Casey Kucerka (without helmet) is greeted by teammates after his gargantuan three-run HR.
By Rich Bevensee
A lined drive to the forehead, followed by a face covered in blood.
It was the last weekend of August, and Casey Kucerka was playing baseball with friends when a batted ball struck him above his left eyebrow. He suffered a broken nose and a fracture above his eye.
Honestly, he didn’t think much of getting hit in the face with a batted ball – let alone the blood or the pain – until the emergency room doctor told him he’d miss a month of baseball, which basically meant most of the fall season.
For Kucerka, that news was the scariest part of the whole incident.
“I was definitely worried I would have trouble hitting when I came back,” Kucerka said. “But I came back last week and I hit a double in my first at bat. Then I wasn’t worried anymore.”
Kucerka upped the ante on Saturday, demonstrating the power he wielded on the 50-70 fields he dominated last summer.
Kucerka single-handedly blew open a tight ballgame when he blasted a towering three-run home run which hit the left field foul pole netting and lifted Locked In Baseball Expos Blue to an 8-4 pool play victory over the Complete Game Colonials in the 14U Fall Brawl at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
It was Kucerka’s first homer on a 90-foot diamond and it was a no-doubter, sailing high above the left field fence. The only question was whether it would be fair or foul.
“It feels great to get the first one,” Kucerka said. “I didn’t really think I hit that ball too well. I thought I hit it off the wall. That’s why I stopped at second base. It was off the hands, definitely. I didn’t know it was a home run until the ump told me.”
Kucerka’s fifth-inning homer ignited a five-run rally in which the Expos sent 11 batters to the plate. After Kucerka cleared the bases, winning pitcher Mason Alameda singled, Aiden Kerrigan walked and Luke Scudese plated them both with a two-out double to center for an 8-2 lead.
The lefty Alameda pitched well through four innings, allowing two runs on four hits and two walks with four strikeouts. He held the Colonials to 1-for-9 hitting with runners in scoring position.
“Today it felt nice coming out of my hand,” said Alameda, who used a mid-60s fastball, curveball and change. “I had to keep cool, calm and collected on the mound. When my guys get the bats going, it’s the best feeling in the world.”
Scudese pitched an inning of relief for the Expos, surrendering two runs on one hit, two walks and a hit batsman with one strikeout.
After a pair of scoreless innings to start the game, the lefty-hitting Matt Santacross kick-started the Expos’ offense with an opposite-field RBI double. Danny Raffanello walked and later scored on a wild pitch, and Logan Costello drove in Santacross with a sacrifice fly for a 3-0 lead.
The Colonials answered immediately with two runs in the bottom of the third. With runners on second and third, Matty Stanley had a groundout RBI and Ryan Kuhnel drove in another run with an infield hit.
After the Expos five-run fifth, the Colonials tacked on a pair of runs with a last-chance rally. Stanley had a sacrifice fly and Nate Zeff drove in a run with a two-out single to right.
Kucerka came to the forefront once more on Zeff’s base hit, throwing home to cut down Caden Yoon trying to score. That was the final out of the game.
Kucerka said he felt fortunate to be back in the lineup after missing a month of baseball, but the waiting was the hardest part. He described the four-week hiatus with more emotion than he did the injury itself.
“I was playing with friends at Ridge High School and my one friend hit a line drive, I blinked, and it hit me right here,” Kucerka said, pointing to his forehead above the left eyebrow. “I thought it was fine for a while. I wiped off the blood and went to Urgent Care and they gave me five stitches.
“The doctor said a month, so I was hitting off a tee and was feeling really good in the cages, so I thought I might be able to hit okay (this fall),” said Kucerka, who came off the injured list last weekend.
Kucerka said his ability to stroke the ball so well to left field came slowly. His first few months on a 90-foot diamond saw the husky right-handed hitter going the other way during the first few months of playing on a bigger field.
“At the beginning of the (spring) season I went the other way a lot because I really didn’t get any inside pitches. I wasn’t able to pull the ball very much,” Kucerka said. “But then in late summer I started to be able to pull the ball. That’s when I started to think I could hit a ball better, harder and farther than I had been.”
Mason Greenberg pitched the first 3⅔ innings for the Colonials, and he allowed three runs on three hits, five walks and a hit batsman with four strikeouts. Miles Frank handled the final 1⅓ innings, yielding two runs on one hit, two walks and a hit batsman with one strikeout.
Following their loss to the Expos, the Colonials bowed to Baseball U PA Philly, 12-0. They closed out their weekend with a 12-2 loss to Baseball Warehouse ‘27 Purple.
The Expos were nipped by Baseball Warehouse 8-6 on Saturday. Their weekend closer was an 11-0 loss to eventual tournament runner-up Baseball U PA Philly.