Aiden Sitonen of the Marlton Chiefs 10U looks ready to unleash some fury on the baseball.
By Rich Bevensee
Composure is a quality not normally associated with 10-year-old boys. After two hours of pitching effectively in the rain, Michael Appalucci and Jack McGonigle proved they are anything but normal young ballplayers.
Diamond Nation boasts a monstrous tournament schedule every weekend and artificial turf fields built to withstand heavy precipitation, so teams arrive at the massive Flemington complex with full knowledge that rainouts, postponements and cancellations are extremely rare.
Appalucci and McGonigle, pitchers with the Marlton Chiefs 10U baseball team, performed as though they were seasoned veterans. In a steady downpour on Saturday against the Diamond Jacks 10U ballclub, they combined to surrender just three hits while earning a 17-8 victory in pool play in the Spring Classic.
“I was getting frustrated with gripping the ball and slipping off the mound, but I’m pretty good at forgetting the last pitch. I let it wash away and throw the next one,” Appalucci said.
Given the conditions, a most appropriate response.
The Chiefs would drop a close 7-5 decision to National Baseball on Saturday evening and oppose MA Show of Pennsylvania at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday in pool play. The top two seeds will face off in the championship game on Sunday at 6:30 p.m.
The Diamond Jacks would fall, 12-7, in pool play against MA Show on Saturday night and still have National Baseball on the slate on Sunday afternoon.
Appalucci began to have difficulty with the conditions in the second inning. After a scoreless first inning with two strikeouts, it became apparent Appalucci no longer had a grip on the baseball, as his pitches sailed high and wide. He walked four and hit two batters before McGonigle came on to provide relief.
“It was really hard to plant my foot when I had to follow through,” Appalucci said. “When I was throwing the ball it started to slip out of my hands. I was a little frustrated but I tried to keep going. I had to switch it out a few times and it was slippery sometimes.”
All McGonigle did was pitch 3⅓ innings of terrific baseball. He retired seven of the first nine batters he faced, and he didn’t permit a single hit until the final inning
“It was pretty difficult out there,” McGonigle said. “Sometimes I lost my balance and the ball fell out of my hand a little bit. Every single pitch I took, I rubbed my hand off when I started with a new ball. It got to the point where I had to keep putting the ball on my pants and wiping it off.
“It went well, though. I liked it out there.”
Considering the trying circumstances, Appalucci and McGonigle showed a maturity level not often seen in this age group.
“We told them to keep competing at all times because it’s tough for both teams,” Marlton coach Mike Appalucci, the pitcher’s father. “They have to learn how to play through it so we gave them adjustments and reminded them to trust their teammates behind you. They’re 10 years old and we’re extremely proud of them.”
The Chiefs had nine of 11 batters collect a base hit and were led offensively by Appalucci (2-for-4, double, three runs scored) and Aiden Sitonen (2-for-2, double, two walks, two RBI, three runs), who both reached base four times.
Drew Gable knocked a pair of doubles and had two RBI. Danny Incollingo singled, doubled and knocked in a run, and Clayton Westerside had two hits and an RBI.
Kellan Graham had a two-run single, and Nick Hopp added an RBI single.
Incollingo provided a pair of web gems at first base in the bottom of the third inning when he snared a hot ground ball for an out and also caught a twisting pop up.
For the Diamond Jacks, catcher Nate McGann provided an early RBI single while performing well behind the plate. His base hit in the second inning was the only D-Jacks hit until the fifth, when McGann and Jack Suarez both reached safely.
Josh Labrador collected an RBI on a sacrifice fly, and Gage Higgins forced in a run with a bases-loaded walk.
Defensively for the DJacks, the play of the game occurred in the second inning when shortstop Alan Pena scooped up a grounder in the hole and flipped to second baseman Higgins for an inning-ending force out.