Mafia rally forges tie with Warriors in 11U Spring Invitational

By DN WRITING STAFF | March 17, 2024

Spencer Baker singled twice and scored twice for the Twin Town Warriors.

By Rich Bevensee

Tie ballgames don’t necessarily produce winning and losing emotions, but something along those lines took place when the final out was made and an 11U Spring Invitational game was declared a 7-7 deadlock. 

The Twin Town Warriors of Albany, N.Y., shuffled off the field after their last batter was retired, not really glum but not celebrating either. 

When the 5-Star Mid-Atlantic Select Mafia recorded the final out with an infield fly, players’ faces revealed relief and satisfaction, and they were clearly the more vocal of the two ballclubs before the handshake line commenced.

The Mafia had every reason to celebrate after two of their players, Brayden McCarthy and Dean Napoli, produced some unexpected but welcome results, and their efforts fueled a furious six-run comeback and the 7-7 tie in a Spring Invitational pool play contest on Saturday evening at Diamond Nation in Flemington.

“It’s been a great winter, and it’s great to be out on the field finally, and at Diamond Nation of all places,” Mafia coach Jason Testa said. “It was all about seeing these guys battle. We put it in their heads all winter that we don’t care about home runs and throwing 65 miles an hour. I care about baseball. Today it was hard to put together but we got it done.”

The Mafia improved to 1-0-1 and wraps up pool play on Sunday at 10 a.m. against Bell Ringers 11U-Ravert. The Warriors, also 1-0-1, face NJ Elite at 10 a.m. to close their pool slate. 

While Peter Ryan was dealing his heavy fastball, the Warriors utilized a parade of run-producing at bats in the first two innings and leaped to a 7-1 lead. Mason Kinley highlighted a five-run first when he slashed an opposite field RBI double inside the first base line.

The Mafia began chipping away in the top of the third thanks to a pair of Warriors miscues, allowing Jayyden Cosme and Vinny Catanzaro to score and narrowing the Mafia’s gap to 7-3. 

“For us, it’s focusing on the small plays and not letting the errors compound,” Warriors coach Tom LaLiberte said. “The errors really hurt us today.”

After three Mafia pitchers tried in vain to stop the bleeding through the first two innings, McCarthy entered in the bottom of the third and brought about immediate results. In fact, of the 14 batters he faced he yielded no runs and allowed just two base hits. 

“Brayden’s not really one of our top pitchers. He’s probably our sixth or seventh pitcher,” Testa said. “But he’s a contact pitcher and that’s what we needed. We thought we’d bring out somebody that throws with a little velocity.”

Of the 12 outs he produced, McCarthy struck out two and induced nine weak ground balls, including four comebackers.

The Mafia’s Dean Napoli celebrates with teammates after his two-run homer in the fourth inning.

In the top of the fourth, the Mafia cut their deficit to one. First, Grant Martin hit an infield single which scored Avery Ekerling from third. 

Then controversy. With two out, Dean Napoli lofted a long, opposite-field fly ball to right which the wind whipped into the corner and was ruled a two-run home run, much to the consternation of LaLiberte, who said he saw the ball land in foul ground and wanted the home run disallowed. The home run stood and suddenly the Mafia trailed by one, 7-6. 

The homer was Napoli’s second of the weekend. His first of the weekend was the first of his life. 

In the top of the fifth, Brandon Testa followed an Aiden Vigliotti walk  and a McCarthy single by launching a deep fly to center which drove in Vigliotti with the tying run. 

The Mafia was unable to mount a threat in the top of the sixth, but the Warriors put the potential winning run aboard in the bottom of the frame when leadoff man Spencer Baker reached on an error and stole second with two outs. McCarthy retired the final batter with an infield popup.

Mafia coach Testa, while extremely satisfied with the comeback effort,  made it very clear that he was not looking for mere signs of improvement from winter training when the Mafia broke camp and opened the baseball season. 

“We don’t put in the time and effort and tears and sweat into what we’re doing to not win,” Testa said. “Having said that, I didn’t think we’d do what we did today. Hopefully what happened today is going to open some eyes and make it where people are going to want to play us.”

The Warriors erased an early 1-0 Mafia lead in the bottom of the first when Johnny McFadden had an RBI single, Jack Hinsdale had an RBI groundout, Kinley added his RBI double and Jordi Caola stroked a two-run single to right center for a 5-1 lead.

An inning later the Warriors added two more runs when Baker scored from third on a double steal and Brison Gross scored from third on a passed ball.

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