeuriz Polanco, batting one spot ahead of Little in the batting order, got his share of the RBI parade in the fourth. The third baseman ripped an RBI double to left-center field in his first at bat in the inning and knocked in two runs with a single to right to extend the Hustle lead to 12-0. Polanco and Little accounted for seven runs driven in during the rally.
Aaron Bertone drove in two runs with an infield hit and a bases-loaded walk. Minwoo Choi and Chris D’Andrea had RBI singles and Luis Rivera doubled home a run. A.J. Guiliana drew a bases loaded walk and Hogan scored on the back end of a pretty double steal.
The right-handed Hogan gave Rago and his teammates three scoreless innings to keep the Whiz Kids at bay until the big rally in the fourth. Hogan allowed just two hits, struck out three and walked two. Rago sent Devin Borrero in to close out the game in the fourth, hoping to preserve Hogan for some innings later in the week.
“Jacob did a nice job,” said Rago. “We hope to have him back on Friday if we can get in the playoffs.”
Borrero issued four walks and allowed a run on a Sam Galtman sac fly that scored Dom Carafa and averted the shutout for the Whiz Kids. Borrero was bailed out by three big plays by his outfielders in the inning. Left fielder Thomas Jova made a terrific catch on a drive by Brian Baguero leading off the inning. Jova made an over-the-shoulder grab on the run as he chased down Baguero’s shot in deep left-center field.
After Borrero walked the bases loaded, Galtman hit a drive deep down the left field line. This time Jova raced over and made a nice backhand grab on the run for the second out. Carafa easily tagged and scored. Finally, Connor Rees, the Whiz Kids’ leadoff hitter, lofted a shot into shallow right field and Choi, who had just moved over from left field, hustled in and made the catch for the final out of the game.
Hustle Baseball had been a thorn in the Whiz Kids’ side defensively throughout the game. Center fielder Michael Girardi charged in after an errant pickoff attempt at second base in the second inning, scooped up the ball and gunned down Carafa trying to advance to third. Borrero, who started the game in right field, made a terrific running catch near the foul line on a fly ball by Rees for the first out of the third.
Girardi showcased impressive speed when he led off the game with a liner down the right field line and steamed into third base with a way-too-easy triple. Hogan followed with a single to center to put Hustle Baseball ahead 1-0.
The Whiz Kids played some sparkling defense of their own. Shortstop Baguero gamely chased down Choi’s fly ball in shallow left field in the second inning, reaching over his shoulder for a nice grab. The very next batter, Rivera, then hit a shot to deep left-center field. Daniel Matthews got on his horse and chased it down to end the inning. Matthews, by the way, hit a shot that banged noisily off the left field wall for a double with one out in the first inning, but he was stranded there.
It came down to the Hustle Baseball bats, which have sprung to life in the dog days of summer.
“We actually just started hitting a couple games ago,” said Little. Rago agreed, “It’s a lineup that can hit and we expect it to. Malik is our No. 6 hitter, so we are pretty deep.”