By Rich Bevensee
Despite the program’s reputation for excellence, the Diamond Jacks coaching staff does not place the highest priority on winning ball games, and that’s especially true this early in the season.
DJacks coaches are looking for all manner of adjustments and improvements in their players, and that’s never more evident than when the championships and trophies come rolling around to their dugout. The coaches’ postgame comments center mainly around how their players have raised their games.
To that end, the reviews surrounding the Diamond Jacks Super 14U’s performance were overwhelmingly positive following a 9-0 victory over Baseball U Philadelphia in the championship game of the Spring Classic Powered by Victus on Sunday evening at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
“We didn’t start well. Friday wasn’t very good,” Diamond Jacks coach Travis Anderson said. “Saturday we played really, really well, and today was extremely high energy. And it was about making simple adjustments. I like the way that we’re trending – the last three games were really, really good. We ran the bases extremely well, we took care of the baseball and threw strikes.”
In going 5-0 this weekend and winning its first Diamond Nation title of the spring, Anderson’s group improved to 13-1-1 overall at its home complex and has outscored the opposition with a whopping plus-124 scoring differential.
There were a few key players who bounced back from struggles earlier this season to produce exceptional performances in the title game.
Right-hander Michael Meyers made one heck of a rebound on the bump. He pitched four shutout innings in the five-inning game, allowing one hit and one walk and struck out six on just 54 pitches.
“He threw the same amount of pitches in four innings as he did in one inning last weekend,” Anderson said. “It’s not easy to bounce back, but it was just the simple adjustments that he made during the week.”
Along with utilizing his fastball and his hybrid knuckle-splitter – “My Dad’s old pitch, he was a Wiffle ball pitcher” – Meyers said his biggest change from last weekend was simple. He stopped bouncing balls in front of the plate.
“I was bouncing everything!” Meyers said. “This weekend I kept my glove a little more closed and it got me a little higher in the zone and I was hitting it a lot more. Coach Steve (Schrenk), our pitching coach, helped me a lot with that. I am surprised at how much better I threw. I thought I’d be stuck throwing low but I was throwing a lot higher in the zone.”
Schrenk, hired by the Diamond Jacks in March, pitched two seasons in Major League Baseball, played 16 years of professional ball and has developed 100 major leaguers.
The Diamond Jacks selected Connor Bresler and Jackson Staples to share the honor of the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Bresler singled and walked twice in the final. Staples went 2-for-3 with an RBI double and a run scored. Anderson pointed out that both players have progressed tremendously from when the season began.
Bresler got the win on Friday night in a 6-3 win over Iron 9 Baseball, and went 6-for-10 for the weekend at the plate.
“Connor threw the ball Friday night really well in the first game and he had two two-strike hits and one was with two outs,” Anderson said. “On Saturday he swung the bat really well, and today his at bats were really good.”
Repeating the trend of always pushing to improve, Bresler said he sought coaching help for when he’s on the mound and at the plate.
“With pitching, Coach Steve was helping me with my back leg because I always collapse it, and with hitting, Coach Walt (Cleary) and Coach (Josh) Ake have always been there to help me. They make sure I stay through the ball and drive the ball the opposite way.
“I agree with Coach Travis 100 percent. Little things matter. Last weekend I didn’t do so well hitting, and this weekend I was hitting really well, a ton of line drives.”
Anderson said he’s been waiting for Staples to break out as a hitter, and the championship game may have been a sign he’s ready to do just that. Staples demonstrated power by pulling a grounds rule double which bounced over the fence in right-center in the first inning, and he showed diligence at the plate with an opposite field single in the third.
“Yesterday (Saturday) and today (Sunday) the at bats were very comfortable,” Anderson said of Staples. “He started to really come into his zone. The potential is there. For these kids potential is great, but sometimes they need to see results on the field, especially during a game, and my hat’s off to him. I’m really proud of him.”
In Staples’ case, it was a minor change in his batting stride which turned things around. After a chat at the Diamond Jacks chalkboard, Staples looked like a different player during the Spring Classic.
“In the beginning of the season I had my feet closed and I was more straight up, and when I went into my stride I had a lot of head movement so I was seeing pitches on different planes,” Staples said. “So now I’m more wide, my back leg is preset so I’m already in my load, and my head stays on the same plane so I can see pitches much better. I can definitely see change. After hitting off the machine in practice and in BP everything feels better. I’m catching a lot more balls on the barrel.”
The Diamond Jacks knocked off Baseball U in the final with a pair of runs in the bottom of the first inning and a seven-run rally in the third.
In the first, Jacob Lilienthal stroked an opposite field RBI single into left center. On that play, leadoff man Nick Do put his impressive speed on display by scoring from first base – with ease. Staples rocked a grounds rule double to right-center to give the Diamond Jacks a 2-0 lead.
In the third, Tyler-Shea Corales began the seven-run rally with an RBI single, the team’s fourth straight single to left field to that point. Elijah Dawes had an RBI fielder’s choice, and No. 10 hitter Liam Goyette singled to left to drive in another run.
Do followed Goyette by cracking a two-run double into the left field corner, and cleanup hitter Ryan Wetmore stroked a two-run single to complete the offensive assault.
Do relieved Meyers and pitched a scoreless fifth inning, closing out the championship with two strikeouts.