Colton Jennett was one of two Maine Lightning players with two RBI.
By Rich Bevensee
With great talent comes great expectations.
That’s the burden — and excitement — which John McGlinn and his Maine Lightning 14U Blue baseball team carry into the 2023 baseball season.
“We were really excited about this group coming in,” McGlinn said. “We’ve had some of these guys for quite awhile in the Lightning program, but this is the first time they’ve all meshed together. We just kind of had the feeling that there are some talented kids here who have the mental side of it and the baseball side of it and the athleticism.
“So we’re turning that point where they’re not little kids any more, so we came down here (to New Jersey) looking at this tournament as a business trip. Let’s have fun but let’s take care of business. It’s time to get a return on that investment for mom and dad.”
Utilizing a balanced offensive effort and a lights-out relief showing, the Lightning began to meet those lofty expectations on Saturday at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
Seven players in the Lightning’s 12-man lineup contributed at least one RBI, hard-throwing reliever Hunter Fink slammed the door with two strikeouts in a perfect fifth inning, and Maine snagged a 10-7 victory over New England Ruffnecks 14U in the Nation’s season-opening Spring Invitational.
Lightning leadoff man Kyle Soule and No. 12 hitter Colton Jennett both drove in two runs while Noah Fullerton, Grant Pelletier, Lucas Klehn, Tyler Do and Silas Almy each chipped in one RBI.
“Everybody hit the ball well and we came up with a bunch of runs,” Jennett said. “We’re all good hitters. There’s not one guy who’s better than the other. Over the winter we were hitting very well and that’s when we started to think we could be a good hitting team overall.”
After one inning was complete, it appeared as if the talented Ruffnecks were going to run away with a victory in their season opener. The Needham, Mass.-based squad roared to a 5-1 lead on a two-run double by Devin Constantine, a two-run single by Kaeden McNeice and a Drew Palmer RBI fielder’s choice.
With two out and two Lightning runners on base in the top of the second, Ruffnecks starter Al Cooper was relieved by Angus McKenna and the Lightning welcomed him by scoring on a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch by Almy and consecutive two-run singles by Jennett and Soule for 6-5 lead.
The Lightning padded their lead in the third when Pelletier belted an RBI double and Klehn and Do added run-scoring singles for a 9-5 bulge.
“I think we all have the same expectations for this season,” Soule said. “We all play together well, we know what we’re supposed to do, and contribute and play like we know we can.”
The Ruffnecks chipped away with single runs in the bottom of the third and fourth innings, thanks to a Drew Palmer RBI triple and a Constantine sacrifice fly. But New England drew no closer.
Fink, who followed Klehn as the second Lightning reliever, struck out two and induced a line out to end the contest.
Later on Saturday, the Lightning edged the Gray Sox 4-2 to make them one of two undefeated teams with multiple wins going into Sunday. Maine was scheduled to face Marlboro Mustangs Gold on Sunday at 12:15 p.m.
The Ruffnecks suffered a second loss by dropping an 11-1 decision to Chesco Baseball, and the New England club will conclude play on Sunday with a 12:15 p.m. Sunday contest against the Gray Sox.