Brady Hahn went 4-for-4 with two doubles for the Lincroft Lightning in the 15U Grand Slam.
By Rich Bevensee
A particular collection of baseball players from Monmouth County has been together more than half their lives. Their journey began as a rite of passage in Lincroft Little League. Now they consider themselves family.
Sure, pitcher Jack Buono said, they get tired of each other from time to time, but they would much rather battle another ballclub than each other. They’re banking on team chemistry to vault other club teams with rosters of players from several towns.
“We’ve been together for a very long time,” Buono said. “It’s so much fun. Half of these guys are my lifelong friends. We’ve been friends since we were seven years old on the same team. That makes for amazing chemistry.”
Witness the final play of the Lincroft Lightning’s 16-2 victory over Prospects Baseball Academy in the 15U Grand Slam tournament on Saturday at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
Lightning second baseman Matt Trimble dove to his right to stop a hard hit grounder, he rolled over, got to his knees and threw to first where Dylan Blackman picked the throw for the final out.
“These kids play for each other,” Lincroft coach Eric Blackman said. “It’s unique because we’ve been together for 15 seasons, or eight years, so there’s never anyone complaining about who’s playing where, no complaining about where they bat in the order, and that’s a special thing. But we still have to put Ws on the board. They are a good group of kids.”
Buono, a sophomore lefty at Middletown South, was outstanding on the hill for the Lightning, allowing two runs while scattering three hits and five walks and striking out seven.
“It was mostly a fastball-oriented game because of the lead we had,” Buono said. “I tried mixing in curveballs and changeups but I didn’t have a great feel for them today, and being we had a big cushion I didn’t feel I should test my luck with it.”
Buono acknowledged having some control issues early on but a mid-game adjustment made all the difference.
“I was losing control of my fastball outside because my ball had a lot of tail today, and I had to adjust to that,” said Buono, who moved to the third base side of the pitching rubber. “It worked really well. I went from missing outside to hitting the outside corner.”
Another Middletown South standout, Brady Hahn, a 6-2, 180-pound sophomore, was the offensive leader for the Lightning, going 4-for-4 with a pair of doubles and an RBI.
Middletown South freshman Jack Concordia provided the biggest blast of the day when he legged out a grand slam home run to fuel a seven-run third inning in which Lincroft sent 11 batters to the plate. Concordia finished 2-for-3 with five RBI.
All 10 Lincroft batters reached base safely at least once, and eight of them had at least one hit and scored at least once for a lineup which supplied six runs in the first, two in the second, seven in the third and three in the fourth.
The offensive explosion was a solid way to rebound from the day’s opening game in which the Lightning bowed to Wladyka Baseball National 11-6.
“We definitely came out sluggish in the first game but it gave us a fire under our butt, like, we gotta’ pick it up and let’s show that’s not who we are,” Hahn said. “We needed to play harder than we did in the first game.
“No excuses, but we’ve been off for about a month, so coming back they showed some rust and we didn’t do the things we usually do,” Blackman said. “But they beat us fair and square, so we took it and moved on and I think they took it personally and rebounded in this game.”
Joey Massagli, one of seven Lightning with at least one RBI, tripled, singled and drove in four runs for the Lightning. William McCarthy had two hits and an RBI, and Trimble singled and drove in three runs.
“100 percent, chemistry plays into our success,” Buono said. “It’s about not being nervous about who you’re playing with and being able to talk man to man if they make a mistake. It really helps progress our team forward when we may be struggling a bit. We’re basically brothers.”
Prospects scored twice in the second inning to make it a 6-2 game. Justin Panucci scored from first on a Robert Hubbard fly ball lost in the sun, and Hubbard later scored on a wild pitch.
Hubbard, in fact, was brilliant in the Prospects’ first game of the weekend, pitching a four-inning no-hitter with 16 strikeouts against just two walks in an 8-0 victory over the NJ Rising Rebels.