McDonald, Eckhardt steer Jersey Boyz in 14U April Fool’s

By DN WRITING STAFF | April 2, 2023

By Rich Bevensee

If this is how the Jersey Boyz 14U team responds to adversity, there won’t be much need to teach them how to rebound this season because those situations will be few and far between.

Just 24 hours after suffering a lopsided loss to one of the best age group clubs in the tri-state area, the Jersey Boyz flipped the script on Saturday afternoon by getting solid pitching from Langston McDonald and a major offensive lift from Grayson Eckhardt and the bottom half of its lineup.

McDonald allowed two earned runs on two hits over four innings, Eckhardt slapped three hits and knocked in a run, and the Jersey Boyz conquered East Coast Power Baseball of Philadelphia, 9-3, in pool play at the April Fool’s Tournament at Diamond Nation in Flemington.

“The goal today was to play defense and throw strikes and we did that right away,” Jersey Boyz coach Rich Boulineau said. “The bats got hot and we were able to put up nine runs. We would have liked to see a few less runs given up but we played some good defense.”

For Boulineau and his crew, the result was a welcome reversal from a 14-0 loss on Friday evening to the Diamond Jacks Super 14s, who train at ‘The Nation.’

“There was a little bit of an intimidation factor coming in against the Supers on their turf,” Boulineau said. “We spoke to our guys before the game about playing one of the better teams in your age group. We got out-hustled a little bit and they were a lot more physical than us. But we came in today knowing if we play our game, play defense and throw strikes, good things can happen.”

Mixing a fastball and curve, McDonald surrendered two walks and struck out six while stretching 85 pitches across four innings. A little bit of bad luck cost McDonald a shutout. In both innings in which he allowed a run, Langston came within a strike of getting out of trouble.

In the top of the second inning a pair of infield throwing errors allowed ECP’s Collin Norbeck to reach and later score for a 1-0 lead. In the fourth, McDonald was a strike away from a clean inning before Braeden Crawford beat out an infield single. Then Michael Walsh walked and Jameson Basso ripped a two-run single to left.

Other than those two blips on the radar screen, McDonald pitched to contact and the Jersey Boyz came to his defense, so to speak.

“My game plan was to throw strikes which I think I did, let them hit it and let the defense do their job,” said McDonald, making his second appearance of the season. His first was a self-described “bumpy” outing in a 4-3 win against the Manalapan Braves (three innings, eight strikeouts) two weeks ago at Diamond Nation’s season-opening Spring Invitational. 

“This time I threw more strikes, but it wasn’t just me that did better, it was the defense,” McDonald said.

“We have so much confidence in him when he’s on the mound,” Boulineau said. “He does throw a little bit harder than some of our other guys. He gets right on top of hitters and he’s a big kid, imposing, too. He throws strikes, keeps the defense engaged and he’s a lot of fun to watch.”

Sawyer Wiecek came on in relief of McDonald in the fifth and pitched two scoreless innings, struck out two and allowed only two baserunners, one on a hit by pitch and one on an infield error.

To illustrate how balanced the Jersey Boyz offense is, seven base hits and all seven RBI on Saturday were provided by the bottom six batters in the lineup. Eckhardt, who batted fifth, went 3-for-3 with an RBI and two runs scored. No. 8 batter Eli Suna doubled, singled, walked and drove in three runs.

McDonald, Sawyer Wiecek and Tate Seeger each drove in a run.

“We definitely can hit from top to bottom,” Eckhardt said. “We just have to sit on strikes, talk to teammates and see what the pitchers are doing.”

With ECP clinging to a 1-0 lead, the Jersey Boyz went to work in the bottom of the second. Suna and Wiecek contributed RBI singles and Suna later scored on a balk for a 3-1 lead.

In the third inning, Eckhart ignited a four-run rally with an RBI single into shallow right. McDonald was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, and both Suna and Seeger walked with the bases jammed as the Jersey Boyz built a 7-1 cushion.

Basso tightened things up a little for ECP with his fourth inning two-run single, but the Jersey Boyz responded with two runs of their own in the fifth when Suna stroked an RBI double down the left field line and later scored on an infield error.

“Our program-wide approach is to put the ball in play and see what can happen,” Boulineau said. “In our program we look for athleticism – Can you control your body and can you run? – and confidence. Do you have a little swagger? From top to bottom we have that. We have guys who do what they have to do to put the ball in play. They get down the line quickly and put pressure on the defense, and they’re not intimidated.”

The Jersey Boyz (1-2 in pool play) were stymied by the Diamond Jacks program twice this weekend. After a loss to the Super 14s on Friday, the Jersey Boyz bowed to the Diamond Jacks 14U Gold team 14-1 on Saturday.

For East Coast Power (1-2), starting pitcher Michael Walsh allowed seven runs over 2.1 innings, yielded four hits and four walks and struck out three. Braeden Crawford pitched the final 2⅔ innings and permitted two runs on three hits and one walk with two strikeouts.

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