Invaders’ Jamal Neal zones in on a pitch during Super 16 World Series.
By Luis Torres
Not much was going through the mind of Invaders Baseball head coach Nolan Shaffer as he found relievers Ryan Sloan and Daniel Jones trying to hold onto a lead.
The lead for Shaffer’s team started to dwindle as Complete Baseball Performance BB started to chip away in the top of the seventh inning.
But Shaffer was calm and collected in the dugout, having a feeling that Jones, who came on in relief of Sloan in the frame, would get the job done. And Jones did, recording a strikeout as Invaders Baseball defeated Complete Performance Baseball 6-4 on Wednesday in Super 16 World Series play at Diamond Nation.
“I trust the defense, and I know the pitching trusts the defense,” Shaffer said. “Just let them put the ball in play and let them get the results. As long as you don’t fill up the bases with walks, our defense usually plays pretty good. Not stressed out a whole lot. I mean, if it happens, it happens. But the more you worry about it, the more you kind of think it into existence.”
Shaffer didn’t have to worry when starting pitcher Gavin Cunningham was on the mound for his three innings of work.
Cunningham, a Class of ‘24 right-handed pitcher, drew the start and opened the game by striking out the side on just 12 pitches. Working with a fastball that was sitting in the mid-to-high 70s, according to the scoreboard at Diamond Nation, and a good breaking ball, Cunningham was able to cruise during his outing. He threw 40 pitches in three innings, recording seven strikeouts, five of which were swinging.
“I was just trying to fill up the zone, and my defense was working behind me. And I just kept throwing strikes and good things happened,” said Cunningham, who stands at 6-foot-2 and is uncommitted. “My breaking ball was working for me, my slider, I would throw that and didn’t get much contact with that, and then location on the fastball is key. That’s what really helped me.”
Some early offense helped, too.
After striking out the side in the top of the first, Invaders Baseball’s offense scored two runs in the bottom half of the frame, sending Cunningham back to the mound with a lead. He allowed a one-out single in the top of the second, which was the only hit he allowed.
He ended the inning with a strikeout before striking out two more in the third inning to end his day.
“Gavin was really good on the mound, as he usually is,” Shaffer said. “He fills up the zone. Very low walk guy. Doesn’t throw a ton of velo at you, but he spots, commands and mixes up his pitches really well. He has two good offspeed pitches to complement (his fastball). He gets a lot of weak contact, and with the defense that plays behind him, he does a pretty good job, and he can go deep into games.”
Jamal Neal went 2-for-2 with a run scored for Invaders Baseball, which ended the day stealing nine bases, putting the pressure on Complete Performance Baseball’s pitching staff. Being aggressive on the basepaths paid off, especially when Complete Performance began chipping away at the lead in the final two innings.
“Our team, we don’t have a lot of bangers at the plate,” Shaffer said. “We steal a lot of bags. We have more undersized athletes. We don’t have fully mature men on this team and swinging with wood in a lot of these tournaments, they have to be good on the basepaths and take advantage of the other team’s mistakes, and I think we did a great job of that.”