Limited to just four hits over eight innings, Mid Atlantic Show 14U National resorted to some old fashioned baseball ingenuity to rally to a 5-4 victory over Wladyka Baseball National in the 14U Spring Fever championship game last night at Diamond Nation.
Cole McKenna, who would get the win in relief of Joe Vaccarella, tied the game at 4-4 with a sac fly in the bottom of the seventh inning. That set in motion the California Tiebreaker in the eighth and Griffin Clarke walked it off with an RBI squeeze bunt single on the first pitch of the bottom of the inning.
The California Tiebreaker calls for each team to begin its half of the extra inning with the bases loaded and one out. The tiebreaker format continues until a winner is decided.
McKenna came in to start the top of the seventh for Mid Atlantic Show and pitched a scoreless inning around a pair of walks. After he delivered his clutch sac fly in the bottom of the inning, he got two quick outs in the top of the eighth despite the precarious situation. McKenna induced a 5-2 ground out and struck out the next batter to escape the tiebreaker threat.
Next in line for MA Show heroics was Clarke.
“After the third out in the top half, coach (J.R. Tolbert) came to me and said, ‘You’re squeezing,’” said Clarke. “It’s not the first time we’ve done that. We like to play small ball, so we practice that a lot.”
Clarke got a first-pitch fastball that was a little up in the zone from reliever Jaime Zee. As Jimmy Gray broke from third, Clarke made good contact on his bunt attempt. The only problem was he got a bit too much air under it. “I thought I popped out,” said Clarke. He did pop it up but, instinctively, Zee began charging in to field the bunt after he released the pitch. The pop-up tipped off the top of a leaping Zee’s glove and fell beyond him to the ground as Gray crossed the plate. An inch was the difference between an MA Show victory and an inning-ending double play.
It was Clarke’s third RBI of the game. MA Show’s No. 9 hitter drove in Gray in the third inning with a double to the right-center field gap and brought home Vaccarella on a sac fly to cap a two-run fifth that drew MA Show to within a run at 4-3. Andrew Parisi had led off the fifth with a walk and sped home on Vaccarella’s double to left center.
Vaccarella was named the 14U tournament’s Most Valuable Player for a myriad of contributions. He also pitched a scoreless seventh inning to close out Mid Penn Prospects, 5-4, in the semifinals. He then carried that momentum into the championship game. Vaccarella, a 6-3, 205 righthander with a hard fastball and tight curveball permitted four runs on five hits, struck out 11 and walked two but left after six innings on the short end of a 4-3 deficit.
Jason Brown, however, led off the bottom of the seventh with a high pop up to the right side that was misplayed into a three-base error. McKenna followed immediately with his sac fly to right field and, suddenly, MA Show had a new start.
Wladyka had built a 4-0 through its first three at bats before Vaccarella took command.
Zee led off the second with a single through the middle, took second on a balk and third on a wild pitch. Henry Ayers delivered Zee with a fielder’s choice grounder to the left side. Jayden Pena and Myles Gomez provided the thunder for Wladyka in the third inning. Pena rocked a two-out double to left center that scored two runs and Gomez followed with an RBI triple to straightaway right field.
But Vaccarella stayed composed despite the loud rally and shut out Wladyka over the next 3.1 innings on one hit, an infield single in the sixth, struck out six and walked one.
Mid Atlantic Show needed someone to close it out, though, after Vaccarella emptied the tank in his gritty six innings of work. So, coach Tolbert went to McKenna, whose resume is a bit short on pitching while long on athleticism.
“Cole’s a catcher,” said Tolbert. “He’s pitched like three innings all year. We needed an arm and knew he was capable.”
Bottomline for both clubs was the fact that each gained huge value from playing in an extremely competitive game on a warm May night.
“They’re a good team and Jim Wladyka runs a great program,” said Tolbert. “They are well-coached. So what happens? Both teams get better from the competition.”
Mid Atlantic Show (5-0) outscored its Spring Fever opponents 43-13 and won a tournament for the fifth time in six tries this spring. Wladyka Baseball National (5-1) held a 47-24 runs advantage on its Spring Fever opponents.
Spring Fever recaps
Schuylkill County Breaker Boys Baseball 11, RCBC Marucci National 1
Schuylkill County Breaker Boys Baseball defeated RCBC Marucci National, 11-1, in the 10U Spring Fever championship game. The Breaker Boys (4-0) outscored their tournament opponents 48-20. RCBC Marucci National (2-2) was outscored by its opponents 40-32.
Flood City Elite 12, Northeast Expos 8
Flood City Elite defeated the Northeast Expos, 12-8, in the 11U Spring Fever championship game. Ty McGough of Flood City was named the 11U tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Flood City Elite (5-0) outscored its opponents 56-29. The Northeast Expos (4-1) held a 58-16 runs advantage on their opponents.
Mid Penn Prospects 12, Regulators 4
Mid Penn Prospects defeated the Regulators, 12-4, in the 12U Spring Fever championship game. Landon Rapp of Mid Penn Prospects was named the 12U tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Mid Penn (5-0) outscored its opponents 47-19. The Regulators (4-1) held a 52-23 runs advantage on their opponents.