Winning pitcher Kenneth Quinones is flanked by fellow MVP Mossimo Meehan, right, and James Macko.
Kenneth Quinones did the heavy lifting and James Macko came in to get the one-out, highlight reel save as Hustle Baseball hung on in dramatic fashion to defeat the Diamond Jacks Super 15U, 5-4, in the 15U Beat The Heat Blue Bracket championship game last night in Flemington.
Macko put the finishing touch on a grinding one-run victory for the Fairfield, N.J.-based program when he struck out red hot Ryan Jaros with a curveball to strand the bases loaded in the top of the seventh inning. Macko entered after Quinones, who shut out the Diamond Jacks through the first five innings, issued a second straight walk and forced in Ian Kaiser from third to trim the Hustle lead to 5-4.
“I had a lot of confidence and trusted myself,” said Macko. “I was happy my coach trusted me.”
As difficult as the situation was for Macko, complicating matters was the fact that the 6-3, 205-pound Jaros, the Diamond Jacks No. 3 hitter, had already tripled and doubled and presented the most imposing threat in the park. Then Macko started the at bat with two straight balls. Jaros’ threat suddenly loomed even larger.
But the right-handed Macko attacked as Jaros looked at a fastball for a strike one and swung through a curveball to even the count at 2-2. Jaros, a rising sophomore from Cranford, then fouled off another fastball before Mackos went back to the curveball, getting him to swing through a low and away breaker for the final out.
“James is a great two-sport player and he’s a bull on the mound,” said Hustle Baseball coach Esteban Rodriguez. “We got him with that first curveball and came back with it after he fouled off the fastball at 2-2.”
But Hustle Baseball isn’t in position to win without Quinones’ outstanding 6.2 innings of work. The righthander permitted just three hits while shutting out the potent Diamond Jacks lineup through five innings.
“I was just trying to throw strikes in the last inning but I could feel the ball slipping,” said Quinones. The humidity did create some slick grips as Nick Lorenzo’s bat went sailing as he worked a walk in the seventh. That happened to be Quinones’ last batter. “My curveball was working great, especially in the beginning of the game.”
And Quinones’ fastball still had plenty hop in the late going but his command evaded him in the seventh when he was essentially on fumes. He permitted three of the Diamond Jacks’ four runs and issued three of his four walks in a ragged inning.
The Hustle Baseball offense, meanwhile, had reached two Diamond Jacks pitchers for three runs. The big hit was delivered by Jonathan Porcelli in the fifth when the left fielder came up with two outs and the base loaded.
Mossimo Meehan, who would share MVP honors with Quinones, started the rally with a one-out single to left-center field. Andrew Christian walked and Macko drew a two out walk to pack the bags. Porcelli then hit a bouncer deep into the hole at shortstop. Porcelli easily beat the throw as Meehan scored from third. Christian raced home from second as the throw got away, quickly turning a slim 1-0 margin into a 3-0 advantage.
The Diamond Jacks, which had stranded four runners, three in scoring position, through the first five innings, started to get to Quinones, a rising sophomore at Passaic Tech, in the sixth.
It was the bottom of the order that got things going for Super 15U. Ian Kaiser delivered a leadoff single through the middle and Jimmy Mulvaney followed with a single through the left side to put the Diamond Jacks in business as the order flipped back to the top. Griffin Mills kept the chain going with a single to right field that chased Kaiser home with the Diamond Jacks’ first run, trimming the deficit to 3-1. Mulvaney stopped at second.
This is where the baseball Gods began shining back on Hustle Baseball. Nick Lorenzo tried to move the runners over with a bunt and fouled it off. But the umpire ruled him out for leaving the batter’s box early. No worries, that brought Jaros up fresh off his triple in the first inning and double in the fourth. But Quinones hit Jaros with a pitch to load the bases. Surely the Diamond Jacks would have preferred Jaros had an opportunity to hack away.
Robbie Carvelli, the cleanup hitter, stepped in and nearly delivered the big hit, shooting a laser over first base that Christian snared and stepped on the bag for a crushing inning-ending double play. Worse for the Diamond Jacks, Hustle Baseball would tack on two crucial runs in the bottom of the sixth.
Quinones helped his own cause by sending a ringing double down the left field line leading off against reliever Carvelli. Luke Maida was hit by a pitch and Carvelli walked Jude Clough to load the bases with no outs. Ty Fredo, Hustle Baseball’s shortstop, then delivered an RBI single through the left side to extend the lead to 4-1. Mike Kelly then drew a walk to force home Maida and boost the lead to 5-1. Jaros came in and retired the next two batters to stem the rally.
“Kenny’s a new addition to our team,” said Rodriguez about Quinones. “He can hit and he’s a hell of a pitcher.”
But to the Diamond Jacks credit, they made their last at bat a frightening one for Hustle Baseball.
Marco Maselli started the rally innocently enough with a one-out walk and moved to second on a passed ball. Catcher Mark Gialluisi, recently committed to Boston College, slashed a single to right field that easily scored Maselli and cut the deficit to 5-2. Logan Eilbacher then singled to left to bring the tying run to the plate.
Quinones, grinding big time now, got Kaiser to bounce into a force out at second base for the second out. But Mulvaney responded to the challenge, singling to left to score Gialluisi as Kaiser raced to third. Back to the top of the order, Mills drew a walk to load the bases. Quinones then walked Lorenzo to draw the Diamond Jacks to within a run at 5-4. That brought Jaros to the plate with pinch-runner Coby Stellpflug, representing the tying run, just 90 feet away.
That’s when Rodriguez went to Macko.
“We just executed tonight as a team,” said Macko.
NOTES: Quinones permitted four runs on nine hits, struck out three, walked four and hit two batters in a very deceiving pitching line. … Diamond Jacks starter Ben Schild had a terrific three inning stint on a limited pitch count. He allowed one run, which was not earned, on no hits, struck out seven and walked two. … Macko drew a leadoff walk in the third, reached third on a two-out dropped fly ball in the infield and scored on a wild pitch that gave Hustle Baseball its first run. … Hustle Baseball went 5-0 and outscored its tournament opponents 41-13. The Diamond Jacks were 4-1 and held a 35-11 runs advantage on their opponents.