Hustle Baseball closes out week in style, qualifies for Super 17 Top 25

By Bob Behre | July 28, 2023

Mike Kaczynski of 9ers Baseball works a walk in the fourth inning to trigger a rally.

Ryan Spaar set the table with three sterling innings, Kevin Wood made a remarkable and impactful catch in left-center field and Hustle Baseball utilized a full array of its baseball tool chest on the way to a 10-2 victory over 9ers Baseball Club.

The victory in the final game of the Super 17 World Series on Friday morning secured for Hustle Baseball a berth in the Super 17 Top 25 Showcase the week of Aug. 14-18 at Diamond Nation. The top five clubs in the team standings qualified for the event.

Six teams in the Super 17 World Series standings finished at 4-0 and all allowed less than 10 runs. The NJ Saints (4-0, 33-9) missed the cut by two runs. The qualifiers, in order of runs allowed, are; 1-Connecticut Whalers (4-0, 25-2). 2-Taconic Rangers (4-0, 40-5). 3-Prospects Baseball Blue (4-0, 27-6). 4-Hustle Baseball (4-0, 26-6), and 5-Untamed Exposure (4-0, 19-7).

Hustle used a patient approach at the plate and an overtly aggressive approach on the bases to build a 5-0 lead through three innings as Spaar, a rising senior at Millburn High, permitted a single 9ers Baseball base runner in his three frames. That was via a two-out walk to Luke Lonczak in the second inning.

Spaar, on a strict pitch count with a busy week ahead for Hustle, permitted no runs on no hits, struck out three and the walk was his only blemish.

“I was just trying to get ahead with my fastball,” said Spaar. “I was trusting the guys behind me to make the plays. I worked my breaking stuff in. I was humming.”

Indeed, and his teammates made the experience more comfortable with a four-run second inning off hard-throwing 9ers Baseball’s Pete Larini. The lefty was bringing it pretty well, touching 87 at one point, but his command wasn’t quite there and Hustle worked that to its advantage.

Andrew Hladik drew a leadoff walk and scored the game’s first run moments later when Alex Vega rocked a double to left field. Peter Peluso then drew a walk before Matt Kuilan dropped a bunt back to the mound. As Vega and Peluso advanced a bag, Larini threw wildly to first as all three runners moved up another base with Vega scoring the second run.

Aidan Napolitano, the No. 9 hitter, stepped in and beat out a bouncer near second base as Peluso scored for a 3-0 lead. Napolitano and Kuilan then pulled off a first-and-third double steal to literally steal another run for a 4-0 advantage.

“We surprised the pitcher and I think we confused him,” said Napolitano.

Hladik and Peluso, Seton Hall Prep teammates, worked some small ball to manufacture another run in the third for Hustle Baseball. Hladik singled through the middle with one out and, with two outs, he stole second and third base. Peluso then hit a slow bouncer to third and barely beat the throw to first for an infield hit and an RBI as Hladik crossed the plate.

But 9ers Baseball put together a manufactured rally of its own in the top of the fourth against reliever Bryce O’Hara. Mike Kaczynski, the 9ers leadoff batter, drew a walk to start the rally. Luke Dowd then reached when his bouncer to the right side was mishandled. Kaczynski and Dowd gave Hustle a dose of its own medicine when they pulled off a double steal with Logan Franks at the plate. Franks then drew a walk to load the bases with no outs.

O’Hara got the next batter looking at a fastball on the outside corner. But Gavin D’Aponte then launched a laser into the left-center field gap that appeared to be a sure double and three sure runs for 9ers Baseball. But Wood raced over and made a diving catch for the second out of the inning. Kaczynksi jogged home as Hustle gladly settled for the sac fly. 

Dowd would score 9ers Baseball’s second run of the inning on an overthrow of third base on a pickoff attempt. But O’Hara then extinguished the rally with a strikeout.

“That was an unbelievable catch,” Hustle Baseball coach Matt Rago said, singling out Wood in the team huddle after the game. “It’s a different game without that catch.”

Matt Kuilan of Hustle Baseball does what Hustle players do, takes off for another base.

Wood said he had a good bead on the ball from the get-go.

“I saw it off the bat well and got a good jump on it,” said Wood, a rising senior at Seton Hall Prep. “Coach Rago had just shifted me over to the perfect spot.”

D’Aponte was the victim of baseball thievery and Hustle still had a 5-2 lead.

O’Hara permitted two runs, none of which was earned, on two hits over three innings, striking out three and walking three. But he had to extricate himself from another bases loaded jam in the fifth.

Trevor Kerlin and Mateo Rivera put 9ers Baseball in business with back-to-back one-out singles to center field. After a force-out at third, Kaczynski drew a two-out walk to load the bases. But shortstop Hladik fielded a hot grounder nicely behind second and flipped the ball forward to second baseman Kuilan for a force-out that squelched the threat.

O’Hara had his first 1-2-3 inning in the top of the sixth and the Hustle Baseball lineup, which had just four hits through the first five innings, sprung to life against the 9ers’ fourth pitcher.

Catcher Nate Ullman (Montclair), who had been hit for to that point, led off and launched a no-doubter over the left field fence for a 6-2 lead. That seemed to open the floodgates for Hustle, which began the six-run explosion with five straight hits and six in all.

Napolitano followed Ullman’s homer with a single to right field, Wood singled and O’Hara singled in Napolitano. Brayden Peoples kept the chain going with an RBI single for an 8-2 lead. And, with runners on the corners and no outs, suddenly a mercy rule victory was in play.

The 9ers finally got an out on Chase Tarnoff’s bouncer to short, but O’Hara scored on the fielder’s choice to boost the lead to 9-2. Hladik drew a walk and up stepped Vega, who already had an RBI double in the second inning and two loud outs. Vega crushed a fastball into left-center field as Tarnoff scored easily from second with the eight-run mercy rule clinching run.

“We had a big adjustment to make, facing 87 miles-per-hour after seeing nothing nearly that fast the past couple games,” said Napolitano of the imposing Larini. “We were all taking a pitch to check his location and he was actually having some trouble with his location. I was thinking, two hands on the bat and put the ball in play.”

Hustle Baseball knew it had to keep 9ers Baseball’s run total down if it had a shot to qualify for the Super 17 Top 25 showcase. And there were surely a number of agents in the Hustle Baseball fan base who were working the run totals in the tournament’s standings to stay tuned into their boys’ chances.

Credit O’Hara and Wood for making sure those 9ers’ rallies in the fourth and fifth fizzled.

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