Pitchers Matt Wright and Lorenzo Meola flank MVP Chris Maldonado after Diamond Jacks Super 16U won the 18U DN World Series championship.
The Diamond Jacks Super 16U has found just about every way to defeat a team over the first few weeks of this abbreviated summer and did it this time by creating havoc on the basepaths.
Chris Maldonado and Jayden Hylton combined for five stolen bases that contributed mightily to the Diamond Jacks squeaking past Prospect Baseball-2, 3-2, in the 18U Diamond Nation World Series championship game on Friday.
Maldonado, who was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, started things in the third inning with a one-out single through the left side. The rising junior bound for Clemson then stole second base with Jayden Hylton at the plate.
Hylton drew a walk and, with Nick Ferri batting, he and Maldonado pulled off a double steal. Maldonado scored when the catcher’s throw to third base got away. That aggressive base running had pushed the Super 16U in front, 2-1. Ferri, the lefty-hitting No. 3 hitter, then yanked a single into right-center field to score Hylton for a 3-1 lead.
Maldonado, who homered earlier in tournament play, appears to be getting into a mid-summer groove.
“I’m hitting well,” said Maldonado. “I’ve been driving the ball to all fields, just trying to help the team win. I think it took a little while for my timing to come together.”
Maldonado, the Super 16’s leadoff hitter, slashed a line drive to right-center field leading off the game. The shot had all the earmarks of a double in the gap, but center fielder Chris Guarente raced over, dived and made an outstanding catch to short-circuit what would have been an instant rally.
“Chris has been crushing the ball well all week,” said Super 16U coach Steve DiTrolio. “Even hits out have been loud.”
Jack Young singled home Nick Morro in the top of the fourth to draw Prospects Baseball to within a run at 3-2. But reliever Matt Wright was able to close out the victory from there, stranding runners on third base in both of his relief innings.
Wright and starter Lorenzo Meola limited Prospects Baseball-2 to two runs, only one of which was earned, on four hits over five innings. They combined to strike out eight and walk five. Those walks and a hit by pitch put both pitchers in a bind throughout the game but each showed a penchant for grinding through and escaping trouble.
“Lorenzo and Matt had an opportunity to step up here and they both did a nice job,” said DiTrolio.
Wright entered in the fourth and got off on the wrong foot by issuing a leadoff walk to Morro. Spencer Dessart then followed with a single to left and Prospects Baseball-2 was in business. But Wright, like Meola had earlier, asserted himself to get the next two batters out. Young, however, delivered the clutch two-out single to score Morro and trim the deficit to a single run.
Prospect Baseball still had a chance for more runs in the inning when Young broke for second with Robbie Ford at the plate. Young beat catcher Andres Suares’ throw to second base while Dessart broke for home. But shortstop Maldonado’s return throw to the plate just got Dessart for the third out.
It was Hylton’s base running that enabled the Diamond Jacks (6-0) to scratch across the game’s first run in the bottom of the first inning. The outfielder from Ridge High School slapped an opposite field single to right field with one out. He quickly stole second and third with Ferri batting. Ferri drew a walk to put runners on the corners before Prospect Baseball pitcher Terryn Babcock uncorked a wild pitch to allow Hylton to easily cruise home.
Young helped get Prospects Baseball-2 on the board in the third with some strong base running, as well. Young reached on an infield error with one out and stole second and third. He scored the tying run after Meola walked Ford and Mike Novak to load the bases and missed the plate on a two-out, 3-2 pitch to Jake Wagner. Meola, who had walked a tightrope in the first two innings, too, got out of further trouble by striking out the next batter looking at a fastball on the outside corner.
Meola used the strikeout to get out of trouble in the first inning. Young had led off the game with a single to right field. He stole second and moved to third on Ford’s fielder’s choice grounder. But Meola struck out the next two batters looking, the first at a curveball on the outside corner and the second at a fastball in, to end the inning.
Meola worked another escape act in the second after walking Wagner and hitting Chris Guarente to put Prospect Baseball in business with no outs. But Meola got two more batters looking at fastballs around an infield grounder to extricate himself from trouble.
But no stranded runner was more important than the one Wright kept aboard in the fifth, Prospect Baseball’s last at bat. Ford had led off with a single, stole second with one out and reached third on a fly out. But Wright nailed down the victory when he induced a fly out to right field.
Babcock and reliever Matt Lemieux kept Prospects Baseball-2 (5-1) close with some sturdy pitching of their own. They combined to permit three runs, two of which were earned, on five hits, struck out two, walked four and hit a batter. Babcock stranded two Diamond Jacks in scoring position in the first inning and one in the second. Lemieux kept a runner safely at second in the third and one at third base in the fourth.
For Maldonado, it was just great to be out on the field in the middle of the summer.
“It’s unbelievable to be back playing baseball,” he said. “It’s what we live for.”