By Rich Bevensee
By the time Morris County Cubs Navy and Connecticut Grind 14U Carolina lined up for the championship game on Sunday evening, you got the sense the team with the least depleted resources would prevail.
The Grind was preparing to play in its fourth game of the day. The Cubs, their third. Both teams were coming off nail-biting victories in the semifinals and jumping right into a title game with 15 minutes of rest.
The Cubs would prevail in this war of attrition thanks to a pitcher who successfully bridged the gap between the semis and final, and a catcher who seemingly never shed his tools of ignorance.
Right-hander Jason Amalbert, making his third Diamond Nation championship game appearance of the summer, permitted one run in two innings after pitching two shutout innings to close out the semis. His receiver, Chase Lorent, capped a fabulous weekend in which he guided a pitching staff which allowed just six runs in three Sunday games.
Together, they led the Morris County Cubs to an 11-1 victory and the Boys Of Summer 14U Tournament championship at the end of a long, sweltering day at the Nation in Flemington.
“This is a team with determination,” Cubs coach Rich Ronchetta said. “They work hard at everything they do and they come focused. This is a serious group of boys and it’s an honor to coach them.”
Lorent, named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, spearheaded a Cubs defense which permitted just 11 runs in five games while calling pitches the entire weekend.
“Chase is one of the best catchers you’ll see,” Ronchetta said. “His blocking ability is fantastic, his baseball IQ terrific. He’s very talented for a young man and he’s going to have a bright career.”
Lorent, a rising freshman at Randolph High, estimated this was the seventh time this summer he had to catch three games in a single day.
“It was pretty hard but with this group of boys and their passion for the game and wanting to win, I just put my head down, pushed through it and the next thing I know I picked my head up and we’re the champions,” Lorent said.
Amalbert, after throwing 30 pitches over the final two innings of a 7-4 victory over Locked In Expos Blue in the semis, started the championship game and permitted one run on two hits and three walks with two strikeouts after 47 pitches.
“I was a little sore but I had to get my team the win,” Amalbert said. “We had a really long break between our first and second game today, then we had to battle back in the semis after being down 4-0, and then we had to come out here again and show everyone who the Morris County Cubs are.”
Amalbert, a rising freshman at DePaul Catholic, was making his third appearance in a Diamond Nation title game. Pitching for Hustle Baseball Academy, he got a no-decision in Hustle’s victory over Bergen Crush in the Mother’s Day Classic in mid-May, and two weeks later he got another no-decision when Hustle lost to Wladyka Baseball in the Spring Fever final.
While Amalbert set about quieting a normally noisy Grind offense – the Connecticut-based club scored 41 runs in its first five games – the Cubs took advantage of some erratic pitching.
The Grind surrendered five walks in the first inning and the Cubs made them pay with six runs on only one hit. And who but Amalbert got the Cubs rolling with a bases-loaded RBI single.
Lorent added an RBI sacrifice fly, Dean Kalether forced in a run with a bases-loaded walk, two more runs scored on a Jonathan Moore fielder’s choice ground ball, and Brayden Longo tacked on another sac fly for a 6-1 Cubs lead.
It was a sudden punch to the gut the fatigued Grind was not expecting.
“They’ve been resilient the whole day, they played hard, they were ready to come out and compete in the last game and they just didn’t have it,” Grind coach Michael Morris said. “This is the first time they got their butts handed to them, but they’ll learn from it and they’ll bounce back from it.”
Amalbert added to his overall championship resume with another RBI single in the bottom of the second for a 7-1 Cubs lead.
And then the Cubs piled on in the bottom of the third. Moore and Longo rapped consecutive RBI singles, Moore scored on a wild pitch and Jackson Magley capped the surge with a run-scoring infield single.
“Offensively, this team is deep 1 through 12,” Ronchetta said. “I tell the guys all the time, every one of you guys is a No. 3 hitter on this team. Batting seventh or eighth isn’t a demotion. It’s just that the team is deep with hitting – and we have four kids that aren’t here right now.”
Dylan Wrona took over for Amalbert in the third inning, shutting out the Grind on one hit and no walks with two strikeouts. Longo pitched the fourth and had the exact same line as Wrona – no runs on one hit and no walks with a pair of strikeouts – to turn away the Grind for good.
With all due credit to his three pitchers, Ronchetta was quick to indicate the defense wouldn’t be the same without its backstop Lorent.
“We’ve played over 30 games this year and he’s caught 28 of them,” Ronchetta said. “He calls his own pitches, he knows positioning, where to call a pitch. He’s just a tremendous baseball player. He knows the game.”
Lorent said he learned the nuances of the game behind the plate from his father, Corey, a catcher at West Point, and from Taylor Bargiacchi, his trainer at In The Zone.
Lorent was asked how he managed to withstand the duress of high-stakes baseball during another typically muggy New Jersey summer day.
“Staying motivated is the hardest part,” Lorent said. “If your pitcher’s spiking balls, if your team’s not hitting, they’re not in the game, you’re constantly moving left and right, it’s my job to keep the boys on track and making sure they want to win.
“I’ve had bad days myself so knowing my pitcher can have a bad day, too, I never let my emotions take over. I always stay calm with them because that’s my job.”
The Cubs closed out the weekend 5-0 and outscored the competition 52-11. They ran the table by beating Baseball U Anthracite, 16-0, the NY Gothams, 9-5, Warehouse Indians ‘26 Purple, 9-1, and Locked In Expos Blue, 7-4, in the semis.
The Grind ran off five straight victories before clashing with the Cubs. They beat Locked in Expos Blue, 6-5, Baseball U PA Pocono, 11-4, Prospects Baseball Academy, 8-0, Whitecaps, 10-2 and Full Count, 6-4.
Both teams slipped past opponents in dramatic fashion in the semifinals.
The Cubs trailed the Expos 4-0 before rallying for seven runs in the fourth and fifth innings for a 7-4 decision. The Expos brought the tying run to the plate with one out in the bottom of the sixth, but Amalbert got a grounder and a strikeout to end the game.
In the Grind’s semifinal against top-seeded Full Count, Grind led 6-4 but permitted the tying runs to reach with no outs in the bottom of the seventh. The Grind picked off the runner at first for the second out and got a strikeout to end the drama.