Diamond Jacks Super 12U and Diamond Jacks Gold 12U after the Fall Harvest championship game.
By Rich Bevensee
Right about now, the pitchers from the South Jersey Titans, Full Count, Steelsharks Select and Diamond Jacks Gold are happy that the weekend is over and they no longer have to face Nate McGann standing at the plate.
McGann, a hard-hitting catcher for Diamond Jacks Super 12U, fixed a small flaw in his swing during the past couple weeks and the results left everyone shaking their heads.
Collectively, those opposing pitchers retired McGann exactly once in 13 plate appearances during the 12U Fall Harvest.
In the championship game against the familiar faces of Diamond Jacks Gold, McGann homered, singled twice and scored three times to lead Diamond Jacks Super 12U to a 7-0 victory and claim the Most Valuable Player award on Sunday afternoon at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
McGann batted .923 with two homers, four doubles, 12 RBI and nine runs scored. His weekend slugging percentage was an outrageous 1.692.
“I don’t think you can say enough about what he did this weekend,” Diamond Jacks coach Matt Markiewicz said. “It’s almost one of those times where it’s difficult to put words to it.”
“I was just trying to get as many at bats as possible and hit, hit, hit,’ McGann said. “I kept trying to help our team.”
Logan Koziupa was another star for the Diamond Jacks Super 12U. In just his second start of the fall season, Koziupa used his two-seam and four-seam fastballs and his slider to yield just three hits and no walks in 5⅔ innings while striking out seven.
“He goes out and competes,” Markiewicz said of Koziupa. “He controls the strike zone, throws a lot of strikes and mixes his pitches well.”
“Logan’s one of the better pitchers in 12U, no matter what,” Diamond Jacks Gold coach Jairo Labrador said. “He’s just gritty.”
Tim Donohue relieved Koziupa with two out in the bottom of the sixth and got a strikeout to end the game. Donohue started the championship game in the 12U Grand Slam three weeks ago.
“Tim and Logan are my 1 and 1A pitchers,” Markiewicz said. “Tim had three or four starts this fall and Logan had only one other start, so that’s why Logan started today. Easy choice to bring in Tim to close.”
“I like pitching in big games,” Donohue said. “I kind of get a little nervous but it’s a good nervous. Once you get a strikeout it’s an easy nervous to get rid of.”
Koziupa said he would have preferred to play a closer game, if for no other reason than his friends were on the other end of that championship game shutout.
“I hate when the score ends up like this,” Koziupa said. “I always want it to be a good game against them. I hate when it’s one way or the other, but it’s always fun to play against the guys you practice with and show them what’s up.”
Koziupa may have purposely developed a short memory. Just three weeks ago, Diamond Jacks Gold defeated the Super 12U team, 10-3, in the championship game of the 12U Grand Slam event at ‘The Nation.’
“It’s a good thing when we meet in the championship because it means both teams did their jobs,” McGann said. “But normally, we’re supposed to come out on top. Last time we didn’t, and this time we came to play.”
That championship game on Oct. 1 may have sparked McGann’s desire to get his swing fixed. The Super 12U team was held to three runs on six hits.
“Nate’s been working hard,” Markiewicz said. “That weekend he didn’t have the greatest weekend, at least in his thoughts, where he may have thought he struggled and he didn’t have the success he normally would have. He came in here this weekend and absolutely turned everything around.”
Super 12U catcher Nate McGann was named MVP of the Fall Harvest after batting .923 with 12 RBI.
That small flaw which McGann fixed was something that creeped into the entire group of 12-year-olds, Markiewicz said, but McGann was the one who capitalized on a corrected swing.
“I was getting pull-happy,” McGann said. “I just sat on the couch and thought about it. It was all mental.”
“It wasn’t just Nate. It was an organizational thing for the whole 12U age group,” Markiewicz said. “We were becoming pull only hitters, where we weren’t using the whole field, not allowing the ball to travel. We stressed
to stay back and drive the baseball rather than use just the left field line.
It’s all we preached this week was approach, approach, approach, and we excelled at it this week. Especially Nate.”
Labrador was pleased to see his players back in a championship game, even if the opponent was the very same boys his players practice with at the Diamond Nation complex.
“This team (Gold) has gotten so much better and it’s been fun coaching this group,” Labrador said. “When we took them over in the spring they struggled a little bit and they got better and better and better. And they learned to compete. I told them after the game that the one thing I like the most is you’re upset because you expected to win, and that’s okay. That’s what I want.”
Diamond Jacks Super 12U went about building its lead methodically.
It began with a bang, as Ryan Nigro opened the game with a leadoff walk and McGann followed by driving a pitch over the right field fence for a 2-0 lead.
In the second inning, Ryan Beirne drove in a run with a groundout and Alan Pena scored after an error on a Jack Suarez grounder for a 4-0 lead. McGann made it 5-0 in the third when he reached on a single and eventually scored on a double play.
Josh Labrador drove in a run with a sacrifice fly in the fifth, and McGann closed the scoring in the sixth when he raced home on a wild pitch.
The only Diamond Jacks Gold players to figure out Koziupa were Thomas Crowley, who singled twice, and Kyle Ur, who beat out an infield single.