Matthew Quinn leads off first base after the first hit of the day for the East Coast Mavericks 13U.
By Rich Bevensee
After months of practicing in its facility bubble in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., the East Coast Mavericks 13U squad was chomping at the bit to get outdoors and taste some real action.
The Mavs’ 2023 tournament debut didn’t present the most ideal conditions in which to play, but their training seemed to conquer the day.
A.J. Liberati yielded one run on one hit over five innings and Roman Catalano cracked a key RBI triple to buoy the Mavericks in a 3-0 victory over Seacoast Pirates 13U Mariotti in pool play at the April Fool’s Tournament on a rain-soaked Saturday morning at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
The American flag in center field of Field 1 was flying at half-staff in honor of the school shooting victims in Nashville.
“Today was tough, but being in the Northeast and being inside for three or four months, we’ll take this compared to being in a bubble or being in a gym, know what I mean?” Mavericks coach Michael Sabatello said.
“That was our outlook before the game.”
“Practicing in our bubble was tough because it’s really crowded so once we got outside we were all happy,” Catalano said. “It was a pretty fun time.”
Liberati was a picture of determination on the mound in spite of the sometimes-sideways rain, escaping two tricky jams to avoid any damage. He allowed six walks and struck out seven.
“It was definitely difficult with the rain going on and off because I had to keep wiping (his hands), and when my jersey got wet, wiping got harder,” Liberati said. “I just thought about throwing strikes, looking at the catcher’s glove – and a lot of wiping. It feels good throwing a good game to start the season, and in the rain it feels even better.”
In the top of the second inning Seacoast loaded the bases on two walks and an infield error with one out. Liberati extinguished the threat with a pair of strikeouts.
In the top of the fifth Liberati danced around trouble again after an infield error, a walk and a perfect sacrifice bunt by Dylan Schoff gave Seacoast runners on second and third with one out. Liberati responded with a strikeout and a fly out to keep the shutout bid alive.
“He was gritty,” Sabatello said. “At our facility we’ve been facing live batters so we’ve been building up his pitch count, and that’s why we were able to extend him today. He needs to do a better job getting ahead and putting guys away and keeping the pitch count down and he knows that. But he’s a bulldog, he’s one of my guys, and that’s why he stayed out there today.”
Liberati also got a fantastic web gem from center fielder Nick Bennidetto. With two on and two out in the top of the third, Bennidetto tracked down a bomb off the bat of Jacob Williams and made a terrific over-the-shoulder catch in the midst of a brief downpour.
East Coast, which got its first run when Lucas Goldman scored on a balk in the first inning, carried its slim 1-0 lead into the bottom of the fifth when Benji Lynch led off with a single. Catalano stepped to the plate with two out and sliced a triple into right field, pushing Lynch across with an important insurance run. Moments later Catalano scored on a wild pitch for a 3-0 Mavericks lead.
“With a runner on first I was trying to drive the ball into the gaps and get at least a run because it was a 1-0 game,” Catalano said. “It was tough today with the rain and it was really cold because at one point it was hail. It doesn’t really throw you off at the plate but it’s annoying in the field when your glove gets all wet.”
“I told the guys before the fifth, we’re not going to win this game 1-0, we have to take the pressure off our defense,” Sabatello said. “In wet conditions anything can happen and you saw that today with both teams throwing the ball away. Roman’s at bats all day were great. You could tell he was ready today in that 10-pitch, first at bat.”
Matthew Quinn came on in relief of Liberati in the sixth. He pitched around a one-out single and ended the game with a strikeout.
Gavin Gorton and Oscar Fritz are to be commended for their pitching for the Pirates, visiting the Nation from the small village of Epping, N.H. Gorton pitched three innings and allowed a run on that first-inning balk. He did not permit a single hit, yielded two walks and struck out two. Fritz pitched two innings in relief and allowed two runs on four hits with two walks and three strikeouts.
Jacob Williams and Cam Burbank had the Pirates’ two hits.
The Mavericks were to play Morris County Cubs Navy on Saturday and the Delmarva Aces 13U East on Sunday in pool play. Playoffs begin at 2:15 p.m. Sunday and the final is slated for 4:30 p.m.
The Pirates’ pool play continued against the Delmarva Aces on Saturday and the Morris County Cubs White on Sunday.