McGann steers DJacks Super 12U to 3-0 start

By DN WRITING STAFF | April 7, 2024

Nate McGann hit his seventh homer of the season for Diamond Jacks Super 12U on Saturday.

By Rich Bevensee

Nate McGann admits he is his own worst critic. That became clearly evident last month when he lost in the junior division 128-pound state wrestling final – albeit to a defending state champion – and found it extremely difficult to find an upside.

Enter Nate’s father, Josh, who tapped into a simple yet effective method of showing his young son the sunny side of life. He started copying and sending inspirational messages from Instagram to his son’s phone.

“Yeah, my phone’s full of them,” Nate said. “After wrestling season I was mad about losing and I had to work really hard on keeping a good mindset. My dad helped me get through that.”

The younger McGann has carried those messages – and his improved mental approach – into baseball season, where opposing pitchers are the ones feeling angry now.

McGann’s seventh home run in nine games – a first-inning, three-run blast – powered Diamond Jacks Super 12U to a 9-3 victory over Orioles Baseball of Staten Island in April Fool’s Tournament pool play on Saturday evening at Diamond Nation in Flemington.

“I was expecting to do well at 12U but not this much,” McGann said. “I thought I’d hit maybe one or two (homers) by this point.”

The Diamond Jacks (3-0) completed pool play unbeaten Saturday evening and clinched a semifinal berth by knocking off North Jersey Diamondbacks Maroon, 12-4. The semifinals are at 12:15 p.m. on Sunday and the final is set for 2:15 p.m.

The Diamond Jacks Super 12U team improved to 9-1 this spring and have outscored the opposition 91-45. 

There were opposing forces at work as McGann honed his swing in the batting cages this winter. Physically, he said he needed to keep his head down longer on the swing. 

He also had to keep his head up. Mentally, of course.

“He’s hard on himself so you gotta give him something to shoot for,” Josh McGann said. “Keeping him positively thinking, that was what I was going for. There wasn’t one thing or one quote that worked, it was everything. It was basically about keeping your head up and working hard. His mind is growing and hitting that maturity, so I think that’s why it worked for him.”

McGann also singled to go 2-for-3 at the plate, and he pitched three innings of relief to keep the Orioles at bay. McGann allowed two runs on three hits and one walk and struck out five.

He and Rocco Gaeta were the Diamond Jacks stars of the game. Gaeta started the game and allowed one run on two hits and two walks in three innings and struck out five. Gaeta also made a nifty sliding catch in left field in the sixth inning. 

“I felt pretty good today but I could have done better in the third inning,” said Gaeta, whom the O’s tagged for two runs on two hits in that frame. 

Gaeta said he mixed an occasional curveball and changeup into his fastball menu to keep the Orioles off-balance. 

“This winter I worked mostly on getting my pitches down. Hitting the zone,” he said. “I felt good about my location today.”

Orioles’ Francesco Schillaci dives back to first where Diamond Jacks Drew Pietrowski takes throw.

The Diamond Jacks charged out of the gate, scoring eight runs in the top of the first inning. Following McGann’s no-doubt-about-it homer to left, Alan Pena drove in a run with a single through the left side. Tyler LaGanga’s single up the middle knocked in two more runs. And Luka Manfredi and Logan Koziupa scored on a two-out fielding error. 

Not to be left out of the home run derby, the Orioles’ Dylan Licitra answered in the bottom of the first with a two-out, solo homer to dead center. 

The O’s trotted out the longball again in the third when Ben Bossert tagged a two-run shot to left, bringing the Staten Islanders to within 8-3.

The Diamond Jacks scratched out one more run in the fifth when Ryan Nigro scored on a Joseph Lopresti sacrifice fly. 

The Orioles kept the Diamond Jacks from reaching mercy rule limits with a pair of well-executed double plays. 

In the first inning, the Diamond Jacks had sent their first nine batters to the plate when Ryan Beirne came up with the bases loaded and none out. Beirne bounced to Licitra at third, who threw home to catcher Connor Fischer for the first out, and Fischer threw to Bossert at first for the double play.

The Orioles worked their defensive magic again the next inning, as shortstop Jackson Monahan fielded a Gaeta grounder and tossed to Gennaro Cardone at second for the force before the throw went to Bossert to complete another twin killing. 

The Diamond Jacks were not without recording a couple of their own web gems. Before Gaeta slid feet first in left to snag a dying Licitra fly ball in the sixth, Diamond Jacks center fielder Ian Peros showed off his arm in the bottom of the third. Cardone singled through the middle and Peros wasted no time in gunning home to McGann to nail Francisco Schillaci trying to score from second.

The Orioles left Diamond Nation with an 0-3 record. They lost to the Diamondbacks, 19-5, on Friday night, and to the Diamond Jacks and to Morris County Cubs Navy, 12-2, on Saturday.

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