By Sean Reilly
Max Lopez was the smallest player on the field for the Grit 9UW this weekend at Diamond Nation, but he had the largest role in sparking his team to a championship.
Lopez was an on-base machine throughout a four-game run to the Mid-Summer Classic title, including three games on a busy Sunday.
The capper to his tournament was a 1-for-1, two walk (both on full counts) and three runs-scored showing when Grit 9UW beat the Flemington-Raritan Baseball Red Devils, 15-3, in the final.
Lopez reached base in all but two at-bats during the event, which earned him selection as its Most Valuable Player.
“It’s just one of those parts of baseball where you keep grinding,” he said of his propensity of reaching base, and scoring runs. “Trying to be the best player you can be.”
Grit 9UW, based in Rockland County, N.Y., was making its debut appearance at ‘The Nation.’ It ended the weekend 4-0 with a 41-11 run differential.
Three of the wins came on Sunday, starting with a 15-0 triumph over Total Skills Baseball in its pool play finale. It then defeated 3up3Down Red, 5-4, in the semifinals.
“It was a team performance,” Lopez said. “It was a long day, but we had a lot of fun. The best part about it was that I got to enjoy the game that I really love.”
FRB Red Devils entered the championship with a 3-0 record and 51-4 run differential.
The first two innings were scoreless and FRB starter Liam Schenkel threw just eight total pitches over those frames while pitching to six batters.
FRB, meanwhile, had three batters reach base over the first two innings, but two of them were thrown out stealing by Grit catcher R.J. Kearns.
Grit 9UW broke through in the third inning, when first-pitch swinging and aggressive base running resulted in a five-run outburst.
Mason Lagana led off by hitting a first-pitch to left field that was dropped. He never stopped running and scored on the error.
Lopez was up next, and he walked on a 3-2 pitch. The next two batters struck out, but Lopez scored along the way on a passed ball for a 2-0 lead.
Leadoff man Cole Madden (2-for-3, walk, three runs and two RBI) was up next. He hit a single to center, and Harris Stern followed by reaching on an error. With runners now on first and second, Tyler Finan doubled to left-center field. Madden scored on the hit, and Stern and Finan both scored as a result of an error on the play.
Max Lopez of Grit 9UW was named the 9U Mid-Summer Classic Most Valuable Player.
Grit 9UW added four more runs in the fourth. With one out, Lagana hit an inside-the-park home run to center field. Lopez followed with a single, and Alex Jenicek hit a single off the pitcher to send Lopez to second. A passed ball advanced the runners into scoring position before a strike out.
Madden then hit a two-run single to center, and took second on a throw. Harris delivered an RBI single to center for a 9-0 lead.
Flemington-Raritan Baseball scored all of its runs in the bottom of the fourth. With two out and a man on first, Max Linhardt singled. Westin Hoelper followed with a two-run triple, and scored on an error after drawing a rundown after rounding third.
Grit 9UW put the game away with a six-run fifth. The first run scored on a wild pitch before Kearns hit an RBI single to right field. The remaining runs scored on errors and wild pitches.
Nine of the 10 Grit 9UW batters had at least one hit, with Cole Madden, Liam Madden and Jenicek all going 2-for-3. Nine of the batters also scored.
Liam Madden also pitched the first three innings, allowing two hits with five strikeouts and three walks.
Linhardt ended with two of the three hits for Flemington-Raritan Baseball.