Braeden Leeds of Lower Bucks hustles to steal home before teammate is thrown out stealing.
By Sean Reilly
Braeden Leeds could have eased toward home plate, but that’s not how the Lower Bucks Minutemen play the game.
Because he hustled all 90 feet as a teammate tried to steal second with two out in the first inning of Tuesday’s game at the Diamond Nation Super 15 Invitational, he was able to score the team’s sixth run before the other baserunner was tagged out.
Doing little things, like busting it towards home, even in the midst of a big inning like that one, are a quality that sets the team apart.
It’s also a reason why the Minutemen defeated Lehigh Valley Baseball Academy Prospects, 9-0, in the match up on Tuesday afternoon in Flemington.
“We’re always aggressive on the bases,” said Leeds. “We always say 1-2-3 hustle when we break a huddle. We’re a hustle team.”
Minutemen first baseman Dylan Bundick handles throw from shortstop Carlton Crane for an out.
The Minutemen are now 2-0 and stand atop the standings with a 14-0 run differential at the four-game tournament. There are no playoffs, but the top five teams among the more than 50 competing do qualify for the Super 15 Top 25 Showcase from Aug. 14-18 at Diamond Nation.
Lower Bucks, however, has already qualified for that event, by virtue of a 4-0 finish at the Super 15 World Series earlier in July. The Minutemen had a 21-3 run difference in that tournament.
“We teach base running a lot,” said Minutemen coach John Crane. “It’s something that most programs don’t. I used to coach in college and we’d get really talented players from the travel circuit who we had to teach a lot. Our philosophy is to develop and teach, and if we win, we win. We want to be competitive, and we’ve been playing well lately.”
Aside from doing other essential things, like making contact (no Lower Bucks player struck out) and playing solid defense, the Minutemen thrive in the most important area, pitching. Being able to allow a total of three runs in six games this month at ‘The Nation’ is an incredible achievement. Four of the victories have been by shutout.
On Tuesday, the man on the mound for the Minutemen was Connor O’Brien, a 6-4, 220-pound right-hander who pitched a three-hitter with six strikeouts and one walk.
“I felt pretty good,” said O’Brien. “I had command of my fastball. We have a real good group of guys. We hit the ball pretty well today, and they basically gave me a bumper so that I didn’t feel any pressure at all. As a team, we play well together.”
The Minutemen were fueled by their first three batters – L.J. Koziak, Carlton Crane and Tyler Bergkoetter – who went a combined 5-for-8 with five runs scored.
The tone was set in the six-run bottom of the first inning.
Koziak led off with a double to left center, and Crane singled off the pitcher. Crane stole second, and Bergkoetter hit a two-run single to center. And an important move that helped fuel the additional scoring, Bergkoetter noticed no one covering second, and alertly took an extra base.
Bergkoetter stole third, and after holding on a ground out to third base, he scored on Nathan Flansburg’s ground out to shortstop.
Dylan Bundick was up next, and was safe on a two-base throwing error. Jimmy Iacona singled to right field, sending Bundick to third. An error on a pickoff try at first scored Bundick, and an RBI single by Leeds brought in Iacona with the fifth run.
Leeds went to second on a wild pitch and stole third, before also stealing home.
Carlton Crane of Lower Bucks Minutemen steals third base.
The other three runs came in the third. Koziak (2-for-3) led off by speeding to second on a ball between left and center for his second double. Crane (2-for-3) hit an RBI double, also to left center. He stole third, and then scored when the throw skipped past the base.
The final run was also an example of executing a small, yet important, thing, especially on the 15U level. After Owen Hawkes walked and stole second before the second out, Bundick swung at a 1-2 pitch and delivered a well-struck opposite-field single to right field to deliver the ninth run.
“We don’t beat ourselves,” coach Crane said. “We don’t strike out, we’re really good defensively, we make spectacular plays, we make routine plays, and our pitching is really good. That’s kind of what drives it.”