Ironman Salmon leads West Jersey Wildcats to Columbus Day title

By DN WRITING STAFF | October 11, 2023

By Sean Reilly 

At the rate he’s played catcher this year, it would be understandable if Chris Salmon instinctively began each day by putting on socks, pants and shin guards.

He’s caught in every game this summer and fall for the West Jersey Wildcats. And in the spring, he did the same for Ewing High School, where he’s now a month into his senior year.

“I’ve caught every inning of every game,” he said. “High school, summer and fall. All of 2023. I’ve caught every pitch.” 

He’s definitely earned a post-season break, which will kick in after a few more weeks of fall action.

“There are two or three more tournaments,” he said. “I’ll be looking for a weekend off.”

Until then, there are days like Monday, where the Wildcats played in the four-team Diamond Nation 17/18U Columbus Day Showdown.

For his team to win the championship, it would have to play three games, scheduled for 10 a.m., noon and 2:15 p.m. on Monday. And Salmon would have to catch in each one.

It would be a challenge, especially with no break between games. But it would also mean a lot of baseball, which would make it all worthwhile. 

The Wildcats won their first two contests, which meant a championship matchup against the Locked In Baseball Expos Blue, who were also unbeaten in their two earlier games. 

Salmon was admittedly tired, but it didn’t show in his performance. He walked and scored in the first inning, and hit a rare over-the-fence home run on Field 1 at ‘The Nation,’ a two-run blast to right field to highlight a five-run third inning that sent the Wildcats to a 6-3 victory. 

“By the end of the third game, you really can’t feel your legs anymore,” he said. “Especially with no time in between. But I feel like it’s worth it.”

For added measure, he made an important defensive play by picking off a runner at second base for the third out in the fifth inning to snuff out an Expos rally.

For his efforts, Salmon got to carry out something in addition to his catching gear – he also earned the tournament MVP trophy. 

“I didn’t really know what to expect coming in,” he said, referring to the one-day format. “I just wanted to do the best I could to help my team. And by the third game, you might as well give 110 percent and see what you can do.”

The Wildcats qualified for the Columbus Day Showdown by going 3-0 at the 17/18U Wood Bat Championship at Diamond Nation last month. 

In the first game on Monday, the Wildcats defeated NLB Mid Atlantic, 6-1. The second contest was a 6-1 triumph over the Chester County Revolution. 

The Expos reached the championship by beating Chester County, 7-1, and NLB, 11-9, in an extra inning tiebreaker in which the Expos scored six times in the top of the extra inning before holding on in the bottom of the frame. 

The Expos took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first against the Wildcats, with leadoff man Nicholas Carles drawing a walk and later scoring on an error. 

In the bottom of the inning, Salmon, the No. 2 hitter for the Wildcats, walked with one out and showcased his speed by racing to third on a single to left center field by Kyle Forster. He then scored when Ewing teammate Collin Elam was safe on an error. 

The Wildcats broke the game open with the five-run second inning. 

After the first batter popped out in foul territory to the Expos’ catcher, Mike Prete walked. Prete broke for second on a pitch to Conor Bell, but the pitcher also made a pickoff throw to first. An extended rundown ensued, with Prete ultimately stealing second. 

That play was very important, since Bell followed with an RBI double to deep right center. Noali Ortiz followed with a slower-hit ball to right center that he stretched into an RBI double.

Chris Salmon of the West Jersey Wildcats was named MVP of the Columbus Day Showdown.

Ortiz stole third and Andrew Forster walked before Alex Winters hit a sacrifice fly to center. Salmon then hit his two-run homer for a 6-1 lead. 

“I had a pretty solid day at the plate,” Salmon said. “I definitely had a good offensive approach. I went the other way a couple of times and hit the ball hard. I just try to move runners when I can.

“I was surprised that one went out,” he said of the home run. “It felt good to finally get one.” 

The Expos tried to chip away, starting with a two-run third that began with a single by Michael Stigliano and an RBI double to center from Wesley Maksimow. 

Santino Czarnecki flew out to center, with Maksimow advancing to third. Maksimow then scored on a wild pitch. 

The Expos mounted another rally attempt in the fifth that was thwarted by two impressive defensive plays by the Wildcats. 

Sam Berk led off the inning with a single toward the line in right field, but he was thrown out at second base on a strong, accurate throw by Wildcats’ right fielder Prete to shortstop Tyler Edmiston. 

After an out, the next batter walked and advanced to second when Czarnecki singled to left field. The inning then ended when Salmon rifled a pickoff throw from the plate to second base, where Edmiston applied the tag for the third out. 

“It’s always good to get outs on the bases,” Salmon said. “That was huge.” 

Andrew Forster, who pitched the final two innings for the Wildcats in relief of starter Elam, pitched a 1-2-3 sixth inning, getting the final two outs on strikeouts, just as the 1:50 game clock expired. 

Elam, another Ewing player, went 2-for-3 for the Wildcats. Kyle Forster, one of six Bordentown High School players in the Wildcats lineup, went 2-for-2 and was hit by a pitch. 

Maksimow, who plays for Chatham High, was 2-for-2 with a walk for the Expos.

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