Lipinski plays walk-off hero for Iron Nine 14U mates

By DN WRITING STAFF | April 29, 2024

Iron Nine’s Jackson Williams drives in a run with a third inning groundout.

By Rich Bevensee

The five-year-old baseball sitting in Logan Lipinski’s bedroom – from a 2019 Little League game when he was 9 – serves as a constant reminder of what it’s like to be a hero.

On Sunday morning, Lipinski finally added another baseball to his hero collection after coming through with his first walk-off blast on a 90-foot diamond.

Facing a 1-2 count with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, Lipinski drove a fastball into the left-center field gap for a triple, a missile which scored Luke Lipari all the way from first base and lifted Iron Nine Baseball South to a 3-2 victory over Wild Bill Black in 14U Williams Harley Davidson pool play at Diamond Nation in Flemington.

“This feels great,” Lipinski said. “The hunger is finally over. I finally got a walkoff again.”

As ecstatic as the Iron Nine were as Lipari slid across home plate with the winning run, it was a heartbreaking conclusion for the Wild Bill crew, which moments earlier woke from an offensive slumber to rally for two runs in the top of the seventh and tie the game.

What made it more of an excruciating loss for Wild Bill, which draws its players from Washington, D.C., and Virginia, is that it allowed the winning run – Lipari – to reach on a throwing error on a routine grounder with two out. Lipinski was the next batter.

“It was frustrating,” said Wild Bill coach Skip Eckert. “I want it so bad for them and I’m so disappointed that it came down to one simple play that we can control. There were other plays but that’s the most glaring.

Iron Nine’s Logan Lipinski hit a walk-off triple in the bottom of the seventh.

“Ultimately my team didnt have the energy to compete until their backs were against the wall. In 14U you need to have your foot on the pedal at all times.”

Before the wild seventh inning, the 14U contest was a terrific pitcher’s duel between Iron Nine’s Nick Saco and Wild Bill’s Lucas Van Order.

Saco used a two-seam fastball and curveball to strike out 11 over seven innings. The two runs he allowed in the seventh were unearned. He permitted five hits and no walks.

“He was a dog out there,” Iron Nine coach Mike DePhillips said of Saco. “You can’t ask for anything more. He pitched absolutely beautifully.”

“I never compliment the other team but I went over to the pitcher to congratulate him because he was a dog,” Eckert said. “He had my guys looking silly all day. Eleven strikeouts – not a good stat line for us.”

Saco permitted just four baserunners over the first six innings. Wild Bill’s biggest threat of the game during that span came when Jackson Brabender crushed a one-out triple in the second, but Saco left him stranded there with a strikeout and lineout. 

“Some kids just can’t hit him,” Lipinski said of Saco. “He throws this slider curveball. The way that it moves is crazy. Out of this world. You can’t hit it. I can’t hit him. I’m glad he’s on our side.”

Van Order was nearly as effective for Wild Bill, allowing two runs, one earned, on one hit and three walks with five strikeouts over 4⅔ innings. 

Van Order yielded a run in the bottom of the third when Iron Nine relied on its small ball routine. Alessandro Del Virginia walked, moved to second on a Kiran Khiroya hit by pitch, took third on a Milo Blake sacrifice bunt, and scored on a Jackson Williams’ groundout to the right side. 

Van Order surrendered what was then a backbreaking insurance run, albeit unearned, in the fifth inning. A Genarro Digeno two-out liner was badly misjudged in the outfield and Ben Bahler scored from first as the ball rolled to the fence.

Iron Nine third baseman Luke Lipari applies the tag to Wild Bill’s Lucas Van Order.

“He was unbelievable, not only from a pitching perspective but he’s dealing from a hurt pitching wrist,” Eckert said of Van Order. “He still fought and did everything I could ask of him.”

Wild Bill trailed 2-0 heading into the top of the seventh inning and a comeback seemed unlikely, given that Saco had allowed just three base hits to that point. But leadoff man Luke Shepherd singled through the left side and stole second. 

After a Saco strikeout, Shepherd scored when Iron Nine mishandled a Van Order grounder to the right side. Henry Rossman reached on a fielder’s choice and Van Order was safe at second when the throw to the bag was wide. 

Van Order and Rossman then advanced one base on a wild pitch, and Van Order raced home from third on a Brabender squeeze bunt to tie the game at 2-2.

Iron Nine didn’t seem fazed by the Wild Bill comeback, even when Wild Bill reliever Alvaro Castillo quickly got two outs on a strikeout and fly ball. 

Lipari, however, reached on an errant infield throw after hitting a routine ground ball. 

Then came Lipinski, who struck out twice against Van Order. He drilled a Castillo fastball into the left-center gap which allowed Lipari to score easily. 

“I was thinking, ‘Give me a chance, God, to redeem myself. I struck out twice today but I promise you I’ll make it work,’” Lipinski said. “I was trying to get contact, that’s all I was going for. I needed to stay compact and smooth. Not trying to go over the fence. Not trying to go over the moon. I’m going for a nice compact swing.”

“That was a nice piece of hitting,” DePhillips said. “We were sluggish in the beginning of the game but when it’s time to do a job they get up and they do it.”

The dramatic win on Sunday morning was a nice turnaround for Iron Nine, which absorbed a tough 9-1 loss to South Jersey Young Guns Carolina the day before. Not long after edging Wild Bill by a run, Iron Nine suffered a 3-2 loss to RPP Revolution.

Wild Bill, which entered the weekend a perfect 7-0 after beginning the spring against opponents from the Northern Virginia Travel Baseball League, endured an 0-3 weekend at ‘The Nation.’ 

The D.C. kids lost, 6-3, to the RPP Revolution on Saturday. After the tough loss to Iron Nine, Wild Bill bowed, 11-1, to South Jersey Young Guns Carolina. 

“This is a team I’ve known since they were 7 or 8 years old,” Eckert said. “We’ve been building to this moment. They didn’t win their first game for two years at the 8 to 10 level. We’ve slowly gotten better, creeping toward .500, and now in our community we’re one of the top four teams.”

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