By Sean Reilly
A.J. Kessler of the EEP Bandits led off the bottom of the second inning of the Diamond Nation 10U Fall Brawl championship game by hitting a sharp grounder that deflected off the pitcher’s mound for a base hit.
He didn’t know what he was starting, but in the end he wasn’t surprised.
That hit launched an eight-run inning for the Brooklyn-based team, with seven of those coming with two out. The big inning sent the Bandits to a 9-0 victory over the Central Jersey Rebels for the title on Sunday afternoon in Flemington.
It was the final tournament of the year for the Bandits, who also won the 9U Summer Finale at ‘The Nation’ in late August.
“We came back here and wanted to win again,” Kessler said. “It felt good to get the hit that got us going. It was good to lift my team up.”
Kessler, who was selected the tournament MVP, came to bat again in the inning and added a two-run double to the left field corner for an 8-0 lead.
“We just wanted to keep hitting the ball,” he said. “Make contact, get on and steal bases.”
Nikko Elefterakis did his usual job from the lead off spot and at shortstop for the EEP Bandits. He went 3-for-3 with three RBI.
Daniel Coffey, meanwhile, pitched all five innings, and spun a two-hitter, with four strikeouts and two walks. Eight of his other outs were recorded on ground balls. His teammates backed him with error-free defense.
After Kessler’s single started the second inning, he was able to come around on three wild pitches.
The next hit came from Ethan Galarza, who singled to center with one out. Anthony Coffey (2-for-2) singled to shallow left field, and they both advanced on a wild pitch.
The next batter struck out, sending up Elefterakis, who had previously reached on an infield single in the first inning. In what may have been the most important at-bat of the game, he delivered a two-run single to right field for a 3-0 lead.
“It felt nice,” he said. “I was trying to get my hands on it to get a hit and get my team some runs. That turned out to be a big inning for us.”
The next batter was Aaron Lopez, who extended the frame by drawing a full-count walk. Jay Jay Rodriguez, who ended 2-for-3, then singled to left to bring in Elefterakis for a 4-0 score. Coffey was safe on a fielder’s choice which loaded the bases for Max Cruz, who was safe on an error that brought in two more runs. Kessler then hit his two-run double for the eight-run lead.
The EEP Bandits, who went 3-0 to capture the August tournament title, went 3-1 this weekend with a 42-15 run differential.
The final run came in the third inning. Anthony Coffey singled with one out and advanced on a wild pitch. After another out, Elefterakis again came up with a runner in scoring position with two out. And once more, he came through with a run-scoring hit.
Kellan Jones and Weston Brittain had the two singles for the Central Jersey Rebels, who finished the weekend with a 2-2 record, and led all eight teams in the field with 46 runs scored.