Orioles’ Justin Haag is greeted by teammates after slugging a HR, his second of a two-win day.
By Sean Reilly
The Sal Conti playing for the Staten Island Orioles this weekend at Diamond Nation is a lot different than the version who last visited in May.
The 12U level is all about development, and that’s exactly what Conti has done this year on the field, particularly the pitcher’s mound.
Conti wasn’t bad when the Orioles last competed at “The Nation” three months ago. He’s just gotten better, as have many of his Orioles teammates.
That improvement can also be the difference between winning and losing, which was one of the takeaways for the boys from Staten Island during their first day of play on Saturday at the 12U Summer Finale Tournament in Flemington.
Conti, who hit leadoff, was 2-for-3 with a two-run single, and also pitched out of two bases-loaded jams during five scoreless innings when the Orioles beat Adrenaline Selects, 6-2, to complete a two-victory day for the team.
The Orioles opened the day with an 11-3 win over HBQVB Rampage, to set up a Sunday morning matchup with Sandlot Baseball 12U, which also opened with two wins, to decide the pool championship.
When the Orioles visited Diamond Nation for the Spring Classic from May 13-15, they finished 1-2 in their pool.
Nowadays, the team is playing better. In the case of Conti, he is throwing harder, his command is tighter and he’s also mentally tougher to handle situations like the ones he worked out of to shut down the Jersey Shore-based Adrenaline Selects.
“We came here expecting to win,” Conti said. “I like the experience of playing here. I was feeling confident at the plate, and my pitching has improved. My velocity has gone up, and I was using some off-speed pitches to keep them off balance. If I was in situations like today back in May, I probably wouldn’t have gotten out of it. I probably would have walked him, being honest. I’ve been getting work and my control wasn’t as good at that time.”
Against Adrenaline Selects, he allowed three hits, struck out five, walked two and hit two batters.
One of those walks began the game, which was followed by a stolen base. But that runner was thrown out in a rundown after trying to steal third, with Conti making the tag.
“That was good, because it got me back into my windup, which I’m better with,” Conti said.
In the bottom of the inning, the Orioles took a 1-0 lead on a two-out home run to left field by Justin Haag. His prior at-bat was a three-run homer to left center that ended the opening game via the mercy rule.
In the top of the second, Conti retired the first two batters on two pitches, which were virtually identical ground outs to first baseman Nick Berman.
Adrenaline Selects then threatened. Joe Geiger was hit by a pitch before T.J. Brinsler singled to short and Frankie Viscuso singled to center to load the bases.
But in what could have been the most important at-bat of the game, Conti retired the next batter on a pop up to second baseman Nick Cianciaruso.
The Orioles then scored their remaining five runs in the bottom of the second.
Peter Lynskey led off with a single just beyond the reach of the second baseman and into right field. Mike Rizzo then doubled to put runners on second and third. Cianciaruso walked to load the bases for Christian Conca, who hit a two-run double to left field. Marco Cristino hit an RBI single to shallow right field, and, after a strikeout, Conti poked a two-run single to right field for a 6-0 lead.
In the top of the third, Conti struck out the first two batters before the Adrenaline Selects loaded the bases. Evan Bailey was hit by a pitch, Harold Rodriguez walked and Logan Macchia singled to shallow right field. Conti again showed his toughness by striking out the next batter to maintain his shutout.
Staten Island went to its bullpen in the sixth, and Adrenaline Selects responded with two runs. Nate Baran led off with a single and eventually stole home, while Jayden McNeil doubled, stole third and scored when Rodriguez grounded out to right field.