Maine’s River Rats make Diamond Nation feel like home

By DN WRITING STAFF | August 6, 2022

Omar Solano of the Nighthawks fires away to River Rats’ A.J. Wolverton in Blue Chip Prospects.

By Joe Hofmann

A.J. Wolverton wanted to fill a baseball need, so he decided to play for the River Rats Elite team out of Southern Maine this year.

Little did he know that he’d fulfill a need they had Friday morning.

In fact, Wolverton filled his team’s needs more than once at the plate and in the field.

Wolverton contributed an RBI triple and was 2-for-2 with two runs scored and made two terrific plays in left field in the River Rats’ 5-1 victory over the New York Nighthawks in a 17-18U Blue Chip Prospects game held at Diamond Nation.

Wolverton came to the program wanting to get more out of baseball.

“I came from a different program, and this one worked out better for us and our wants and needs,” Wolverton added.

The River Rats scored two runs in the first and two more runs in the second off starter and loser Yendel Martinez. One of the game’s key blows came off the bat of Wolverton in the second inning, when he tripled to right-center to knock in teammate Nick Swain, who had doubled leading off. Wolverton was brought home by No. 11 hitter Ben Libby’s infield hit.

“I haven’t been hitting well at the plate, so I changed my approach,” Wolverton said. “I switched my approach to, ‘Just hit it.'”

Wolverton struck again in the fourth after watching two teammates strike out. He singled to left, stole second and, after a Libby walk, came around to score on Shea Farrell’s single to right.

“Keep things simple,” Wolverton said of his basehit.

Andrew Chinchese of the Nighthawks sets up shop in the batter’s box in Blue Chip Prospects on Friday.

“A.J. has worked his tail off,” coach Marcus Crowell said. “He had some really timely hits for us today.”

Another aspect of Wolverton’s game that emerged was his defense in the second inning, when he dove to keep Jorge Handal’s base hit to left from rolling to the wall on the Diamond Nation turf for extra bases. Handal was held to a single.

Later on in the inning, Wolverton threw Handal out at the plate to end the inning.

The Nighthawks had trouble getting anything going against starter and winner Owen Critchley, who allowed one run on three hits over five innings. He went the distance, walking four and striking out three, including the final batter of the game when he froze Andre Trinchese looking at a curveball to end it.

Critchley’s curveball was an effective weapon against the Nighthawks.

“I kept it in the zone,” he said. “I’ve been developing my curveball since Little League. I threw them a steady diet of that.”

“Owen gave us a super effort,” Crowell added. “He is usually a couple-innings guy, but he threw strikes and stayed away from a lot of three-ball counts. He made some tough pitches when he needed to. He didn’t allow multiple hits.”

The only time that Nighthawks were able to get to Critchley came in the third, when he walked Jayden Meregildo to lead off, Meregildo stole second and third and came around on Trinchese’s sac fly.

But Critchley didn’t allow a run the rest of the day. He allowed two baserunners in the first, second, and third but worked his way out of trouble each time.

“We had great pitching and we were super-clean in the field,” Crowell said. “Some days, we are lights out offensively, but we like to hang our hats on defense and pitchers not beating themselves.”

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