By Sean Reilly
MA Show went into Sunday not knowing if it would advance out of its four-team pool at the Diamond Nation 9U Spring Classic.
A few hours later, it went from Flemington back home to South Jersey as the tournament champion.
To make it happen, MA (Mid Atlantic) Show had to beat Bakes Brewers, which came into the tournament final with an 11-0 record this spring at The Nation, including three prior 9U tournament championships. But the Show did so with an impressive 3-2 victory in a crisp, well-played game by both sides.
Making it to the championship was no sure thing, even after MA Show started Sunday with an 11-8 win over the Bridgewater Panthers in its final pool contest.
The Show still wasn’t sure if it would move on to the noon final, since it was part of a three-way tie for best pool record. Bakes Brewers, meanwhile, swept through the opposite pool with a perfect mark.
It turned out that MA Show was the team to advance to the final, based on the fewest runs allowed (15) tiebreaker through the first three games.
While the Shore-based Bakes Brewers have been frequent visitors to Diamond Nation this spring, the tournament was a first-time experience for MA Show’s 9U unit, who were very glad that they made the trip, and not just because they earned the championship hardware.
“This was our first tournament here,” coach Hank George said. “It was great. It had good competition, that’s what we want. We also didn’t play any of these teams before, which is good. You don’t learn anything going to your local tournaments and winning 15-0, but you win a close game like this and you learn a lot.”
The Show were paced by tournament MVP Colin Baker, who delivered a RBI double in a two-run top of the first inning, and also supplied four scoreless innings, with eight strikeouts, as the starting pitcher.
He was far from the only standout, as center fielder and leadoff man Justin Capra tripled and scored in the opening inning and made two crucial catches in the outfield, and catcher Mark Barber caught every inning over the weekend and made a critical play to help maintain the lead in the bottom of the sixth.
Capra’s triple in the first was followed by an RBI groundout to third by Mason Shaw with one out. Lucas Lutton singled, and then wheeled home on Baker’s double to right center.
The Brewers had runners on second and third with one out in the bottom of the first, but Baker got a strikeout looking and then a ground out to second base to maintain the 2-0 lead.
Baker, who found much of his success working the outside corner, struck out all three batters looking in the second inning, and the first two swinging in the third. The Brewers then had the next two hitters reach to put runners on first and second, but a pop out to shortstop maintained the shutout.
The Show pushed their lead to 3-0 in the top of the fourth. Shaw led off with a single past shortstop and into left field. He moved to second on a wild pitch, and after a walk, came around to score when Baker’s fielder’s choice groundout also included a throwing miscue.
Baker’s final inning on the mound was the fourth. And after singles by Nick Baldino and Maddox Sterenczak opened the inning, a wild pitch put both in scoring position with nobody out. The right-hander followed with two straight strikeouts, and a ball hit to center field by Michael Lutkiewicz seemed destined to drop until. But a charging Capra made a sliding catch to end the inning.
The Brewers narrowed their deficit to 3-2 in the bottom of the fifth. Tyler Baker had an RBI triple with one out, and then scored on a wild pitch.
In the bottom of the sixth, Capra made a nearly identical charging, sliding catch in center field to retire the leadoff hitter. The next batter walked, and when the ball four pitch went toward the backstop, the runner made a continuous move toward second base. He was thrown out, however, at second base by catcher Barber for a huge second out. A fly out to Capra ended the game and gave MA Show the title.