Maturing Diamond Jacks Super 11U nails down King Of The Diamond

By DN WRITING STAFF | April 16, 2024

By Rich Bevensee

Maybe if the 11U King Of The Diamond championship game had been played a month earlier, the Diamond Jacks Super 11U would not have been in a position to claim a title. Word is there were a few rough edges to smooth away when the season began.

But the Diamond Jacks have accomplished a lot in a month’s time, and according to coach Jairo Labrador, they have spent most of that time doing the little things right.

Those little things added up to one big thing Sunday afternoon, the King Of The Diamond championship, after the Diamond Jacks rallied from a five-run deficit and upended the Morris County Cubs, 16-6, in four innings at Diamond Nation in Flemington.

Just two weeks ago in the April Fool’s tournament at the Nation, the Diamond Jacks went 1-2 in pool play, with their two losses coming against the two finalists.

This weekend the Diamond Jacks went unbeaten in four games and outscored their opponents 44-14.

“I think this team has come really far,” said Diamond Jacks outfielder Ben Pasuco, who shared Most Valuable Player honors with teammate Nick Penna. “In the first tournament we were really shaky. Bad hitting, bad fielding. To come from that to now, 4-0 this weekend, all of us did amazing with our fielding and hitting. From fall to now we’ve done really good.”

And give the Diamond Jacks credit for completing the 180-degree switch by rebounding from a 5-0 deficit to start the championship game. Cubs leadoff man Ronquillo Lanza ignited that rally by making quite a statement, sending the first pitch of the game over the center field fence.

Five hits and two walks later, the Cubs seemingly commanding lead could have sent the Diamond Jacks into a tailspin.

Moreso, the Diamond Jacks knew this was the same Cubs team which demonstrated an ability to score in bunches an hour earlier, roaring back from an 11-7 deficit in the bottom of the sixth inning of the semifinals to knock off TBT NY Ballers 12-11. 

“We knew that team could hit, but we know that we can hit,” Labrador said. “We knew we could have good at bats like we had all weekend. I was confident we were going to put the ball in play. They were going to use a lot of arms so I felt no lead in this game was insurmountable. It’s been a long weekend and everyone has had to use a lot of pitching.”

After that first-inning wake-up call, Diamond Jacks pitchers Richie Adamczyk and Christian Basile buckled down on the Cubs offensive machine over the final three innings, combining to allow just one run on three hits and two walks.

Ben Pasuco, left, and Nick Penna shared MVP honors at the King Of The Diamond.

The Diamond Jacks may have outscored the opposition by 30 runs over the weekend, but pitching was a huge reason why they claimed the championship. 

In pool play, Penna pitched all six innings of a white-knuckle, 3-2 victory over the Locked In Baseball Expos, and J.J. Villanueva allowed Labrador to rest some arms with a strong outing against the NY Prospects in a 12-2 victory, also in pool play. Going 3-0 allowed the Diamond Jacks to earn a bye into the championship game and conserve pitching. 

“A big reason why Nick is one of our MVPs is that he was instrumental in getting us here. He was phenomenal against the Expos. That was a real pitchers’ duel,” Labrador said. “J.J. helped us beat the Prospects, and getting that bye was big. It helped us have some arms for this game.”

Penna struck out five of the last six batters to turn the tide against the Expos.

“That felt great. I jumped and yelled at the end of the game,” Penna said.

“Things have been a lot better since the fall, when we made it to one championship game and didn’t win. Then we started getting better once we had more energy in the dugout. Once that happened we got off to a great start.”

In making its comeback against the Cubs, nine of 11 Diamond Jacks batters scored at least once, six had a base hit and six had an RBI.

The Diamond Jacks rallied for three runs in the second inning with RBI groundouts coming from Cooper Ralston and Drew Novotny.

After the Cubs tacked on another run in the top of the third for a 6-3 lead, the Diamond Jacks surged in the bottom half to take command of the game for good with a five-run burst and an 8-6 lead. Highlighting the inning, Basile stole third and scored on a throwing error to tie the game, and Penna scored on a fielding error to give the Diamond Jacks the lead.

An eight-run explosion with two outs in the fourth put the game on ice for the Diamond Jacks. Basile, Pasuco, Villanueva, Adamczyk and Brycen Davis all knocked in runs, and Davis ended the game when he raced home on a wild pitch.

“In the winter we knew this was the team we had,” Labrador said. “We’ve had a couple hiccups, especially with pitching, but we pride ourselves in having a hard pitch count early in the season because we’re more focused on development. This weekend they did all the simple things better, and we’re always focused on doing them better than anyone else.”

Semifinal drama

The semifinal between the second-seeded Cubs and the third-seeded Ballers was pure drama to the end. 

The Ballers trailed 7-2 after four innings but scored four runs in the top of the fifth and and five more in the sixth to claim an 11-7 lead.

Not to be outdone, the Cubs staged a dramatic rally of their own in the bottom of the sixth. Troy Ruiz opened the frame with a solo home run, and Matt LaRose whacked a two-run double to bring the Cubs within a run. 

The Cubs loaded the bases before Jackson Huizing laced a walk-off, two-run single up the middle to win the game 12-11. 

The Cubs enjoyed a 4-0 weekend before running into the Diamond Jacks. They defeated Hustle Baseball 7-3, the Greene County Outlaws 11-6, and the Deck Dogs 11-4 in pool play before ousting the Ballers.

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