By Rich Bevensee
After a couple weeks of struggling on offense left Logan Koziupa extremely frustrated, he sought out the help of anyone he believed could help rescue him from his batting woes. That list included his grandfather, John Napolitano.
After a few sessions with the patriarch of the Napolitano clan, Koziupa clicked into gear with a 9-for-11 performance in four games, including 3-for-3 in the championship game, to lead Diamond Jacks Super 11U to a 6-2 victory over the OC Titans in the Beat The Heat finale on Sunday afternoon at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
“Me and my Pop have been working for the last week and a half just trying to get a comfortable leg kick so I can be on time and have a smooth swing,” said Koziupa, who was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. “Being able to hit again makes me feel good. I can sleep well. And it gives me confidence for more tournaments, so I know that I’m hot and I can swing the bat. I like it like that.”
Diamond Jacks coach Matt Markiewicz also pointed out that Koziupa pitched a gem on Friday in the team’s opening game against Tri-State Arsenal 11U Shore, a 9-1 victory. Arsenal defeated the Diamond Jacks earlier this season, 11-5.
Another bit of good news for the Diamond Jacks is that they snapped a short run of bad luck in Diamond Nation playoffs. The Super 11U had lost in either the semifinals or finals in the last three tournament playoffs in which they qualified.
They lost to the NJ Renegades in the Home Run Classic final on June 4. They lost to the eventual champion Marlton Chiefs in the School’s Out semifinals on June 25. And most recently, they lost to Essex County Select in the Youth World Series championship game on July 10.
Earning the Beat The Heat title allowed the Diamond Jacks to claim their second Diamond Nation title of the summer, and their first since beating the Marlton Chiefs in the Spring Fever tournament final on May 21. The Diamond Jacks also evened their Diamond Nation playoff record to 4-4.
“We faced some adversity the last couple weeks and we finally came out on top,” Diamond Jacks coach Matt Markiewicz said. “I think it was a combination of long weekends, hot weather, playing too much baseball, not staying locked in. For an 11 year-old to stay locked in for eight hours during those three or four straight games, it’s tough.
“Today this was the only game we had. We had a good BP session and we finally came out here, threw strikes, played good defense and got some timely hitting.”
Another Diamond Jack who shined in the championship game was Tyler LaGanga, who came on in relief in the third inning. He pitched out of two big-time jams and finished with 3⅔ scoreless innings of work.
“I just don’t think about the runners. I just pitch,” LaGanga said. “It’s not that hard because I’m used to it. I like pitching in those situations because they’re easy for me to get out of.”
Logan Koziupa of the Diamond Jacks Super 11U was named the Beat The Heat MVP.
He relieved Ian Peros in the third inning with one out, the bases full of Titans and the Diamond Jacks clinging to a 3-2 lead. LaGanga got a strikeout and an infield fly to escape damage.
In the fourth the Titans had runners on first and second with one out. LaGanga slipped out of trouble again by inducing a 6-4-3 double play, shortstop Alan Pena to second baseman Ryan Nigro to first baseman Joe LoPristi.
“Tyler actually likes the bigger moments,” Markiewicz said. “He excels at it. He thrives in it. He tells me all the time he likes pitching in those situations. Not many kids do. I was happy to see that.”
The Diamond Jacks seized a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning when – in true Rickey Henderson style – Ian Peros led off with a solo home run over the left field fence. Koziupa singled and later scored on a one-out fielding error on a LaGanga grounder.
The Titans, sponsored by the Orlin and Cohen Physical Therapy in Cedarhurst, N.Y., responded by tying the game in the second inning. The Titans loaded the bases with none out and the Diamond Jacks nearly escaped, but leadoff hitter Luke Lordi rapped a two-out, two-run single.
Jack Suarez hoisted the Diamond Jacks back on top for good, 3-2, with an RBI groundout in the bottom of the second.
The Diamond Jacks put the Titans in a hole with a three-run fourth inning. Booming RBI grounds-rule doubles by Alan Pena and Ryan Nigro were followed by a Joe Lopristi RBI single.
Koziupa, the only player in the game to reach base in all three at bats, said he was anxious to fix his swing because he knew what he was doing wrong.
“For the most part I’ve been out in front on my front foot, making weak contact, rolling over. It was frustrating,” Koziupa said. “We both (he and his grandfather) knew something was wrong, as well as the coaches. Me and my pop were trying to find a solution for it. We tried different things, and I looked at some of the people who are succeeding in the Major Leagues to see what they do.”
The Diamond Jacks’ march to the championship game included victories over Tri-State Arsenal 11U Shore, 9-1, Full Count Baseball, 13-0, and Locked In Expos Blue, 13-6.
The Titans reached the final by going 3-0-1 in pool play. They defeated Totals Skills Baseball 11U, 14-0, Sportika Baseball 11U Red, 14-3, and the Roberto Clemente Pirates, 12-3, and tied Greene County (N.Y.) Outlaws 11U, 8-8.