By Sean Reilly
For a team that wins as often as the Marlton Chiefs, it’s hard for some days to stand out more than others.
Sunday, however, was one of those occasions.
The 11U powerhouse had two obstacles in its path in pursuit of the Diamond Nation 11U School’s Out Tournament championship.
First was a morning winner-take-all pool matchup against the Diamond Jacks Super 11U. A win would advance the Burlington County team into the noontime final against another strong outfit, the Hudson Valley Renegades.
The Chiefs aren’t just any town-based team. Last year, they went to Indiana for the 10U Cal Ripken World Series. Seven wins later, they returned home as national champions. That victory was typical of the success they’ve had over their few years of playing together.
The Chiefs took care of business against the Diamond Jacks, with Mike Appalucci pitching a stellar complete-game in a 3-0 triumph. The win was especially satisfying, since the Diamond Jacks beat the Chiefs, 4-2, in the final of the Spring Fever Tournament on May 21 at ‘The Nation.’
In the title matchup that followed against the Renegades, Appalucci’s two-run home run in the bottom of the first set the tone for an 11-6 victory.
The Chiefs now have nearly 30 wins on the year, against just four losses.
Since one of those setbacks was last month against the Diamond Jacks, the outcome on Sunday was very meaningful.
“That was huge,” Appalucci said. “I was throwing my fastball right and my curve ball was on.”
Against Hudson Valley, the Chiefs scored five times in the bottom of the first for a 5-0 lead.
Aiden Siitonen led off with a single to the outfield, and advanced to third on a two-base error. Appalucci was up next, and he blasted a 1-2 pitch into the trees beyond the left field fence on Field 6.
After a ground out, Chris Cameron singled to center field, and Danny Incollingo launched an even deeper home run to left field. Kyle Burgess followed with a single to shortstop and stole two bases before scoring the fifth run of the inning on a wild pitch.
“That inning was a big momentum boost for us,” Appalucci said.
The Renegades, who were wearing special uniforms saluting veterans, got one run back in the second inning. Matthew Hollenbeck reached on a walk and later scored on a groundout to second by Dom Sangemino.
The Chiefs extended their lead to 7-1 in third. Appalucci led off with a walk, and Drew Cable followed with a home run that soared beyond the scoreboard in left-center field.
The Renegades, whose consistent contact was shown in the fact that they struck out just twice in the game, received an RBI single from Connor Coldrick with two out in the third. He scored when Hollenback followed with a double that landed inside the right field line.
Hollenbeck, who ended 1-for-2, added an RBI groundout in the fifth to get the Renegades within 7-4.
The Chiefs responded with a four-run rally with two out in the bottom of the frame.
Appalucci, who ended 1-for-1 with two walks and three runs, drew a base on balls. Gable, who was 2-for-3 with three RBI, hit a perfectly-placed hit-and-run single past the vacated second base position to score Appalucci.
Cameron (2-for-3) singled in Gable, and Incollingo (2-for-3, four RBI) hit his second home run, this one off the scoreboard for an 11-4 lead.
“We can swing it,” noted Appalucci.
The Renegades, who ended the weekend with a 3-1 record, got an RBI fielder’s choice from James Lilla in the sixth, which was followed by a run-scoring single from Gavin Justice.
Antony Kassas was 3-for-4 for the Renegades. Teammates Sangemino, Justice, Coldrick and Landon Coffey ended with two hits each.
The Chiefs will now focus on the local and state tournaments that will lead toward another bid for a Ripken championship.
“We’re looking for big things this summer,” Appalucci said. “This was a good way to end these tournaments and get us ready for the states.”