Mature approach equals wins for Grit 14U North

By DN WRITING STAFF | July 1, 2024

Kevin Foley drove in three runs for Grit, including this two-run triple.

By Rich Bevensee

A few months ago, Grit 14U North may not have been mentally equipped to bounce back from a weekend-opening loss. Just not mature enough, said coach Joe Croce.

A lot has changed since the spring. 

This weekend at Diamond Nation in Flemington, Grit not only rebounded from a loss to open its four-game set, it used clutch pitching and hitting to produce three straight wins and place itself on the precipice of a playoff berth.

“We had good discipline at the plate, we hit the ball well, and the pitching was very good,” Croce said. “I was very pleased. This is how we should be playing.”

In the fourth and concluding game, Kevin Foley went 2-for-3 with a triple and three RBIs, and he combined with T.J. Gloster and Alex Croce in scattering six hits and pacing Grit to an 8-3 triumph over Diamond Jacks Gold 14U in the Independence Weekend Firecracker on Sunday. 

Grit North went 3-1 to win their 14U Red bracket pool and earn a berth in the semifinals on Monday at 2:15 p.m. Warehouse Dust Devils Purple went 4-0 to earn the top seed and an automatic berth in the final at 4:30 p.m.

“I definitely see a big difference in us,” Foley said. “Now we’re playing more as a team and hitting better. Other games we weren’t as focused.”

On Sunday, Foley pitched in relief to get the final two outs against Titans Towers in an 8-6 win, and 10 minutes later began his scheduled start against the Diamond Jacks.

“I didn’t feel any pressure (to enter in relief) but it was tougher than starting off a game,” Foley said. “It gets you off your rhythm. It’s harder with people on base in a big spot, but I got it done. I like just starting a game. I don’t like pitching before that.”

Diamond Jacks catcher Dan Wheeler scoops a throw to nab Grit’s Troy Fontana at the plate.

Against the Diamond Jacks, Foley worked 2⅓ innings and allowed two runs on three hits, walked two and struck out one.

The Diamond Jacks game was a close affair through the third inning, with Foley delivering a two-out, RBI single to tie the game at 2-2 in the bottom of the third. 

The Diamond Jacks ended the damage there when the relay of right fielder Jackson Scott to second baseman Sam DeLaurier to catcher Andrew Wheeler cut down Troy Fontana at the plate. 

The Diamond Jacks surrendered 10 walks in the game, a tough self-imposed obstacle to overcome. Through the first three innings they managed to pitch around the trouble. They didn’t have the same fortune in the fourth.

Cole Deronda, Jack Spitaleri and Alex Clotworthy earned consecutive one-out walks before Ricky Pena knocked in the go-ahead run with a groundout, and Spitaleri scored from second on the throw to first. Chris Luciano made it 5-2 with an RBI single to right. 

The Diamond Jacks tried to crawl back into it by scoring a single run in the top of the fifth. Jameson Bower scored from second following a throwing error on Derek Guzman’s ground ball. 

Foley came calling again in the bottom of the fifth to help Grit put the game out of reach, ripping a two-run triple into the right field corner. Two pitches later he scored on a wild pitch. 

“I love that kind of stuff, the clutch hits,” Foley said. “I’m focused a lot more because it’s a lot more important to get the runs. I’m just trying to hit the barrel and get one in the gap.”

For Grit, Gloster pitched 2⅔ innings and allowed one run on three hits and one walk with two strikeouts. Croce pitched a scoreless sixth with one walk. 

“14U is the hardest age to coach because they’re really coming into manhood and they have a mind of their own, so they think they know more, and that’s a problem,” Croce said. “When they listen and put into play what we tell them, they win games like this.”

Grit North 14U began the weekend with an 8-4 loss to the Rockland County Baseball Club Ghost Royals, but bounced back on Saturday with a 7-4 win over Warehouse Dust Devils Black.

Grit continued its winning streak by beating Titans Towers before the Diamond Jacks.

“They have matured a lot since the spring,” Croce said. “If this was the spring and we lost that first game they would have been down. They came out today and played very well, with a lot of maturity.”

For the Diamond Jacks, Wheeler got his team on the board first with an opposite-field, RBI single in the top of the first inning. Grit’s Croce tied the game in the bottom of the first with a groundout.

In the top of the second, the Diamond Jacks retook the lead when Scott slugged an 0-2 pitch into center for an RBI single.

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