By Rich Bevensee
Andrew McCormack was dealing with a major case of deja vu as he warmed up in the bullpen for the New York Gothams in preparation for the 13U Memorial Day Blast championship game on Monday evening at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
It was last summer when this Gothams group last made an appearance in a Diamond Nation final, and McCormack took the loss. That memory was whirling around in his brain as he prepared for a rare second chance at a title.
Nearly a year later McCormack may have been battling butterflies, but those feelings were minimized by an overwhelming desire to perform well in a big game. McCormack pitched one-run ball for four innings and powered the Gothams to a 10-2 victory over Ascent Athlete 13U of Garnet Valley, Pa., and the team’s first tournament championship.
Last July, McCormack and the Gothams bowed to the Flores Baseball Braves in the Beat The Heat final.
“There’s a lot of pressure in a championship game,” McCormack said. “Last year we were against the FB Braves and I didn’t perform so well. My mindset was I want to get my revenge, come back and pitch well. I felt pressure going in but I did better than last year.”
McCormack walked six and struck out one before handing off to Nico Harris, who allowed one run on two hits and two walks in two innings.
“Andrew threw the ball extremely well and pumped the strike zone, then Nico came in and slammed the door,” Gothams coach Jason Rodriguez said.
Gothams infielder Jordan Steiger was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. He picked up a win on the mound against Diamond Jacks Super 13U in pool play. In the championship game, he had a key two-run single and he finished the weekend with eight RBI.
Steiger’s two-run single in the Gothams’ five-run third inning was a textbook example of how young batters should approach a two-strike count. He didn’t hit the ball sharply but by reaching out over the plate to protect, he got enough of the barrel on the ball to loft a shallow fly to left center.
“That was a great at-bat,” Rodriguez said. “Two-strike approach, trying to put the ball in play, move the guy over. He’s been doing that the whole weekend.”
“When I’m at two strikes, I try to open up my legs, take away my stride and shorten my swing, and hit the ball hard wherever it’s pitched. I guess it worked,” Steiger said. “My two-strike hitting has gotten much better, so I think I’m starting to get it now. I got a couple hits this weekend with two strikes. I think it’s just minimizing my swing and taking out my stride. That really keeps my head still and I can see the ball better.”
The Gothams struck for two runs in the bottom of the first when Jordan Huang scored from second on an infield error on a Harris grounder, and two batters later Jason Salera drove a pitch through the middle to plate Harris.
McCormack kept Ascent quiet until the third inning when Michael O’Connor singled to center to drive in Keegan McShea.
McCormack pitched a 1-2-3 fourth inning thanks to a fine running catch by left fielder Caleb Chou, who chased down a fading liner from Eli Paradise and made the catch as he was running into foul territory.
“I mostly threw the fastball because I usually get my velocity up on my fastball,” said McCormack, who topped out at 80 mph today. “I rely on that a lot, but if they’re early I’ll throw some changeups. Curveballs, I don’t feel like throwing. It’s a risk-reward situation. I feel they could damage my arm so I don’t throw them too much.”
The Gothams salted the game away with their five-run third inning. Liam Zeller drove in a run when Ascent failed to flag down a wind-blown pop fly to shallow right. Armani Rosario forced in a run with a bases-loaded walk. Steiger’s two-run single followed, and Rosario capped the rally when he scored on an infield error on James Miller’s ground ball for a 7-1 lead.
Salera made it 8-1 in the fifth with an RBI single, and Ascent responded a half-inning later when Jack Yantosh doubled to left to drive in a run.
The Gothams ended the game in the sixth via the mercy rule when McCormack walked and Cash Millsom singled with one out, and Huang followed with a blast to right center which drove in both runners.
The Gothams finished the weekend 5-0 and outscored their opponents 50-11. They defeated Trumbull Travel (9-1), Diamond Jacks Super 13U (4-2) and the Morris County Cubs (14-0) in pool play, and handled Powerballers 13U, 13-6, in the semifinals.
“The best part of our weekend was we never gave up,” Rodriguez said. “We played a great team in the DJacks Supers, a top tier team, hung in there with them and came out on top and that was the tournament right there.”
Ascent finished the weekend 5-1. The Chester County, Pa., based club defeated the Morris County Cubs (8-0), FS Prime American (6-4), Pro Skills (3-1) and Tribe Baseball (5-4) in pool play, and defeated Diamond Jacks 13U Gold in the semis, 8-1.