By Will Harrigan
The New Jersey 9ers 14U team entered this weekend’s Easter Extravaganza with a lot of question marks. A coach new to the program in Daniel Rivera, quite a few players having recently joined the program, all only playing in their third tournament of the season.
The 9ers answered a lot of those questions this weekend and they now have a championship to show for it.
Plating three runs in the extra-innings tiebreaker, the 9ers were able to slip past Tri-State Arsenal 14U for the Easter Extravaganza 14U crown at Diamond Nation in Flemington. The .9ers – 4-1 on the weekend with their lone loss coming in an inconsequential pool play game – saw MVP honors split between pitchers Brodie Buchner and Dylan Iwanyk.
“When you have only 17 guys on your team and you’re in a five-game weekend tournament, it’s tough to win these things,” Rivera said. “We used 11 different pitchers here and still got the job done. It took a total team effort.”
It also took a late rally to seize the title at the end.
With extra innings decided via the California tiebreaker, which starts the inning with the bases loaded and one out, the big two-out hit came off the bat of Brian Tulli, scoring a pair and putting the 9ers up 7-5.
A balk would plate another run, setting up Tulli to finish off the game on the mound by recording a pair of flyouts while only surrendering a single run in the bottom of the inning, setting off a big celebration on the pitcher’s mound.
For a while, Iwanyk’s performance on the mound made things look like they wouldn’t be as dramatic. The right-hander cruised through five innings while only surrendering one run on two hits but was pulled after the leadoff man got on in the sixth.
“I was happy to pitch in the finals,” said Iwanyk. “I thought I was going to pitch the semi earlier but Brodie was so good for us. We have a lot of good arms on this team.”
In the 9ers’ semifinal victory over the Bucks County Generals 14U squad earlier Saturday afternoon, Buchner went the distance in an 11-3 triumph.
“Those two guys were lights out. That’s why I wanted them to share the MVP,” Rivera said.
The 9ers drew first blood in the top of the second when Landon Hallett singled home Tulli – who had doubled down the line – with one out to make it 1-0.
Tri-State Arsenal would level things up in the home third when Griffin Kilcullen – coming off a monster weekend at King of the Diamond last week – drove home a run on a sacrifice fly.
In fact, Kilcullen would personally draw the Arsenal right back into the game in the sixth, when he launched a three-run homer over the left-field wall to pull his squad within 5-4.
Four batters later, Danny Krier would drive in Brady Abate – who had walked – to level things up heading into the seventh.
The 9ers built their initial lead first in the fourth when an Arsenal fielding error plated Hallett, then when Jaykob Shin singled in a run a batter later to extend the lead to 3-1.
A deep double to left off the bat of D.J. Ylagan drove home Jake Bartlett (single) in the fifth to make it 4-1, and Shin – 2-for-3 on the day – drove home another run in the sixth to extend the advantage to 5-1.
“I’m so glad everyone contributed. I’m new to the program here but want to continue the great tradition this organization has had for years,” Rivera said.